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What are Indie Games and how to make them (Plus 10 Most Popular Indie Games in 2024)

January 22, 2024

Indie games are a unique segment of the gaming industry, known for their creativity and independence from major studios. In this article, we'll explore what indie games are, delving into their definitions, characteristics, and the process behind their creation. Our focus is on providing a clear understanding of indie gaming, from its basic concepts to the details of game development.

We'll start by addressing the fundamental question: What is an indie game? Our exploration will cover the various aspects of indie gaming, including its meaning and how it differs from mainstream titles. We'll also look at the challenges and processes involved in indie game development, offering practical insights into what it takes to bring an indie game to life. Moreover, we’ll highlight 10 best indie games in 2024 as an example. This article aims to give you a comprehensive view of what indie gaming is, backed by our experience in the industry.

Understanding indie games

When someone asks, "What is an indie game?," the answer often revolves around independence in game development. An indie game is typically created by individuals or smaller teams without the financial backing of a large game publisher. This independence is central to the definition, allowing for greater creative freedom, innovation, and personal expression in game design and storytelling.

Indie gaming is about embracing the freedom that comes without the constraints of major publishers. It allows developers to experiment with unique ideas, narratives and gameplay. For example, games like Braid and Hollow Knight have shown how indie gaming diverges from mainstream offerings by providing distinctive experiences and artistic approaches.

Braid (2008)
Braid (2008)
Hollow Knight (2017)
Hollow Knight (2017)

Today, If you are interested in what are indie games, you can see a wide range of titles characterized by their innovative concepts and a strong focus on artistic expression. These games, such as “The Unliving”, are not just products but are passion projects that resonate deeply with their audiences. Indie games are often more than just entertainment; they can offer personal stories, innovative mechanics and a deep connection with their players.

The Unliving (2023)
The Unliving (2023)

The indie game meaning goes beyond just being independent of large-scale funding. It's about the game's spirit, the developers' personal touch and the gaming community's connection. For instance, games like "Celeste" are about challenging gameplay, telling heartfelt stories, and connecting with players personally.

Celeste (2018)
Celeste (2018)

In defining indie game definition, we must consider how these games are developed and distributed. With the advent of platforms like Steam and Itch.io, indie developers now have more avenues to share their creations with a global audience. This accessibility has led to various indie titles across multiple genres, challenging the traditional boundaries of game development.

Finally, the indie games meaning today is a testament to the ingenuity and determination of developers. It represents games not defined by their budget but by their ability to engage and resonate with players. The evolving landscape of indie games continues to inspire and challenge the norms of the gaming industry.

How to make an indie game

Indie game development combines creativity, technical skill and perseverance. Unlike the development process in larger studios, indie game development often involves smaller teams or individuals taking on multiple roles. Let’s explore the key aspects and stages of how to make an indie game.

Key aspects of indie game development

1. Conceptualization and planning

  • Ideation: Every indie game starts with an idea. This could be a unique gameplay mechanic, a compelling story or an artistic vision.
  • Game Design Document (GDD): This document outlines the game's concept, including gameplay mechanics, story, characters and game art style.

2. Overview of development phases

  • Pre-production: This stage involves refining the GDD, creating prototypes and planning the indie game development process.
  • Production: Most development happens here, including coding, creating art assets and implementing game mechanics.
  • Post-production: This stage focuses on polishing, bug fixing, beta testing and preparing for launch.

3. Budgeting and funding

  • How much does it cost to make an indie game? Indie games can vary widely in cost. Factors include the complexity of the game, the cost of tools and software, and whether developers are working full-time or part-time.
  • Funding can come from personal savings, crowdfunding, grants or early access sales.

4. Time considerations

  • How long does it take to make an indie game? Developing an indie game can range from a few months to several years. It depends on the game's scope, the team's size and their experience.
  • Balancing time between development, marketing and other responsibilities is crucial for indie developers.

5. Technical development

  • Game engine selection: Choosing the right engine (e.g., Unity, Unreal Engine or Godot) is crucial for the game’s development.
  • Programming and asset creation: This involves coding the game’s mechanics and creating visual and audio assets.

6. Marketing and distribution

  • Building an audience and marketing the game is as important as development itself. This can involve social media, attending gaming conventions and engaging with gaming communities.
  • Distribution channels include platforms like Steam, Itch.io and game consoles.

7. Post-launch

After launch, indie developers often continue to support their games with updates, bug fixes, and sometimes additional content.

