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“Indie” games - a meaningless term in adventure gaming?

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I’ve noticed a lot of people and reviews (not just on AGers) referring to certain adventure games as ‘indie’ and expressing a sort of elevated opinion of these games because of that aspect. It seems we’re meant to hold these sort of games in higher regard because they’re made independently of the big companies trying to maintain a dominance over the industry with commercialism. So it sounds reasonable to support them.
Does the word really mean anything though? Let’s take a look.
———————-
First of all I’d say over 90% of adventure games are made by small developers for a small amount of profit. They don’t have huge budgets and can’t reach the level of polish that the big guys can. There are bigger companies like Telltale which probably make a larger profit but these are rare. Most are teams of just a few people and not the huge development teams available to Bioware or Blizzard. So if that were enough for a game to be called indie, we’d have use it to describe the entire adventure genre. I don’t think many people would agree with that.
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What I’ve read suggests self-publishing has a lot to do with something being labelled indie. But I don’t see a game like J.U.L.I.A being less worthy of support just because Lace Mamba helps them sell their game than say, The Path which is developed and sold by Tale of Tales. And I don’t see it being any more difficult to get a game ‘out there’ without a developer than with one. I don’t know if developers like Amanita Design self-publish, but people who would have heard of them are probably the ones who would buy them anyway.
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Advertising. I don’t see advertising and the ability of publishers to advertise and promote games being that relevant in the internet age. Besides, companies we call indie advertise heaps - I’m seeing advertisements for Gemini Rue and Botanicula all over the web. They’re certainly not at any disadvantage in that respect - adventure gaming being one of the less popular gaming genres, ALL games are fairly obscure and it is through sites like AGers that the fans hear about the games they buy.
———————-
‘Indie’ really just seems to be an excuse for developers who make games with low-budget aspects like poor production values, bad writing and low-res graphics, yet choose to sell their games rather than join the hundreds of freeware developers giving their games away for free. I can’t really say I know why fans and reviewers use the word so much or why Resonance is described on AGers as an “Indie sci-fi adventure from acclaimed freeware developer xii games”. If the word has a meaning I’m not aware of then I accept developers using it to describe their own games, but if it’s meant to convince people to support struggling developers over the big guys, it’s more than a little misleading wouldn’t you think? I’ve used the word a few times in the past but having thought about it, I probably won’t anymore.
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This was much longer than I intended it, I really just wanted peoples opinions on the topic.

     
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I don’t see self-publishing as relevant. I always think of “indies” as independent developers who don’t get paid by publishers to design and produce games. When an indie has a new game ready they can sell it from their own site, choose to approach any publisher who is interested, go to Steam and GOG or Humblebundle. Lots of possibilities. Amanita has done all that.

PS:

Besides, companies we call indie advertise heaps - I’m seeing advertisements for Gemini Rue and Botanicula all over the web.

Are you sure? I’ve seen those ads, but not by the indies themselves. For instance, by GOG. A digital “publisher”.

     

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Oscar - 15 July 2012 10:09 AM

I’ve noticed a lot of people and reviews (not just on AGers) referring to certain adventure games as ‘indie’ and expressing a sort of elevated opinion of these games because of that aspect. It seems we’re meant to hold these sort of games in higher regard because they’re made independently of the big companies trying to maintain a dominance over the industry with commercialism. So it sounds reasonable to support them.

Wait, what? Where do you get the “elevated opinion” idea?  Seems to me that’s a notion you’re projecting into the word where it doesn’t exist. 

At least at AG, closer to the opposite is the truth.  Not that we should have lower opinions of indies, but it’s a word I use (at least in part) to alert people not to expect top-of-the-line production values or lots of bells and whistles.  It should also ring a warning bell about its projected release date, as indies are notorious for slipping.  Merely using the word says nothing about the quality of the game, nor in any way promotes it for being an underdog. It isn’t praise and it isn’t an excuse; it’s simply information. 

If I ever refer to someone as an “acclaimed indie” or something to that effect, that’s because it’s deserved recognition in that particular case (Amanita, Vince Twelve, etc.)  But they’re not acclaimed just because they’re indies, and all indies are certainly not deserving of such praise.

As for the word itself, self-financing is far more important to the classification than self-publishing.  You’re right, for years the genre has been made up largely of indies that make their own games on their own dime, then have a publisher pay only to package it in a box and sell it in stores.  That said, the latter is still a factor.  As soon as another company steps in to pay for marketing and distribution, you’re no longer strictly an indie.  (And who knows if any advance money has exchanged hands prior to release as part of the arrangement.)  I called J.U.L.I.A. an indie all along, but once a publisher stepped in, I no longer could.

You’re referring to “big guys” as AAA mainstream developers, but that’s an unhelpful comparison.  Clearly there’s an obvious distinction between the likes of Pendulo (until now financed by Focus Home Interactive) and Cranberry (dtp) and the lone individuals/tiny studios working in their spare time on shoestring budgets that we generally refer to as “indies”.

