Are We Indie?

Anyone who follows the games industry will know that Indie games have taken off in a big way. The advent of low priced downloadable games on consoles, and eventually handhelds, has made it easier to design, create and sell a game without having financial backing or selling yourself to the highest bidding publisher.

I’ve done some research on the matter and there doesn’t really seem to be a consensus on what makes a developer ‘Indie’. Perform a Google search, and you’ll find dozens of debates on the definition of Indie. There are some overarching themes, such as being artistically and financially independent, but when it comes to teaming up with a publisher or having employees, it starts to get complicated.

When we started out, some ten years ago, we made Toki Tori for Game Boy Color with absolutely no budget. We spent a great deal of time on the game in our spare time and used imported flash-cart tools to run our code because we were not part of the Nintendo developer program. So far so Indie, I presume.

Then we met a guy who had the crazy idea of shopping our game around at E3. The rather unexpected result was us landing a publishing contract with Capcom, including a pretty good amount of money up front. So long Indie status, right?

But does accepting money for your hard-earned work mean you are not Indie? Do you have to suffer financially to be called Indie? Is it not possible to have marketing when you are an Indie? Are the guys from 2DBoy not Indie because part of their well-deserved success can be attributed to being promoted heavily by Nintendo, one of the biggest publishers in the world?

Two Tribes is a privately owned company, no funding involved, we have about a dozen people working on several games, some partially funded, some original concepts, some ports of great existing games. But still, with each and every title we try to go the distance and make it into a great experience. I don’t think I can end the debate by coming up with a great definition of my own, but I do know I’d like to think of Two Tribes as an indie developer.

Perhaps I’m too close to it though, so I’m going to ask you the question: ‘Are we Indie?’

Collin, Sunday November 14 2010

You guys stopped being Indie when you started making movie-licenced games, and mobile games after other companies' IP's.
But since those games (even a Garfield game ffs) were really good: why care? You got to start paying the bills someday, right?

Mart Kok, Sunday November 14 2010, 18:07

I think you remember Garfield too fondly Mart, but that's for another post :)

You do raise an interesting point though. Currently we're not working on any movie licenses or other people's IP's. Does that mean we're Indie again for a while? Until the next licensed game comes about?

Collin, Sunday November 14 2010, 18:16

In 2DBoy case their major boost was Penny Arcade and RPS and Nintendo, but no one gave them any money so they stayed independent though the whole process. They didn't received any money upfront for their project, everything was self funded. At least that's what they publicly announce.

if Two Tribes make the first GameBoy game the same way you were Indie of course.
"contract with Capcom, including a pretty good amount of money up front." --> This was when you stopped being Indie, you received money to finance your project. Indie also means you have total creative control over the project, which I don't think Capcom has given since they were putting money upfront. The only possibility would be if the publishing contract didn't imply any upfront money.

My 2 cents at least :P

David Amador, Sunday November 14 2010, 18:31

@ David

Technically we got the money after we were done, and the only change they requested was a name change for copyright reasons.

It could be argued though, that we did not have much of a choice, since it was a much different market back then.

Collin Ginkel, Sunday November 14 2010, 19:24

As far as I know, Capcom arrived really late in the developing process and had very little effect on the game. They published and paid a nice bit of money for it, but it didnt effect the game itself.

The same can't be said when you start using other's IP's: weither they are game- or movie IP's. Of course you get sóme creative autonomy. But you are certainly no longer Indie.

And, to come back to my dear friend Collin, once you've turned away from being Indie it's hard to turn back. And it shows. You guys have expanded: new location, more employees. All of this has to be financed and so Toki Tori has been milked dry and the frequency in which new games arrive at the scene has increased. Some interesting concepts (the “mole”-game, anyone?) have been scrapped in favor for publisher assignments and the next Toki Tori-port. There is no denying that this stifles creativity somewhat

As an unknown author once cleverly noticed: The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy. The same can be said for you guys. Nothing will ever be the same again.

Mart Kok, Sunday November 14 2010, 19:25

I think you are indie if you can make games without the interference of others. Your project is not funded by someone, making money is not your first priority, and above else you are creating a game you would like to play, not one you expect a lot of people to like.

Phillip Partridge, Monday November 15 2010, 11:59

Just like in the music industry (where the term "indie" was born, by the way) I follow a personal rule as a consumer: I don't care if it's indie or not. If it is good, I'll keep listening it anyway".

Indie or not, be sure to maintain the quality as well the bills paid.

Thiago Nunes, Saturday December 4 2010, 17:14

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