Game Awards controversy: The term ‘indie game’ is unusable

Game Awards controversy: The term ‘indie game’ is unusable


Is Dave the Diver an indie game? The genre mix’s nomination in the indie category of the Game Awards 2023 is sparking discussion in the gaming community. “Dave the Diver” is creative, peculiar, unique. But it’s not an indie game, many argue.

“Dave the Diver” was developed by Mintrocket, an affiliate brand of South Korean publisher Nexon, which reported revenue of more than 700 million euros in the third quarter of 2023. Nexon’s own management distanced itself from calling “Dave the Diver the Diver” an indie game in a previous interview. Yet a jury made up of over 100 international media decided to nominate “Dave the Diver” as the best indie game during the most important video game awards ceremony.

Heise Online also called “Dave the Diver” an “indie game” in a short test and even dignified Mintrocket as an “independent studio,” even though it was founded by Nexon and remains entirely part of South Korea’s largest publisher. “It’s clear that indie games are chosen based on vibes and pixel art,” comments games journalist Ash Parrish the nomination on Twitter.

It’s true: with its pixelated graphics, its unusual game concept and obvious attention to detail, “Dave the Diver” fits perfectly into the indie category. These are characteristics that we have learned to associate with the term “indie”. But the current definition is different. “Indie” stands for “independent”. Indies are games created by independent studios without the money, support, or influence of major publishers. Games like “Celeste,” “Stardew Valley,” “Papers Please” and “Baldur’s Gate 3.”

Wait, “Baldur’s Gate 3”? With their millionaire budget and 450 employees, the Belgian Larian Studios does not necessarily correspond to the indie ideal. Yet “Baldur’s Gate 3” was created independently by a major publisher and is therefore “indie” according to the strict definition of the term. This doesn’t fit the picture. So do we need a new definition? And how could it be? What exactly is a “great publisher”? Nobody really knows all this.

Studios like to dress up as “indies”. Indie games are cute, hip, creative, an alternative to seemingly soulless, money-hungry triple-A productions. Indie fans consider themselves sophisticated game connoisseurs. Anyone who puts their game on the market with the indie label enjoys good will and can hope for greater leniency in case of problems. And at the awards, some of which are highly appreciated, it does not have to compete with “Spider-Man 2” and “The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom” like “Baldur’s Gate 3”, but with “Cocoon”, “Draga” and Viewfinder”.

These are all tangible benefits that come with the independent label. The term has become largely meaningless. It’s vaguely about small teams, small budgets, bold game ideas. But the reality is that even big publishers regularly introduce indie games to the market: Microsoft with the great “Repentance” or “Ori and the Will of the Wisps”, EA with “Unravel”, Ubisoft with “Child of Light”. ” – and Nexon with “Dave the Diver”. Independent studios don’t have a monopoly on small teams and good ideas.

Even within the scope of undisputed indie games the term has only a limited meaning: “Stardew Valley” and “Papers Please” were developed by individuals, the “Hollow Knight” developer Team Cherry consisted essentially of three people, the studio ” Disco Elysium” ZA /UM composed of a maximum of 30 permanent employees. Indie game budgets also vary widely, from free open source developments to productions costing millions. Publishers like Team17, Annapurna Interactive, and Daedalic specialize in providing financial support to small teams. They are often referred to as “independent publishers” – actually an oxymoron.

Even though the term “indie” is difficult to define, it doesn’t have to be useless. The word “indie” derives its practical meaning primarily from its definition. Indies are games that aren’t triple A. From studios that not only pay attention to mass suitability and market maximization, but also try something new.

It’s not right. But it is not a question of competition or performance evaluation, not of who achieved what results with how much staff and how much budget. Intuitively we understand the term “indie game” as a signal: here someone has been given free rein to pursue his true passion and uncompromisingly pursue his own ideas. These vibrations, gut feelings and intuitions that are difficult to define form a vague consensus that can still be useful for communication. Because we immediately have an idea in our head.

From this point of view, “Repentance”, “It Takes Two” and “Dave the Diver” also seem like indie games, even if the current definition doesn’t give them the best will in the world.


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