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This content is taken from the UAL Creative Computing Institute & Institute of Coding's online course, Introduction to Indie Games. Join the course to learn more.

Indie development: an overview

Making indie games is a rewarding creative pursuit and, for some, a viable career path. In this step, we’ll give you the opportunity to think about how indie development has progressed over time, as well as how you might become part of its future.

Relatively recent advances in digital distribution (particularly Steam on PC), as well as the advent of affordable game engines like Unity and Game Maker, have helped to make game development accessible to more people than ever before.

Access to finance has also improved, with many publishers looking for titles to sign, platform holders (such as Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo) seeking out innovative games to help sell their systems, and investors keen to gain a foothold in the games industry.

Game development by small teams is certainly not a recent phenomenon, however. In fact, 1961’s Spacewar!, one of the earliest video games, was created by just three people - the history of games is full of similar examples.

In the 1980’s, the rise of the “bedroom coder” fuelled much of the market for games on home computers such as the Commodore VIC-20 and (particularly in the UK) Sinclair’s ZX series. Developers would advertise their games in magazines and sell copies by post - many of those working in that era, such as Jeff Minter, the Oliver twins, David Braben, Charles Cecil and Peter Molyneux would go on to become major figures in the contemporary games industry.

By the 90’s, as both the market for games and the technological complexity of development increased, game developers mostly shifted towards a larger studio model, with finance and distribution provided by publishers. Some indie efforts persisted within the “shareware” scene, but it wasn’t until the early 2000’s when modern indie games emerged.

Introversion’s Uplink in 2001 was one notable early title in this phase, with their second title Darwinia becoming one of the first indie games on Steam, alongside Rag Doll Kung Fu by Mark Healey in 2005. Better known “early indie” titles would start to be released towards the end of the decade, with games like Braid (2008), Minecraft (2009) and Super Meat Boy (2010) bringing in the indie scene into mainstream culture for the first time.

Today, indie games are a much wider field than ever before, with developers creating experiences that encompass everything from heartfelt narrative journeys to ultraviolent gorefests. As well as the many commercial efforts on offer, there is also a thriving experimental game scene, congregating around events like Belin’s A MAZE festival.

What independent games spark interest for you?

We’ve started to look at some influential games and the history of independent games.

Now it’s time for you to do some desk research and share other games that you think are important with your fellow learners.

Tell us about a game that has had an impact on you and why?

Share your thoughts in the comments and take some time to read and respond to your fellow learners.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Indie Games

UAL Creative Computing Institute