By the way, Gemini Rue and Resonance technically aren’t “indies” anymore (though they began that way).  But since Wadjet Eye itself essentially still fits the bill of an indie, I’ve been kind of treating them more like a co-producer and facilitator than “publisher” per se.

     

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“indie” is a dangerous word in just about any context. For music it gets used to describe a genre, implying theres a certain type of sound inherent to not being on a big label. IFC (the independent film channel) now shows many films that came out of major studios, but still have an “indie” feel.
All the word should mean is a way of describing how it was funded.

     

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zane - 15 July 2012 02:04 PM

“indie” is a dangerous word in just about any context. For music it gets used to describe a genre, implying theres a certain type of sound inherent to not being on a big label. IFC (the independent film channel) now shows many films that came out of major studios, but still have an “indie” feel.
All the word should mean is a way of describing how it was funded.

Agreed. Technically, Gears of War is an indie game. The studio that makes it is independent. Most people use the term indie as more of a feel though, with small teams making lower budget games. When your franchise is a billion dollar seller people don’t look at you like an indie studio.

It’s like trying to decide what is and isn’t an adventure game for anything that isn’t traditional point-and-click. Things are too complicated for the label.

     
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louiedog - 15 July 2012 04:44 PM

Agreed. Technically, Gears of War is an indie game. The studio that makes it is independent.

A very important point, though, is that it was not funded by Epic. In other words, it’s not an independent production, it is dependent on Microsoft.

If Epic funds a game 100% themselves, then I agree it is technically an indie game, even if I wouldn’t call it one myself. Epic are large enough that they’re essentially on the publisher level, just like Valve and a few other big devs (in fact, Epic were a publisher in the nineties). They are many times larger than most of the publishers involved in the adventure market.

     
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Kolorabi: Epic games is still a publisher sort of. Plenty of their titles are sourced out to other studios to work on such as Bulletstorm or Infinity Blade, yet they’re still sold under the Epic Games label. Just like Activision with the Call of Duty series it’s not Activision themselves who develop the games, but they do own the studios that they outsource the work to.

     
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Jackal - 15 July 2012 11:55 AM

Wait, what? Where do you get the “elevated opinion” idea?  Seems to me that’s a notion you’re projecting into the word where it doesn’t exist.

I’ve seen in a number of threads “It’s good to see indie games being recognised”... etc. You must have seen something similar on at least a few occasions. If you haven’t, do a search on the forums for the word and you’ll come across lots of such usages.
I think what you’re saying about an indie game ‘deserving recognition’ is exactly what I was concerned with - do they? Maybe you don’t claim that all such games deserve recognition, but you’ll find a lot of people who do.
It’s interesting to me that Wadjet Eye’s games would get less attention if they were freeware, at least on AG - a monthly column “following freeware” rather than a full review.

     
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Naturally things get less attention as freeware. If you’re giving your game away for free, it’s most likely because it’s not really worth paying for (or a fan game, but that’s irrelevant to this discussion). Not saying that all free games aren’t worth anything, but it does somewhat show that you might not have much faith in your product.

Personally I always skip everything freeware unless I hear some good buzz regarding a certain game.

     
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Kasper F. Nielsen - 15 July 2012 10:58 PM

Naturally things get less attention as freeware. If you’re giving your game away for free, it’s most likely because it’s not really worth paying for (or a fan game, but that’s irrelevant to this discussion). Not saying that all free games aren’t worth anything, but it does somewhat show that you might not have much faith in your product.

Personally I always skip everything freeware unless I hear some good buzz regarding a certain game.

Yes, I’ve noticed many people have this attitude. I’ve played many freeware games that I thought were miles better than Resonance or Samorost or many of those BigFish casuals, which all look freeware in everything but the price tag.

     
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I’ve played many freeware games that I thought were miles better than Resonance or Samorost or many of those BigFish casuals, which all look freeware in everything but the price tag.

Titles? I’d love to play freeware games that are miles better than Resonance and Samorost.

     

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Fien - 16 July 2012 05:55 AM

Titles? I’d love to play freeware games that are miles better than Resonance and Samorost.

A Tale of Two Kingdoms
Out of Order
Both are longer than Resonance, Samorost and the Blackwell games and arguably have better graphics.
Curses and Anchorhead (text adventures): Both have better writing than most adventures for purchase. I’ve yet to come across a game anywhere with better prose narrative than Curses.
There’s also Beneath a Steel Sky and Flight of the Amazon Queen, which everyone knows of. Maybe they weren’t developed as freeware, but while they could have asked money for them they chose not to.

 

     
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I haven’t played A Tale of Two Kingdoms. Doesn’t appeal to me at first sight. I did play Out of Order some, not finished. Too difficult or simply bored? Don’t remember. Anchorhead is on my long list of IF games I want to play some day.

However, I agree with you one hundred percent on the literary quality of Curses. But hey, author Graham Nelson is a publishing poet!