How to make an indie game: Step-by-step guide

Key stages of indie game development:

  1. Develop a unique game concept.
  2. Create a detailed game design document.
  3. Secure funding for your project.
  4. Choose a suitable game engine.
  5. Develop, test, and refine your game.
  6. Plan and execute a marketing strategy.
  7. Launch your game on various platforms.

How long does it take to make an indie game & how much does it cost?

The time and cost to make an indie game vary significantly based on the game’s complexity, team size and resources. Simple games can take a few months with minimal costs, while more complex projects might take several years and substantial investment.

Development Stage Timeframe Estimated Cost Range
Conceptualization 1-3 months Minimal to low
Pre-production 2-6 months Low to moderate
Production 6-24 months Moderate to high
Post-production 3-6 months Low to moderate
Marketing Ongoing Variable
Post-Launch Ongoing Minimal to moderate

In indie game development, the cost of indie game development can vary significantly. For instance, small indie game projects can have budgets ranging from $10,000 to $200,000, covering various expenses like development, marketing and others. Larger teams working on more ambitious projects might see budgets from $200,000 to $750,000, with mobile game development typically costing up to $200,000.

To give you a clearer picture, let's look at a few real-life examples:

  • "Undertale": An indie RPG primarily developed by Toby Fox, had a relatively modest development cost, estimated at around $50,000.
  • “Among Us”: This multiplayer game, developed by a small team of three, took about 7 months to create. Its development cost can vary widely depending on the platform, features, complexity and development team. It could range from $10,000 to $50,000.
  • "Five Nights at Freddy's": This popular indie horror game was developed by a solo developer, Scott Cawthon, in just six months on a shoestring budget, reportedly estimated to be around $100. He initially launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $10,000 but received no funding.

What is the Indie Game Team

Creating an indie game is not just about having a great idea; it's also about assembling the right team to bring that idea to life. The composition of an indie game team can vary greatly depending on the scope and ambitions of the project. In this section, we’ll delve into the key roles typically found within indie game studios, highlighting the responsibilities and tasks associated with each position.

In indie gaming, team members often wear multiple hats, meaning one person might take on several roles. This flexibility is a hallmark of how to make an indie game team function effectively, especially when resources are limited. Whether you are an aspiring indie game developer or looking to understand the dynamics of indie game designers, this overview will provide insights into the diverse roles that contribute to the creation of an indie game.

Roles and responsibilities in an indie game team

Role Responsibilities and Tasks
Game Designer Develops the game concept, mechanics, and overall design. Responsible for crafting the gameplay experience and often involved in writing the game's story.
Programmer Writes and tests the code that makes the game function. In smaller teams, might also handle technical aspects like engine selection and tool development.
Artist Creates the visual elements of the game, including characters, environment, and UI elements. Artists in indie teams often contribute to both 2D and 3D design.
Sound Designer Develops the auditory elements of the game, including music, sound effects and voice-overs. In smaller teams, might also handle audio engineering tasks.
Producer/Project Manager Oversees the development process, ensuring that the project stays on track and within budget. Responsible for scheduling, team coordination, and often, external communications.
QA Tester Focuses on testing the game to find and document bugs and issues. In indie teams, this role can also include gathering feedback from early players and community management.
Marketing and PR Handles the game's promotion, including social media management, press releases and community engagement. Essential for building an audience and generating interest in the game.

Usually an indie team is often a tight-knit group of multi-talented individuals, each contributing their skills and creativity to the project. Understanding the roles and responsibilities within an indie studio is crucial for anyone interested in how to make an indie game team work effectively. It's a collaborative effort that requires a blend of artistic vision, technical expertise and strategic planning, all working together to bring an indie game from concept to reality.

What is the indie game team

Bonus: 10 best indie games in 2024

As we wrap up our exploration of indie games, we've compiled a list of the 10 best indie games in 2024. This selection showcases the most popular indie games. These titles represent the pinnacle of what indie gaming has to offer, demonstrating the creativity and diversity that define what is an indie game. 

From narrative-driven adventures to innovative gameplay mechanics, each game on this list exemplifies the qualities that make indie games stand out. Remember, these are not upcoming titles but the best indie games of 2024 that have already captured the hearts of gamers worldwide.

1. The Unliving

The Unliving (2023)
The Unliving (2023)

In "The Unliving," players immerse themselves in the role of a powerful Necromancer, leading an army of the undead through a corrupted realm. The game blends action RPG elements with rogue-lite mechanics, offering a dynamic and strategic gameplay experience.

