Over the past six or seven years, independent or “indie” games have grown from low-profile diversions for killing time between bigger releases into a major tour de force in the bustling games industry. Perhaps the biggest example of this is Minecraft, which was created by one person and now has millions of players all over the world. There are now more indie studios out there than ever before, with tons of new projects both big and small coming out at a steady pace across the entire gamut of consoles and handheld systems.

Now that indies have really come into their own, odds are your kids have probably come across them in their gaming world. In this primer on indie games, we answer a few important questions parents will want to know about in order to get up to speed!

What Is an Indie Game?

Typically, “indie” games are created by independently run studios that are made up of highly creative and entrepreneurial teams. These studios are labeled as “independent” because they aren’t tied to any of the big gaming companies like Electronic Arts or Ubisoft. Because they’re smaller and more agile, they aren’t as afraid to take risks that larger companies in the industry would shy away from. Indie developers often create games that can be far weirder, goofier, edgier, more controversial, and more experimental than many of the games you’ll find from big publishers.

The label of “indie game” can encompass a wide range of styles, subject matter, gameplay types, and genres. Big companies can make small games, sure, but it’s often the type of studio itself and how it’s run that determines whether a game is indie or not.

In terms of makeup, indie studios can be as small as a single developer working on all aspects of their games, or they can be slightly larger entities with dozens of employees working together.

Gone Home is an example of an indie game that took a lot of risks. The game's story unfolds as the playable character returns to an empty home and finds items from characters that explain what happened.

Gone Home is an example of an indie game that took a lot of risks. The game’s story unfolds as the playable character returns to an empty home and finds items from characters that explain what happened.

Where Can You Find Info on Indie Games?

The best source to learn more about an indie game is often the people who are making it. Many indie developers have blogs or websites for their game designed to share details on the project and promote their games. YouTube trailers, Let’s Play videos, and social media feeds (like Twitter and Facebook) are other excellent tools for uncovering more information on a game you’re interested in.

Indie developers are also far more accessible to the public than larger profile studios, so if you hunt down their contact info on their site and send a brief email or message them over social media with a question, there’s a good chance that someone will respond with an answer!

It’s important to note that, because many indies release their games on open platforms like the PC, not all indie games have an ESRB rating. This can sometimes make it challenging to determine the nature of the in-game content before actually diving into unrated games to see for yourself. For parents with younger gamers, this makes it doubly important to do a bit of digging to find more details on an unrated indie game before sharing it with your loved ones. If you’re not sure whether a game is a good fit but are interested in it yourself, it’s always a safe bet to purchase a copy and test it out on your own first. Cost is usually less of a concern with indie games, which are often priced much lower than the games you can buy in the store.

If you’re looking specifically to discover new and interesting indies to share with your family, a quick Google search will also uncover a handful of dedicated enthusiast sites that regularly highlight news and reviews of new indie projects. And you can always search the Game Picker right here at Pixelkin for more information on specific games.

Indie game, Never Alone, was designed to teach players about a remote native Alaskan tribe.

Indie game Never Alone was designed to teach players about a remote native Alaskan tribe.

What Are the Most Common Platforms for Indie Games?

The good news is that great indie games can be found on nearly every current gaming system available, though you have to look a bit harder to find them on some systems and services than others.

Right now the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita are hotbeds of activity for indie games, with the PSN network sporting dedicated tabs and indexes for indie offerings that make them easy to find. PS Plus subscribers also get free and discounted access to new high profile indie games on a regular basis.

The Wii U, 3DS, and Xbox One all have indie offerings too, though they’re a bit harder to find if you don’t know a specific game you’re looking for. That’s expected to change in the future on Microsoft’s console as the Xbox One’s indie development program matures and expands.

On the Apple App Store, you’ll find tons of indie games for iPhone and iPad, though they’re not clearly labeled as such. If you look in the games section, you’ll find an indie games tab that highlights some successful and well-known indie projects, but uncovering other indie gems is more about intuition and paying close attention.

The PC is still the number one platform for indie games, since it’s so easy for developers to launch their projects for PC. Steam is easily the biggest games service for PC, and it does a good job of highlighting and sorting indie games in its menu interface. Other services like Desura, itch.io, and GOG.com also are great places to find the latest and greatest indie offerings. You can also frequently buy and download indie games on PC directly from game developer websites too, making it easy to grab the latest projects from your favorite studios.

Where Can You Buy Them?

All of the services previously mentioned above allow you to buy these interesting and diverse games directly through your consoles and devices, though it’s worth noting that you’ll rarely find boxed indie games in stores.

The rise of digital distribution has been a huge boon to the indie gaming scene, and the ability to self-publish games directly to digital platforms without having to work with a third-party publisher has helped expand the indie world in a big way. As such, the vast majority of indie games are only available as digital downloads for the devices you want to play them on. This means fresh games are often available right at your fingertips, making it easier to find fun new indie releases to play with your family.

Have any other questions about indie games or a favorite family-friendly indie pick you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them! Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

This article was written by

Nathan Meunier has been slinging words about video games for close to a decade, writing for more than 40+ publications ranging from IGN and Nintendo Power to What They Play and Official Xbox Magazine. Now he makes games, too! You can read more of his freelance writing, check out his books, or scope his other assorted creative projects over at NathanMeunier.com.