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On 'Hobbyists' vs. Indies - why I don't call myself 'Indie'
by Martin Caine on 02/27/13 09:23:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

[I share my thoughts on the overuse of the term 'Indie' and how many hobbyists and non-professionals class themselves as Indie, causing confusion with more established studios, generally with higher production values.]

I see hundreds of developers these days using the 'Indie' label and personally I feel they're creating confusion by grouping themselves with much more established studios with much higher production values. It's something I've been wanting to comment on for a while and here I'll state my personal opinion and I ask those reading to comment if you agree or disagree with what I have to say.

First of all, I personally consider myself to be a hobbyist. I have learnt to develop games in my free time (alongside having a full time day job (OK, I work in game development for TickTock Games but that's unrelated to my free time endeavours) and a larger than average family) and I work on my own games in whatever free time I can find.

The problem is the way in which the general public (and your gaming audience) percieve the word hobbyist. If you get told a hobbyist game developer has made an awesome new puzzle game it immediately sets expectations in your mind that it's made by some guy (sorry ladies but it's a sad fact that a VERY high percentage of game developers these days are men) in his spare time who might be a complete beginner (or on the other hand might be a vastly experienced game developer).

This is why I believe many other hobbyist developers use the 'Indie' label as it sounds a little more 'professional' and sets expectations a little higher (and potentially gets you more exposure). I'm also guilty of referring to myself (or rather Retroburn Game Studios) as being an 'Indie' too for this same reason. It's all about building a brand and managing expecations of your audience.

I'm totally fine with that but I do feel like there is a need for a sub-class of Indie or an entirely new classification for those who haven't yet made the switch to full time (which for me I think is the point where you jump from being a hobbyist to being an Indie (though technically if it's paying the bills you're a professional at that point, earning your living from developing games)).

A perfect example of this hobbyist-to-indie divide is an argument I was following on Twitter recently about the PS4 being inaccessible to 'Indies'. Many of my peers believe they should be allowed access to next-gen consoles, the problem is most of their games simply aren't good enough. 

It's something that no developer likes to hear but it's a fact that there are bad games out there, even in the AAA world of game development there are absolute flops which cost thousands or millions or pounds (I'm British) to develop and fail to see a return due to bad game design or a massive lack of marketing on launch.

Another example is the XBLA to XBLIG divide, there are a few duds on XBLA but overall those games are MUCH higher quality than the vast majority of XBLIG titles. I agree there are a handful of games on XBLIG that would be worthy of carrying the XBLA banner and I'm sure some of those guys are on Microsoft's radar for the next Xbox anyway.

XBLA is a very exclusive club though, Microsoft only release one or two titles each week and they control the entire process very closely. You're using their brand in your game as an officially licensed XBLA game and they want to ensure quality levels are at expected levels. It's also supposed to be fairly expensive to become an XBLA licensed developer.

PSN though is already Indie friendly! You can sign up and become a developer pretty easily, show Sony your great game that you want to release on PSN (or Minis) and get developing. Now comes the point where the hobbyists pipe up, to develop for PS3, Vita, or now PS4, you'll need a dev-kit. These aren't cheap but they're also not stupidly expensive.

The cost of a dev-kit will be made back from your first few thousand sales on PSN. You have to have faith in your game and believe that you'll make the money back post-release. I know many hobbyists (myself included) are working on virtually no budget, so laying down a considerable amount of money from your personal savings on your game that's still months away from release can be a little daunting but it's worth it, if your game is good enough!

This is one of the things that I think separates Indies from hobbyists. Indies can not risk failure, you're doing it to make money (it's a fact, we need money to afford to live the life we want) and you want your game to be a success, make back your investment and make some money for personal use and to fund future development.

Hobbyists can afford to fail, we generally have lower expectations because we're not relying on the income from the games and we've learnt to develop on a shoe-string budget already anyway. It'd be awesome if our games succeed and we make money from them to fund future game development but we'll continue to develop more games even if we only sell a few hundred copies.

So in my eyes you're only Indie if you're making money from your games and you're able to invest in the future of your games and your company as a result of that. If your games are making money you know there's a market for them and you're making something people are interested in playing. The vast majority of games on Apple's App Store and the likes of XBLIG I would say are made by hobbyists.

I won't go in to the 'top end' of the Indie scale. There are many studios out there, some with hundreds of employees who're still classed as being Indie due to not being controlled by a publisher or platform holder but I'm at the bottom end and I hope to be able to proudly call myself an Indie one day (without thinking to myself that I'm still a hobbyist).


