Is Dave the Diver a standalone game? The nomination of the genre mix in the independent category of the Game Awards 2023 is sparking debates in the gaming community. “Dave the Diver” is creative, idiosyncratic and unique. But many argue that it is not an independent game.
“Dave the Diver” was developed by Mintrocket, a subsidiary brand of the South Korean publisher Nexon, which had a turnover of more than 700 million euros in the third quarter of 2023. Nexon’s own management distanced itself from calling “Dave the Diver” a indie game in a previous interview. And yet, a jury made up of more than 100 international media decided to nominate “Dave the Diver” for best independent game at the game’s most important awards ceremony.
Heise online also called “Dave the Diver” an “independent game” in a brief review and even ennobled Mintrocket as an “independent studio,” even though it was founded by Nexon and remains entirely part of Korea’s largest publisher. South. “It’s clear that indie games are chosen based on vibes and pixel art.” comments games journalist Ash Parrish the nomination on Twitter.
It’s true: with its pixel graphics, unusual gameplay concept and obvious attention to detail, “Dave the Diver” fits perfectly into the indie category. These are characteristics that we have learned to associate with the term “indie.” But the actual definition is different. “Indie” means “independent.” Indies are games created by independent studios without the money, support or influence of major publishers. Games like “Celeste”, “Stardew Valley”, “Papers Please” and “Baldur’s Gate 3”.
Wait, “Baldur’s Gate 3”? With its million-dollar budget and 450 employees, the Belgian studios Larian do not necessarily correspond to the indie ideal. And yet, “Baldur’s Gate 3” was created independently of a major publisher and is therefore “indie” by the strict definition of the term. That doesn’t fit the image. So do we need a new definition? And what could it look like? What exactly is a “big publisher”? Nobody really knows all this.
The decorative indie stamp
Studios like to dress up as “indie.” Indie games are cute, modern and creative, an alternative to supposedly soulless and money-hungry triple-A productions. Indie fans see themselves as connoisseurs of sophisticated games. Anyone who puts their game on the market with an independent label enjoys goodwill and can expect more leniency if problems arise. And in the awards ceremonies, some of them highly awarded, it does not have to compete with “Spider-Man 2” and “The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom” like “Baldur’s Gate 3”, but with “Cocoon”, “Dradrar” and “Visor”.
These are all tangible benefits that come with being an independent label. The term has largely lost its meaning. It’s loosely about small teams, limited budgets, and bold gameplay ideas. But the reality is that even big publishers regularly launch independent-style games on the market: Microsoft with the great “Pentiment” or “Ori and the Will of the Wisps”, EA with “Unravel”, Ubisoft with “Child of Light”. ” – and Nexon with “Dave the Diver.” Independent studios don’t have a monopoly on small teams and good ideas.
Even within undisputed indie games, the term has a limited meaning: “Stardew Valley” and “Papers Please” were developed by individuals, “Hollow Knight” developer Team Cherry was essentially three people, the studio ” Disco Elysium” ZA /UM composed of up to 30 permanent employees. Indie game budgets also vary greatly, from free open source development to productions costing millions. Publishers such as Team17, Annapurna Interactive and Daedalic have specialized in providing financial support to small teams. They are often called “independent publishers,” which is actually an oxymoron.
Although the term “indie” is difficult to define, it does not have to be useless. The word “indie” derives its practical meaning primarily from its definition. Indies are games that are not triple A. From studios that not only pay attention to mass suitability and market maximization, but also try something new.
It’s not fair. But it’s not about competition or performance evaluation, or who achieved what with how much staff and budget. Intuitively we understand the term “indie game” as a sign: here someone has been given free rein to pursue their true passion and uncompromisingly pursue their own ideas. These vibrations, hunches and hunches that are difficult to pin down form a vague consensus that can still be useful for communication. Because we immediately have an idea in our head.
From this perspective, “Pentiment”, “It Takes Two” and “Dave the Diver” also seem like independent games, although the actual definition does not give them the best will in the world.