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What makes a game an indie release? It seems like a straightforward question at first, but it’s actually incredibly nuanced when you dig into it, and there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to settle on. That’s why debate continues to rage on surrounding the topic, and it’s only heated up with this year’s Game Awards.

Back on Nov. 13th, The Game Awards listed all their categories and nominees. When it comes to Best Independent Game, the following titles were nominated:

  • Cocoon (Geometric Interactive/Annapurna Interactive)
  • Dave the Diver (MINTROCKET)
  • Dredge (Black Salt Games/Team 17)
  • Sea of Stars (Sabotage Studio)
  • Viewfinder (Sad Owl Studios/Thunderful Publishing)

The lion’s share of pushback on those nominees was centered on Dave the Diver, which is indeed made by a small team called MINT ROCKET, but they are under the Nexon corporate umbrella. Nexon is an absolutely massive company that rakes in billions, so does that preclude Dave the Dive from being called an indie game? The jury’s very much out on that one.

Following a couple weeks of debate from the games industry and gamers alike, The Game Awards creator/host Geoff Keighley shared some thoughts on the matter. Again, there’s no official, correct answer to share, but it’s certainly nice to have input from Keighley to see how The Game Awards came to its decision. You can see Keighley’s comments on the matter below (h/t VGC).

“Independent can mean different things to different people, and it’s sort of a broad term. You can argue, does independent mean the budget of the game, does independent mean where the source of financing was, does it mean the team size? Is it the kind of independent spirit of the game, meaning a smaller game that’s sort of different?

I think everyone has their own opinion about this, and we really defer to our jury of 120 global media outlets who vote on these awards, to make that determination of ‘is something independent’ or not.

You know, in other industries, sometimes there are things – I think in the film industry the budget can’t be above this amount of dollars or it’s not independent, so I don’t know. …If you have a publisher, is that still indepedent or not?

(Dave the Diver) is made by a group named Mint Rocket, it’s a smaller game from a smaller group but it’s part of Nexon, they’re employees of Nexon which is a very large publisher. So I think it’s a fair debate and discussion – is that game truly independent, or is it not? And you can kind of argue it either way. It’s independent in spirit, and it’s a small game, I don’t know what the budget is but it’s probably a relatively small-budget game, but it is from a larger entity, whereas there are other games on that list that are from much smaller studios.

But even something like Dredge is published by Team17, so is that independent or not, because you have a publisher? It’s a really complicated thing to figure out and come up with strict rules around it, so we let people use their best judgement, and you can agree or disagree with the choices. But the fact that Dave the Diver was on that list meant that out of all the independent games that the jury looked at, or what they thought were independent games, that was one of the top five that they looked at this year.”

[Geoff Keighley]
[VGC]

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Comments (4)

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hawk

I already kind of lost my respect for the Game Awards when they handed a Best Game award to a game Geoff Keighley made a cameo appearance in.

More on topic: Large megacorporations have already taken control of so many aspects of the video game industry. They get their due attention already through the app stores they monopolize and their big-budget ad campaigns. Awards for indie games should be recognizing games made by small teams that deserve success and didn't have a multi-million dollar ad campaign to get that success.

hawk

3M ago

I already kind of lost my respect for the Game Awards when they handed a Best Game award to a game Geoff Keighley made a cameo appearance in.

More on topic: Large megacorporations have already taken control of so many aspects of the video game industry. They get their due attention already through the app stores they monopolize and their big-budget ad campaigns. Awards for indie games should be recognizing games made by small teams that deserve success and didn't have a multi-million dollar ad campaign to get that success.


khufuthemummy

3M ago

When I think of independent games, I think of something like Minecraft or Celeste or Rocket League that seemingly comes out of nowhere and supplants its place in the gaming zeitgeist. Minecraft and Rocket League would later be acquired by bigger companies, but it was only after their sort of grass roots campaign to become successful. And like Nicky Hill said on the podcast, I don't see an indie developer finding a publisher to help distribute/advertise their game as making it any less indie, as it's a lot like an independent filmmaker searching for distribution to get their film on a streaming platform or hopefully into theaters. Dave the Diver seems like an outlier, but I feel like all of this talk about it is good free publicity.


tendonin

3M ago

More evidence that Geoff Keighley has been BSing his way into making this the gaming Oscars the whole time. You'd think a question like this would've been addressed with written qualifications after the first couple years. Everything is still "whatever our jury feels like" because it's not about celebrating the year in games--it's about marketing to gamers. Actual guidelines means they're not free to mold the selections around social media pandering (like pretending Among Us came out in 2020).


conangiga

3M ago

Who even takes the Game Awards serious nowadays?