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Comments


Jannis Froese
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I totally agree that too many developers describe themselves as Indie. However I don't see the necessity to make money (you're still an Indie while developing the first game or after a total failure) or to take risks (Notch arguably never did that). Instead I typically start thinking of people as Indie developers as soon as they start going full time Indie.

The upper end of the scale is also very hard to define, and I think at some point we have to. Is Mojang still Indie? If it's just independence from a publisher, would Gaspowered Games would have become an Indie studio if the Wildman croud-funding would have succeeded. What about all those Studios with both publisher published and self published games? Or does the term Indie imply more than the pure independence? I think the answers to these questions also help defining the lower end of the scale.

Kujel Selsuru
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I've always seen it to mean smaller teams (normally 10 or less people) with smaller budgets, self-published or not.

Jannis Froese
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That's an interesting definition. I am most of the time using self-publishing as a requirement because it's called indie, as in independent. However I think your definition is actually more useful in a time where it becomes feasible to crowd-fund AAA games. It would also make the Indie Fund (founded as a publisher for promising Indie games) less of an paradox.

Joseph Elliott
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These kind of semantics really irk me. Why the need to a barrier? Why the exclusion?

The only meaningful difference you're describing is quality. So why not concern ourselves with playing and supporting good games instead of setting an arbitrary and exclusionary barriers? If being "indie" is about anything, that sure as hell ain't it.

Joseph Elliott
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Sorry if that came off as overly harsh. It was a good read. It's just something I strongly disagree with.

Jannis Froese
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I see your point, and it's a good one.

Still, for me it's just about terminology. When you think back 10 years, there were Professionals making games of various sizes, and there were Hobbyists. Now, about 3 years ago a few of these Hobbyists (who previously went full time, which kinda made them Professionals) started having huge financial success, and the term Indie came into use to describe them.
I just don't see how that entitles every single Hobbyist to "upgrade" their title to Indie. For example I don't see why the whole Game Creator community should now be called Indie. They were always Hobbyists, and they still are Hobbyists. It's just not the same to make a small Mario clone in your free time or to make Minecraft. Therefore it justifies two terms.

And yes, I don't consider myself an Indie.

Joseph Elliott
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I understand your point, but I think the line is far too blurry to be useful.

It doesn't matter what you call yourself if you aren't making good games. "Hobbyists" making Mario clones can call themselves "indie" if they want, but nobody will take them seriously until they make real, quality experiences.

Sebastian Alvarez
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Indie being the tree that falls under Pindie and Bindie, Pro Indie and Beginner Indie. Also known and PID and BID or Bidders.

"Hey you indie dev?" "Yeah" "Cool, what type?" "Oh, I'm a bidder now. Haha, bidding on the success of our game!"

Tim Borquez
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Well, for me, you're indie if you have no publisher. Just like films or anything else indie. I don't take anything else into account.

Michael Pianta
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To me "Indie" simply means "Independent" and would refer to any professional developer who is self publishing, basically. So 'indie' is just a subcategory of 'professional' and the schism is between 'hobbyist' and 'professional'. The difference between those two, in my opinion, is whether or not you are trying to monetize. I am teaching myself to make games, and so far the games I've made have not been made available to the public and when I do make them available they will be free (because they are not of a quality I would feel comfortable charging for). So I am hobbyist at this time, but if I choose later to charge for a title, then at that point I will be professional. You can't gate it by how much money you make - maybe I'm a failure and I make no money! But I'm trying to make money, and so my game is not something that I made just for fun/learning. At that point I would be an "indie".

That's what I tell myself anyway.

WILLIAM TAYLOR
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"I'm totally fine with that but I do feel like there is a need for a sub-class of Indie or an entirely new classification for those who haven't yet made the switch to full time"

That is the difference to me. Less indie vs hobbyist and more hobbyist vs professional. If making games is what you do to support yourself and it is literally your job, you are a professional/indie. If making games is something you do in your spare time, you're a hobbyist. Literally, you are a hobbyist.

Steven Fox
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I think what makes me not like the word "hobbyist" for these types of devs is that it implies something less than serious.

While games are not how I support myself, they are quickly becoming my primary means of artistic expression, and thus hobbyist doesn't sit right.

Hobbyist to me says "something I enjoy in my spare time, but that I could take or leave". Like, I play a bit of guitar, but its by no means something I focus on with any real professional or artistic energy. It's just something I like to tinker with on occasion, thus a hobby.


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