The Difference Between Indie and Non-Indie Game Developers

A student recently asked the following questions on a forum:

A couple of quick questions for people who are in the industry:

1. Marketing – I want to market a game I’m creating to gamers and game companies who love RPGs, but is there a standard process for how indie game developers market their work to game companies?

2. What events are there that allow indie companies to show off their materials (if any)?

My answer became more of a diatribe about the difference between Indie and non-Indie game developers (and why the term is a bit over used)… here it is:

Game companies don’t tend to be interested in indie developers, as game companies have enough work already and follow a different business model. That is unless the feel the Indie Developer’s idea is worth purchasing … in the hopes that they’ll derive future profits. That won’t happen until the game is nearing completion, or if for some reason the company is desperate for new ideas.

In earlier stages, small game companies that you have an established relationship with may be willing to share resources (for example, you are friends with a guy who runs a small game company, if he has the space he might let you set up in the corner and develop using his internet and electricity.)

Conversely, indies by definition aren’t usually interested in game companies (at least not interested in establishing a contractual relationship with them)

As a result, there is no “standard process for how indie game developers market their work to game companies”, because this doesn’t really happen unless you’re a free-lancer trying to get a full time gig… then you just go through the regular HR routine.

There are many events for indie companies to show off their work to others, and the biggest is the Indie Game Festival (IGF) that goes alongside GDC. There is also nothing stopping you from showing your work at other events (like PAX) … that is, nothing other than money.

The term indie tends to mean, “financially and contractually independent”. The reason to go “Indie” is usually because when you are contractually dependent on a financier, the people with the money can control the direction of your game. If you don’t want that, then you go indie… accepting that you won’t be receiving up-front compensation for your work…. money that could be used to pay for internet, electricity, wages, marketing, etc.

That is as opposed to “first party developers” that make games exclusively for a specific publisher often times owned by that publisher, or “third party developers” those that make games for a publisher, but can also make games for other publishers. Third party devs are ‘more independent’ than first party developers, but usually need to spend a lot of their time at events like “Casual Connect” trying to pitch their ideas (often fully-functional prototypes) to publishers. Events like Casual Connect are designed specifically for making connections between those with the money, and those that need the money.

There is a bit of a “highway man” attitude that goes with being an Indie Developer. You can do whatever you want, but the cost is that you don’t really belong anywhere, and unless you have a completely separate income source, you might have to sleep under a bridge. Conceptually, there is a lot of appeal to that type of freedom, but rarely do people REALLY want to be the “highway man”. They want to say they’re independent at dinner parties, but really they just haven’t found anyone willing to pay them for their idea yet… and they’d jump at the chance if they did.

That’s fine for younger developers, but its not really “Indie”. A second class of imitation Indie Developers are those that claim to be independent because it sounds cool, but really they are just third party developers (sometimes with/sometimes without a current contracted publisher).

There are hybrids as well (more and more these days it seems). … those third party developers that will take on almost any type of paid game development in order to get the funds to developer their own ideas. Local examples include HitPoint Studios and Birnam Wood Games. These studios have their own great ideas, but still need to pay the bills. As a result, they might have Indie projects, but they have to balance time spent doing “indie stuff” with time spent on paid gigs.

From your question, I can’t really tell if you’re a free-lance contractor looking to do work-for-hire, if you have a completed game and looking to give it a home, or something else.

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