I Finally Got It – The Ultimate Definition of “Indie Developer”

There’s many different answers to question “what being indie developer means to you?”

Some guys say that being indie means “developing your own ideas”. Some people suggest that it’s “financial Independence” or “not having a publisher”. I recall somebody answering “incredible waste of time” (that sounds pretty accurate…).

But now I think I finally got it. I know now what indie developer or indie team is, and how it’s defined.

The definition of indie developer is:

“Indie team has only one programmer.”

I think that’s what indies are. Solo developers. Doing their own stuff. Perhaps collaborating with other non-programmers (who can thus be integral part of “indie team”) and possibly outsourcing asset creation.

But eventually it boils down to this:

Just one developer doing the programming. (Maybe occasionally getting few selected tasks done by some other programmer, but that’s gray area then). If there’s more programmers, then it’s something else – something non-indie anyway. Indie are solos with their own vision, thus bunch of indies makes “group of people who argue a lot”.

Now you can argue with me. Post your comment.

15 thoughts on “I Finally Got It – The Ultimate Definition of “Indie Developer”

  1. Sargon wrote:
    If Valve as a publisher cannot make indie game because its a publisher, what would indie game publishing their games on steam are?

    They would still be indie if they met the qualifications. I’m not saying publishing your game on Steam is a disqualifier, but I think that Valve setting up a publishing system, even if it’s online, puts them in the same category as EA. Valve may make great games, but you can’t put their games on the same footing as Dead Wake, for example.

    Russel wrote:
    If what you say is true about the Sims and Maxis, then I think it’s an exception.

    I don’t know all the intimate details, but I talk to Will personally and he confirmed that the story basically went like that. I suspect he didn’t hire a whole new programmer, just told one to spend part of his time on this new project the management didn’t explicitly approve.

    My problem is that once we start including the likes of EA/Maxis and Valve in the definition, then the term “indie” loses meaning for me. I already worry that some larger companies try to co-opt the term “indie” in order to gain instant cachet. I think the term is already too overloaded, but trying to define a new term is fraught with even more peril.

    This is the reason I don’t like the “only one programmer” definition. Having two programmers putting their heart into the game doesn’t make it less indie to me. Hell, you could have 10 people working nights and weekends pouring their heart into a game and still have it be indie, I think.

    For example, what Juuso is doing with Dead Wake is unique and potentially a lot of fun, but it doesn’t have the resources behind it that a game like Left 4 Dead 2 is going to have. I don’t think it matters how many programmers he has working with him. But, these two games should be judged directly together, especially on things like screenshots.

    So, what differentiates the two projects? Team size, budget, passion, outside investment, distribution, advertising budget, and a whole lot of other things are different. No one thing absolutely makes Dead Wake more indie, but the combination adds up to make it worthy of notice even if media coverage doesn’t give both games equal time.

  2. @Sargon: if Valve doesn’t have to answer to investors or outside publishers, then I guess I do consider them indie… as difficult as it is to get used to the idea that a AAA game developer can be indie. :)

    @Psychochild: If what you say is true about the Sims and Maxis, then I think it’s an exception. But I still have a hard time thinking that EA doesn’t have some amount of control over how money is spent at Maxis.

  3. @Sargon: I think it’s just between Amateur and Professional. For many people it’s also the next step from Amateur.

  4. Lumooja, so you are saying indie is just a new business model?

  5. @Katherine: That would be then Amateur. Amateur means you do something for love, Professional means you do something for money. Indie means you do something for the love of money and don’t want anyone else to be leeching your profits, thus you’re Independant :)

  6. I see indie as making a game primarily for the love of the game, rather than for any financial gain (financial gain is a perk!)

    But I think a good definition would take a little bit of everyone’s definition here.

  7. @Brian:
    “I think that’s restrictive and focuses too much on only one aspect. Would a company that uses middleware, has one “programmer”, 10 “scripter/designers”, and 20 full-time artists with funding from a publisher indie, then?”
    there’s no such companies.

    …right? :)

    I could almost say that “one programmer OR scripter” is the definition.

    P.S. But… I must add that I *did* think of “indie MMO” development when writing this post, and I thought it became a tricky thing to think… so I decided to ignore it hoping nobody would notice. Darn you Brian!

    @lumooja: indie != (financial) independence in my opinion

    @jake: greyalien area perhaps? :)

  8. It’s a grey/gray area :-)

  9. Brian, the fact that valve is a publisher is what makes them indie. They publish their games on their own. If Valve as a publisher cannot make indie game because its a publisher, what would indie game publishing their games on steam are?

  10. Russel wrote:
    I think an indie studio or developer is one who makes their own decisions,

    So, was Maxis “indie” for developing The Sims? Will Wright made the game without approval and then told EA they could either publish it or lose the effort put into it. EA decided to publish and it became a best-selling game. But, it was pretty much made by Will Wright’s decision.

    Sargon wrote:
    I think indie developers are simpley developing without a publisher. That puts Valve and other big companies under the indie flag.

    Except for the fact that Valve is a publisher now with Steam. If they count, then EA internal teams are “indie”.

    Juuso wrote:
    “Indie team has only one programmer.”

    I think that’s restrictive and focuses too much on only one aspect. Would a company that uses middleware, has one “programmer”, 10 “scripter/designers”, and 20 full-time artists with funding from a publisher indie, then?

    This also doesn’t cover “indie MMOs” that I’m familiar with. Although M59’s relaunch qualifies as “indie” under Juuso’s definition (I was that programmer), I don’t think that’s what defined us. I still felt indie when a programmer friend volunteered to re-write our rendering engine to take advantage of 3D hardware acceleration.

    The core problem is that the concept of “indie” is tied to money but people don’t want to put a value on it. A team of people taking money from a publisher and getting paid full salaries isn’t indie. That same team working nights and weekends on a project and not taking a salary probably is indie.

    But, what if someone’s rich uncle writes a check? What the developers are world-famous and sold off publishing rights in other countries? What if someone is just independently wealthy and can live just fine while spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on game development? I find it hard to agree that they’re still indie in many of these types of situations.

    Ultimately, I indie is pretty much one of those, “I know it when I see it,” things for game development.

  11. It also might have the equivalent of one programmer. Since game programming can have several aspects, a single main programmer in a team of people who can help with pieces of the code might happen. I think this still counts as there is only one Programmer, please note the capitol “p” denoting it as a proper noun, a title. The other guys are doing the indie thing of helping out the team where they can.

  12. Indie just means Independant. I don’t see any need for publishers, as I buy most games from the internet. A good game gets popular within a few days in the whole world, same goes for a bad game, as we’ve seen with one company who tried to rip assets from another game and got caught within 24 hours.

  13. I think indie developers are simpley developing without a publisher. That puts Valve and other big companies under the indie flag.
    Thats the original definition of indie. I agree that maybe more definitions are needed, since there are obviously a lot more developers types than just either Indie or AAA game industry.

  14. Russell, then you must agree that Valve are indie? right?

  15. I think an indie studio or developer is one who makes their own decisions, as opposed to those who’ve used so much of another entity’s money (i.e. publisher) that they owe that entity a say in how the project is chosen or developed. In my mind the definition of indie has nothing to do with the number of developers, the amount of income, the platform or tools used, or the type of game produced.