You might have visited our site from our article on how to make games, or maybe someone linked you to a news post that sounded interesting, or an editorial on a topic you’re passionate about. But when you see “Indie Game Insider” on the logo up there, you might wonder why we cover the topics that we do. What even is an “indie” game? Over the course of running this site, we’ve found that there’s a lot of people who don’t really know what indie games are or how they’re different from other video games. So, we’re going to tell you what we think makes a game indie, why indie games are important, and how to make your own distinction between an indie game and other types of video games.

What is an indie game, really?

Indie games have a significant distinction from regular video games primarily because they do not have traditional funding from a publisher for the development of the game. Instead, many indies fund their games out of pocket or turn to crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to fund their games. While indie developers don’t have the marketing power and reach that a publisher can sometimes provide, they do have much more control over how their game is created, sold and distributed. Also, indie retail releases are pretty much non-existent, since digital distribution is the cheapest way to get a game into the hands of players.

Who makes indie games?

Indie games are usually developed by small teams that have a few core members working on every aspect of the game, instead of the traditional “specialist” model, where teams are large and everyone has a set job. This isn’t always true, and a lot of indie developers have specialists as well as those who wear many hats. Due to the small team size and lowered budget, indie games tend to be smaller in scale and price than your $60 console game.

What’s the difference between an indie game and a regular video game?

The one thing we really believe sets indies apart from other game developers is the connection they have with their game and the community. Players and developers have a much more intimate connection when it comes to indie games, which makes communication between the two groups more meaningful and productive. Many consumers buy retail titles without knowing who developed or published it, but that’s pretty close to impossible with an indie game. The developers are an integral part of the game not only during release, but long after, with most of them releasing updates for years after their game first comes out.

So, if an indie developer is a company with a small team and no publisher, doesn’t that make companies like Riot Games and Mojang indie developers?

This is up for debate. It really depends on who you talk to. For example, we focus on indies that generally don’t get promotion from big games journalism sites like Polygon, Game Informer or IGN. So, many on our team don’t consider Minecraft or League of Legends to be indie (anymore). When a company is that wildly successful, sometimes they have to start appealing to the masses that play their game, and along the way they may lose the characteristics that made them an indie in the first place. They have their roots in indie gaming, though, so one could say they’re still an indie developer. Again, there’s a lot of debate around this topic.

“Oh, so once an indie is successful they’re no longer indie?” you might ask.  That’s not the case; it’s totally awesome to see indies get huge! These companies are trying to make their games the best they can be, and we respect that. We still cover highly successful indies like Telltale Games, developers of The Walking Deadand The Wolf Among Us. We cover indie developers that we believe represent the spirit of indie gaming, regardless of how well they’ve done. Even though Telltale has sold tons of copies thanks to their takes on the worlds of The Walking Dead and Fables, their games still represent the development and distribution process of indie games, and they still have that community-focused, intimate spirit that we love. As long as a developer has that, it’s indie in our eyes.

What about indie publishers?

I know, sounds like an oxymoron, right? There’s a lot of companies out there that have started publishing indie games. Some you might have heard of are Devolver Digital, Kongregate, Adult Swim Games and Midnight City. Just like the developers they represent, these aren’t traditional publishers. Some of them help with marketing and PR, some of them help with development, and some do even more. This is a relatively new trend in indies, but indie publishers are proven to help games reach a larger audience and free up time for the developers to work on their games while the publisher worries about promotion.

So, there you have it. That’s what an indie game is. Our mission is to support these developers and introduce people to some amazing games that they might not have heard about otherwise. Now that you’ve got a clearer picture, why not look around for something that catches your attention? Or, if you’re already itching to read about some awesome indie games, check out some of our staff’s favorites:

Alec: Bounden
Max: Inazuma Eleven
Jake: Gone Home
Elaina: Monaco
Michael: FTL: Faster Than Light
Andrew: The Banner Saga