Indie developers making award-winning games in the AAA market

With the annual D.I.C.E. Summit only a month away, the recently released award nominations has been on the mind. Leading the way in nominations is Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, developed by Sony subsidiary Naughty Dog, with 10 nominations. Right behind them, with 9 nominations, is INSIDE, developed and published by independent game studio Playdead.

Seeing an indie game stand nearly toe-to-toe with a AAA just goes to show how indie games have been carving out their own niche in the game market.

(you can check out the full list of D.I.C.E. nominations here)

Indie developers

Back in 2011, Laura Parker wrote a piece on the Rise of the Indie Developer for Gamespot. It talks about a lot of fear people had, and still have, about the sudden interest in indie development. Games like Minecraft, Journey and Super Meat Boy  all started off in small indie studios, sometimes even with just one person—and became critical successes. Surely, this trend can’t continue for much longer.

Yet, it is still growing. In their first State of the Industry survey back in 2013, the Game Developers Conference polled 2,500 North American game developers and discovered that, at the time, 51% of the developers identified themselves as Indie developers. Among the respondents, 46% said that they were working in companies with less than 10 employees.

With digital distribution sites such as Steam, GOG, the App Store, Google Play, and so on becoming increasingly popular, its no wonder we’re seeing entrepreneurs making their way into the video game market. Many games can self-publish digital media without wasting profits on creating physical copies, something that would’ve been impossible just a few years ago. Beyond just creating shovelware, what makes the rise in indie development great is the fact that these small companies are releasing award-winning, potentially industry-changing content.


For Playdead, INSIDE is their second success. The game serves as spiritual successor to their debut title LIMBO, and expands on many of the original puzzle and platform mechanics found in LIMBO. At the Game Awards 2016, INSIDE was also recognized for Best Art Direction and Best Indie Game.


INSIDE uses light and music to give the game a haunting atmosphere. (INSIDE, Playdead)


Also honored this year at the Game Awards was That Dragon, Cancer, recognized for its Impact. That Dragon, Cancer started as a small project by Ryan Green to celebrate the life of his son Joel, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 1 and died in March, 2014. Green’s acceptance speech at the 2016 Game Awards was heartfelt and emotional, thanking the audience for allowing him to tell Joel’s story:

“You let us tell the story of my son Joel. And in the end, it was not the story that we wanted to tell. But you chose to love us through our grief, by being willing to stop, and to listen, and to not turn away. To let my son Joel’s life change you because you chose to see him, and to experience how we loved him.”


Ryan Green and his son Joel in That Dragon, Cancer. (That Dragon, Cancer, Numinous Games)


Releases set for the coming year show that the trend for innovative indie game development is still going strong. Right now, the best way we can support the growing indie market is staying aware of what’s being released. Previews for Cuphead, Night in the Woods, and Rime already show that there will always be a new way to make games.

[edited for readability; January 24, 2017]


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