I'm trying to brute-force the IGF. It's a bit of a distraction, but it seems to be an important part of succeeding as an individual making games, and getting some level of artistic recognition beyond a tight community of developers.
Submitting a game to it, you're asked:
"Are you indie? You may think this is a silly question, but think carefully about whether you would consider yourself an "independent developer", by most people's definition of that term - an artistically independent game creator making the kinds of games that you want to make. If you feel like you are, then please tick the box."
So I thought carefully about it. And I find it quite a strange label. On Steam it's treated as a genre, alongside "Action", "RPG", etc. Okay, this shouldn't be a "definition of indie" post. We know what we mean by it, even if it's hard to pin down a precise wording. The IGF submission form specifies "artistically independent", which is perhaps not quite right - what if a publisher funds a game but doesn't exert any creative control over it? But it's clear enough, and I'm not criticising them here.
Some game developers seem to take a lot of pride in being "indie". I think this is especially common among those who have had bad experiences working on dependent games before going "indie". For them, it seems like a big deal, it's a great experience to work on what you personally want to work on, and they get excited about it.
To me, it's not a big deal. Creative independence seems like the natural order of things. I've spent time in academia, and it's very much the expectation there that researchers pursue what they're interested in studying in a self-directed way - though often collaborating out of common interest. The role of the administration is to support the researchers, not to tell them what to do - much like the government of a country.
(This may be changing, with universities trying to structure themselves more like businesses, and funding bodies caring more about immediate obvious applications.) Maybe I'm reeking with privilege here, but it seems to me like this is the default way art has always been done; people making what they want to make for its own sake. While large scale productions aren't something new - for a long time we've had orchestras where 100 people play the compositions of one with little room for personal expression, similarly with theatre and architecture - they seem like an anomaly to me. (Though often a beautiful anomaly; I appreciate the heights that can be achieved when a large number of people work in unison, submitting to a singular vision.) So yes, I'm artistically independent, but that's just normal to me, that's how art works.
But I'm not financially independent. As I've mentioned before, I can only afford to make games now because my wife is employed, and because I somehow got a game on Steam and the Indie Royale bundle. Without these two publisher-like companies, my income would have been pretty close to zero. And I'll need some of my future games to sell to keep me going - am I significantly less dependent on popular opinion and market forces because I'm trying to interpret them myself rather than being forced into a publisher's interpretation?
I depend on others emotionally. I'm fairly isolated right now (living somewhere remote from friends for my wife's work), so I rely a lot on twitter and online chat for social contact. I really don't know where I'd be without some of the people I talk to regularly online. I'm nourished by people discussing my work; whenever a flurry of VESPER.5 tweets crops up it really encourages me to keep going, to work hard and make more things.
I depend on others for help making things. Games need testing, and though I often reject suggestions because they don't fit what I want to do, sometimes taking into account feedback from others makes things vastly better in ways that I could not have thought of myself. And technical problems come up that I have no idea how to solve by myself (particularly when they're on a Mac).
I depend on structures that are in place to support me - the internet, the stores I sell games through, the hardware and operating systems they run on, the libraries I use, the journalists that can write about my games to let others know about them. When I make a game that requires an obscure controller I'm relying on the manufacturers and distributors to ensure people can have access to it. And various utilities - supplying electricity and water to my home, and nourishment to my nearest supermarket. I would not have any hope of doing what I try to do if the rest of the billions of people on Earth did not cooperate to keep the world around me working in a particular way, so it feels somewhat absurd to call myself "independent" just because I don't have a particular kind of relationship with a specific kind of corporation.
Thank you, everyone. And please don't destroy this world we all depend on; we don't have another.