clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ron Gilbert ponders the question, 'What is an indie developer?'

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Game designer Ron Gilbert pondered the definition of the label "indie developer" in a post on his website today, posing numerous questions about the term apparently in an effort to point out how meaningless the phrase has become.

Gilbert came to fame at Lucasfilm Games (later LucasArts) in the late 1980s and early 1990s with his work on a string of beloved adventure games, including Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island, and the engine that powered them, SCUMM. He has spent most of the years since as an independent developer, working at studios such as Hothead Games and Double Fine Productions.

"What irritates me is this almost 'snobbery' that seems to exist in some dev circles about what an 'indie' is," Gilbert began. He noted that "indie" is short for "independent," and that the term refers to being independent from publishers. Gilbert went on to posit a bunch of different situations in which developers may characterize themselves or be characterized as "indie" — with many of the scenarios seemingly contradicting each other.

The term "indie," Gilbert noted, can refer to the source of a game's funding (self-funding, publisher, venture capital, Kickstarter), the game idea itself, the developers themselves, the level of success a game attains or even the use of marketing and public relations personnel.

"Someone once told me I was not 'indie' because I have an established name, despite the fact that the games I'm currently working on have taken no money from investors or publishers and are made by three people," said Gilbert. He added that while he came up with the idea for The Cave, the adventure game from 2013 that he worked on at Double Fine, Sega funded and published the title — so does that mean it wasn't an indie game?

"I don't know the answers to any of these questions (and maybe there aren't any), but it irritates me that some devs (or fans) look down on devs because they are not 'indie' or not 'indie enough,'" Gilbert continued.

"Or is being 'indie' just another marketing term? Maybe that's all it means anymore. It's just part of the PR plan."

The next level of puzzles.

Take a break from your day by playing a puzzle or two! We’ve got SpellTower, Typeshift, crosswords, and more.