The digital realm has reconfigured the ways in which production and consumption of games happen. Consider some prominent examples:
In May 2011, self-taught game developer Andrew Spinks released his own world-building game after only five months of production. The game, Terraria, now available on all major computing and gaming platforms, has sold over 20.5 million units, but is still only available through Spinks’s own publishing firm, Re-Logic.
In June 2013, student video game developer Toby Fox pitched his own project, Undertale, on the financing platform Kickstarter using the free-to-use production tool, gamemaker. After raising over $50,000 for his game, Fox’s Undertale sold over 2 million units before being named 2015 Game of the Year by several video game trade journals, including IGN.
In August 2012, the disillusioned pen-and-paper game developer Monte Cook left his job at the publisher of industry leader, Dungeons & Dragons, and pitched his own roleplaying system, Numenera, directly to fans in a Kickstarter campaign that earned over $500K. Subsequently, the game has become a brand-franchise spawning a series of spin-offs, novels and video games.
In November 2010, a group of high school friends from Chicago presented a version of their game, Cards Against Humanity, as a Kickstarter campaign. After surpassing its modest funding goal, the game sold over 500K units in the next three years and enabled its creators to generate a number of politically minded publicity stunts in the wake of Trump presidency.
In February 2016, two stay-at-home moms and escape room aficionados launched their Kickstarter campaign for a home-based, single-use escape room board game called Escape Room in a Box. They hit their goal of $19,000 within 14 hours, and were ultimately funded for over $130,000, necessitating shifting their game manufacturing plans from inviting friends to make the games by hand to looking at options for mass manufacturing. The two creators are working on a new game, and have created their own puzzle and games consulting company, The Wild Optimists.
In all these cases, creators have leveraged the ease and availability of networking through online platforms and, as a result, have forged paths to both creative and financial success previously unavailable. Traditional mass media and game publishing models have operated with high barriers to entry and high production costs, reinforcing capitalist power structures, wherein the richest, most privileged, most connected and the most culturally, socially and artistically normative have had the best chance to have their creative works made and exposed to a wide audience. And because mainstream board game companies like Mattel and Hasbro, as well as traditional video game companies such as Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony have presided over an oligarchical system, independent game makers historically have had limited chances to get their work in front of an audience without directly working with one of these gatekeepers.
Investigating the products and practices of indie game makers presents scholars with an opportunity to reconsider the debate over user-generated content and digital labor more broadly. How much does the dissolution of mainstream gaming’s production chokeholds on financing, marketing, distribution and production empower indie game makers to rethink cultural, economic and political models? Conversely, how are indie game makers potentially exploited by new media platforms that siphon off their biopolitical labor, reinforcing and re-interpellating them into traditional models of capitalism and power?
We are interested in contributions that both expand and problematize this binary by closely examining independent games and their makers as components of a distinct and emerging culture of production that often does imagine complexity in the economic, social and cultural decisions of its makers.
We are seeking contributions from scholars in media and video games studies, communications studies, anthropology and sociology, and any other associated disciplines who are interesting in developing grounded case studies of indie game makers; theoretical models of indie game work and / or style; historical examinations of developments within indie games; and critical analyses of particular indie game makers, formats or significant indie games titles. More specifically, we are interested in how indie games intersect with a wide array of concepts including (but not limited to):
Production, distribution, and labor
Collaborative circles, microcultures, and social movements
Financing, crowdfunding, and multiple market approaches
Game aesthetics and mechanics
Serious games, critical games, and critical gameplay
Social justice, community/coalition building, advocacy
Entrepreneurial & innovation theory
Informal media and “grey” markets
Artisanal and craft movements
Social media and networks
Folk culture and practices
Mainstream incorporation/co-optation of indie games
Comparative studies of indie games across platforms and media
Video game streamers, broadcasters, and let’s plays