Players can resurrect fallen enemies, each with unique abilities, to build an ever-growing undead legion. The game's rich, pixel-art world is full of mysteries to uncover, including secrets of necromancy and hidden truths about the Necromancer's immortality.

2. Dredge

Dredge (2023)
Dredge (2023)

"Dredge" offers a captivating blend of fishing adventure and dark storytelling. Players navigate a small fishing trawler across a vast, mysterious ocean, discovering a variety of sea creatures and hidden treasures. The game's charm lies in its beautiful art style juxtaposed with a Lovecraftian undercurrent. 

Players explore islands, each with unique opportunities and secrets, making for an endlessly intriguing experience. Despite its seemingly serene appearance, "Dredge" holds darker mysteries beneath its waves.

3. Sea of Stars

Sea of Stars (2023)
Sea of Stars (2023)

"Sea of Stars" is a turn-based RPG that takes players on a journey filled with adventure, humor, and danger. The story centers around two children using Eclipse magic to confront an evil alchemist. 

The game's combat system is both accessible and challenging, encouraging players to delve deeper into its mechanics. "Sea of Stars" captivates with its stunning visuals and soundtrack, creating an immersive world in which players can lose themselves, making every moment in this fantastical land a memorable experience.

4. Cult of the Lamb

Cult of the Lamb (2022)
Cult of the Lamb (2022)

"Cult of the Lamb" stands out with its unique premise where players assume the role of a lamb leading a cult. The game is an artistic blend of various genres, tasking players with managing and growing their cult while engaging in combat and dungeon-clearing. The gameplay merges elements reminiscent of "Stardew Valley" and "Hades," offering a mix of domestic activities and intense action.

5. Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley (2016)
Stardew Valley (2016)

"Stardew Valley" is a farming simulation game that invites players to build a successful farm and integrate into a local community. Created by a sole developer, the game offers an expansive, relaxing experience where players engage in farming, livestock rearing, fishing, and exploring. Its easy-to-pick-up mechanics are complemented by a wealth of secrets, community events, and romance options, with a strong modding community on PC adding even more depth.

6. Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods (2017)
Night in the Woods (2017)

"Night in the Woods" is an unconventional side-scrolling adventure focusing on a 20-year-old protagonist named Mae. The game is known for its quirky narrative, driven by dialogue choices and mini-games that reflect everyday tasks. Set in a middle-class American town, the game offers humorous and engaging storytelling, featuring a cast of characters that players grow to love.

7. Dead Cells

Dead Cells (2018)
Dead Cells (2018)

"Dead Cells" combines elements from roguelikes, Metroidvania, and even hints of Dark Souls to create a challenging action game. Every run feels new, with complex and fluid combat that evolves as the player progresses. Despite its difficulty, the game has grown to become more accessible over time, offering a rewarding experience for those who master its intricacies.

8. Celeste

Celeste (2018)
Celeste (2018)

"Celeste" is a platformer that skillfully blends engaging gameplay with an emotional narrative. Players follow Madeline's journey as she confronts her mental health challenges by climbing Celeste Mountain. The game features challenging platforming sequences across hundreds of unique screens, complemented by a rapid respawn system that keeps the gameplay fluid.

9. Vampire Survivors

Vampire Survivors (2018)
Vampire Survivors (2018)

"Vampire Survivors" is a minimalist, roguelike game focused on survival against hordes of monsters. Players utilize a variety of weapons and buffs in fast-paced rounds. The game's addictive nature lies in its simple yet challenging gameplay, encouraging players to continually improve their strategies and weapon mastery.

10. Overcooked 2

Overcooked 2 (2018)
Overcooked 2 (2018)

"Overcooked 2" is a party cooking game set in the Onion Kingdom, where players work together to defeat 'Un-Bread' zombies. The game features dynamic kitchen environments with obstacles like fires and collapsing floors, testing players' coordination and teamwork. It's known for its fun, challenging gameplay, making it a popular choice among co-op games.

Conclusion

Throughout this article, we've delved into what an indie game is, the dynamics of an indie game team, and the multifaceted process of indie game development. From understanding the essence of indie games to recognizing the talents behind them, we’ve covered significant ground. This year’s lineup of the most popular indie games in 2024 further highlights the diversity and creativity flourishing in this sector.

In our final note, we at RocketBrush Studio want to highlight our expertise in creating game art for indie games across all genres and styles. Working with us gives you access to a team skilled in making your game visually stand out. Our commitment is to help your indie game shine in this dynamic and constantly changing industry.

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