You’re wrong about Beneath A Steel Sky and Amazon Queen. They were commercial adventures. They were released as freeware much, much later.

     

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Oscar - 16 July 2012 06:27 AM

There’s also Beneath a Steel Sky and Flight of the Amazon Queen, which everyone knows of. Maybe they weren’t developed as freeware, but while they could have asked money for them they chose not to.

I think that’s very unfair. BASS sold tons when it was a commercial game, and has brought Revolution a lot of PR as a free game (i.e. releasing it for free was basically an investment in their reputation). Plus, there weren’t any good places to sell it at the time; maybe it wouldn’t have been so free if GOG were around back then?

Speaking of which, how about all the other creators of nineties adventure games who are actively selling their games on GOG? Tex Murphy, Simon the Sorcerer, The Last Express, The 7th Quest, The Journeyman Project…. They could give them away for free, but they chose not to. I say good for them.

The gist of your argument seems to be that you’d like people to make free games instead of commercial ones. Fair enough, I suppose. But they’ve got to make ends meet. If we want them to invest their lives in making these things as good as they can, which I certainly do because the Blackwell games and Resonance are better than most non-indie adventure games, then we’ve got to accept that they need to get paid for the effort.

I’m write for a living (not in English, mind you). I’m glad nobody expects me to work full days every weekday and not get paid just because there are tons of bloggers et.c. who often write just as well if not better, in their spare time, for free.

     
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Kolorabi - 16 July 2012 07:04 AM

I think that’s very unfair. BASS sold tons when it was a commercial game, and has brought Revolution a lot of PR as a free game (i.e. releasing it for free was basically an investment in their reputation). Plus, there weren’t any good places to sell it at the time; maybe it wouldn’t have been so free if GOG were around back then?

That might be true, though we did have someone earlier say they wouldn’t look at freeware games simply because they’re freeware.

Kolorabi - 16 July 2012 07:04 AM

The gist of your argument seems to be that you’d like people to make free games instead of commercial ones. Fair enough, I suppose. But they’ve got to make ends meet. If we want them to invest their lives in making these things as good as they can, which I certainly do because the Blackwell games and Resonance are better than most non-indie adventure games, then we’ve got to accept that they need to get paid for the effort.

See, that’s simply not true. I’m not saying these freeware developers are giving their stuff away from the goodness of their heart and that Wadjet Eye and Amanita are greedy bastards, just that there are great quality freeware games out there. Personally I think that if they wanted to make Resonance ‘as good as it can be’, it wouldn’t be made in low-res graphics and have the lousy writing that it has (imo). While that’s just my opinion and i’m sure yours differs, remember that Resonance is also an AGS game, a free engine. All the games you mentioned that are sold on GOG are professionally done and of the highest quality that could be achieved at the time. There’s no way that anything of their quality would be made as freeware either at the time they were made, or now.

Kolorabi - 16 July 2012 07:04 AM

I’m write for a living (not in English, mind you). I’m glad nobody expects me to work full days every weekday and not get paid just because there are tons of bloggers et.c. who often write just as well if not better, in their spare time, for free.

Obviously not, but you wouldn’t be annoyed if you were one of those bloggers and passed over just because you didn’t ask for money?

     

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Kolorabi - 16 July 2012 07:04 AM

The gist of your argument seems to be that you’d like people to make free games instead of commercial ones. Fair enough, I suppose. But they’ve got to make ends meet.

I’m write for a living (not in English, mind you). I’m glad nobody expects me to work full days every weekday and not get paid just because there are tons of bloggers et.c. who often write just as well if not better, in their spare time, for free.

This! I couldn’t have said it better myself!

There ARE wonderful freeware adventure titles that are as good as commercial indie and non-indie efforts (like “Other Worlds”, “5 Days a Stranger”, “The Silver Lining”, AGDI’s remakes of the “King’s Quest” games), but I don’t see why this should mean that all indie adventure games should be freeware. Besides most of the people who made one or two good freeware titles either ended up abandoning the genre or turned to commercial efforts. Creating a game is a time-consuming and probably expensive hobby (much more so I imagine than writing) and people who do this in their free time eventually have to make a decision between abandoning the creation of games or trying to make money of it. I for one would be willing to pay for enhanced editions with voice-acting and original music of some of these freeware titles. 

Oscar - 16 July 2012 07:25 AM

Personally I think that if they wanted to make Resonance ‘as good as it can be’, it wouldn’t be made in low-res graphics and have the lousy writing that it has (imo).

You are of course entitled to your opinion, but as far as the writing is concerned I consider it to be top-notch and infinitely superior to that of many AAA titles. Therefore for me at least in that regard “Resonance” is as good as it can be. As for the low-res graphics, I wish “Resonance” could have better graphics, but that’s the style of graphics that Vince Twelve could afford and knew how to use when he started making the game. The involvement of “Wadjeteye” did not change anything in that regard, as they too are only familiar with this graphic style and I seriously doubt they have the resources to hire new programmers and animation artists to try anything different.

     

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