Today’s gamer vocabulary word is “Indie Game”.
The main characteristic of an indie game is that it is developed by a studio that is not directly tied to a publisher. The studio assumes all financial risk for the game but also retains all the ownership and power over it.
A video game is a highly complex program with many distinct parts. You have the code that makes it work, the art that makes it pretty, the story that moves it forward, and the music that gives it atmosphere. Each of these parts require someone with very specialized skills.
A game like Call of Duty requires upwards of 100 people working for a couple years to create. As you can imagine, this is not cheap. Since the game will not make any money until it is complete, the funding for the development has to come from somewhere. This is where the publishers come in.
A publisher in the video game industry is similar to a big studio in the movie industry. They have a pile of cash they built up from the different games they published. This gives them the funds a development studio needs to complete a game. It also gives them the funds to market that game to help it succeed.
Those funds, however, do not come for free. The thing the development studio most often gives up is control. A lot of the time, the development studio signs over the rights to the property to the publisher. From that point on, it is the publisher, not the developer, that ultimately decides the fate of the property.
While this is not in and of itself a bad thing, it can contribute to stagnation. Publishers are a lot less likely to fund risky projects because of the cost of development. This is why you see a lot of sequels (Grand Theft Auto 5, Madden every year, Call of Duty every year, Assassin’s Creed 4, Battlefield 4, Mass Effect 3, and on and on).
The last generation of consoles, however, has seen the rise of independent development studios. These studios do not take any publisher money so they are able to create whatever they want.
Of course, the question then is, where do they get the funds to create there games? The answer to that varies. Here are a couple of the ways they do it.
- Self-Funding - Some studios pay the development costs themselves. These studios tend to be much smaller, sometimes only one person. They might have a full-time job and work on their games at night. Or they might have saved up a nest egg that allows them to take off for a while. Or they might be independently wealthy.
Games that are self-funded tend to be much smaller in scale than AAA games. For example, Super Meat Boy was developed by two guys who outsourced the things they could not do, like the music.
However, smaller does not mean lower quality. Super Meat Boy is actually one of my favorite games. I have spent as much time playing it as I have other big budget games. Its quality and polish are first-class.
- Kickstarter - One avenue for funding that has opened itself up recently is Kickstarter. One of the biggest examples of this is Double Fine’s adventure game. They set out to raise $400,000 and ended up with over $3 million.
Like I mentioned above, indie games tend to be smaller in scale. This also means they are cheaper when they are released. While most AAA games these days release at $60, indie games normally range from $5 to $30.