Games that don’t need the budget of a AAA blockbuster to be impactful, fun, or enthralling. Independent games can do what no big-budget game can do: be anything they want.
A certain game awards show caught some flak in their selection of what counts as an indie game. Though here at Gamer Malaya and Gamer Matters, we have had that conversation already. We know where to draw the line on indie games.
We saw this coming last year, where we have shortlisted various games that we consider “indie games” but were backed by either big-budget publishers directly or through independent publishing labels. Our previous definition was that a game can be an indie game as long as it still holds true to the nebulous “indie spirit”. We later define “this “indie spirit” as games that don’t fit with the typical mainstream games, a counter-culture and sometimes an antithesis to what big-budget games stand for. Even if it had a big publisher backing, it can pass as an indie game.
But given the strong response from fans and industry peers alike regarding this definition, we decided to follow along. Moving forward, only indie games made by independent developers aligned with indie publishers that do not involve themselves with making AAA games in any way can be shortlisted here. Of course, the game itself still needs to carry that “indie spirit”. The game itself still needs to represent something different from what ordinary big-budget games are.
Baldur’s Gate 3 may be made by an independent developer, but the scale and budget the game is operating doesn’t count as indie. Dave The Diver and Suika Game looks like an indie game and carry that “indie spirit” but they are associated with a mutli-million dollar company, so they don’t count as indie with this current definition we’re adopting.
In short, Gamer Malaya and Gamer Matters’ definition of an indie game, starting this year, are as follows:
- Developed by a small team with a modest budget
- Not associated with any large game publisher that is also publishing AAA games
- Carries the “indie spirit”
- The game doesn’t fit the mould of a typical AAA game
- OR doing something that a AAA game have not made mainstream
- OR the game cannot exist if developed in a AAA game development environment
Best Indie Game Nominees
- A Space For The Unbound
- Against The Storm
- HoloCure: Save The Fans
- Phantom Brigade
- Slayers X: Terminal Aftermath: Vengance Of The Slayer
How The Winner Is Decided (Deliberations Summary)
Unlike last year, 2023’s list of Best 30 games see less indie representation. Mostly due to the new rule of ruling games we didn’t play. So our list doesn’t really represent the thriving indie game scene (once filtered through our new definition of indie games) in full.
That said, this allows for some interesting picks to rise to the occasion. A Space For The Unbound is the latest game from Indonesia to make it to worldwide acclaim, showing off a slice of life that most gamers in the Global North may never experienced before- like how high school students being able to get hold of cigarettes despite that being illegal.
Slayers X’s cringe aesthetic wrapped in a boomer shooter can only exist in the indie space. It’s niche, it’s layered with in-jokes, and for the specific audience this game caters for, it rules.
Phantom Brigade and Against The Storm makes it to the list for its creative mechanics. Phantom Brigade’s timeline-based strategy is fresh, unique, and really takes time to properly understand. And it shows there’s still room for innovation in the strategy tactics/strategy-RPG/XCOM-like genre. Against The Storm invents a new genre blend in the form of a roguelite city-builder, though it being released on the last day of our cut-off date means that we really haven’t see if it has trailblaze a new genre like last year’s winner.
HoloCure: Save The Fans is an interesting pick we have, as it’s the only free fangame in the nominees list. And it may have the blessing of Cover Corporation, the big company that oversees Hololive Productions which the game is based off, the fangame remains free, developed by a small team of passionate vTuber fans, and at the same time innovate on the reverse bullet hell genre, some mechanics that even Vampire Survivors added later on after Holocure introduced it first.
The air in the room was gravitating something unexpected deserving the win for Best Indie Game this year, and we all agree that this is the one.
Best Indie Game Winner
Congratulations to HoloCure: Save The Fans for winning Best Indie Game!
Check out the GM GOTY Awards 2023 hub for the rest of the categories and winners. The page will be updated as we announce the winners everyday until December 29