Boss Rush Banter: Does Indie Mean Anything Anymore?

Gamers and journalists seem to have split mainstream console and PC gaming into two spheres: AAA and indie. While these terms, and this dichotomy, can be helpful, the label of indie for video games encompasses such a wide range of games and developers, rendering it almost useless. People have begun to discuss and challenge this bifurcation between AAA and indie, pointing out the gray areas and complexities. Is it time to throw away the term indie, and work toward more, better descriptors?

In a piece on the history of indie games, Tabitha Baker stated that “[i]ndie games are largely defined through what they aren’t…” making “…their general definition exceedingly difficult.” If you aren’t familiar with the terms, it’s useful for us to do our best to understand the standard definitions, as murky as they are. According to Wikipedia, AAA “…is an informal classification used to categorize games produced and distributed by a mid-sized or major publisher, which typically have higher development and marketing budgets than other tiers of games.” What are those other tiers? Well, I suppose they’re all indie games, since Wikipedia defines indie games as “…created by individuals or smaller development teams without the financial and technical support of a large game publisher in contrast to…” AAA games. So we have a bit of a cyclical, referential definition situation here.

From the offset, we can see that these terms, despite the major limitations, do have some usefulness. We can understand AAA games to be the big budget, major blockbuster titles developed by well-known companies which you’ll see in advertisements and major retailers. Indie, then, is anything else–anything smaller. This is similar to how the term is used in other industries, such as music and film. This major delineation, however, is about where the benefits of utilizing this divide end.

For some people, the term indie might affect their perception of a game’s length, quality, visibility, gameplay, story, or aesthetic. Diving a little deeper into the indie game scene, we see that the term doesn’t really give us any information about those aspects. For some, there may be an expectation that an indie game is shorter, less polished, more story focused, limited to certain genres, and utilizes low poly or pixel art. However there are an increasing number of indie games that challenge those stereotypes. As pointed out by game designer Osama Dorias in a recent Twitter thread on the subject, people are using the term indie to mean different things, and thus the term is “not very useful.”

Despite having been around for over 50 years and with a growing mainstream appreciation of the art form, the video game industry is still somewhat nascent. There aren’t widespread standards or terminology, and I believe the full potential of this interactive medium lies ahead. When discussing the size, gameplay, story, and aesthetic of a video game we’re limited to the terms we have now, but we also need to be creative and look forward to a better taxonomy of video games.

What do you think? Do you find the term indie helpful or misleading? Let us know in the comments below or join the discussion on the Boss Rush Discord.

SOURCES: The Indie Game Website, Wikipedia, Osama Dorias 


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