- Larian Studio’s hit DnD title, Baldur’s Gate 3, has bagged Game of the Year at the 2023 Game Awards.
- However, many within the community argue whether to consider the game as an indie title or not.
- Larian marks a new age of indie devs who are putting out AAA-level titles, competing with established studios.
In the realm of video games, where blockbuster titles often hog the spotlight, the recent crowning of Baldur’s Gate 3 as the Game of the Year at the 2023 Game Awards has sent shockwaves through the industry. Some of it not as positive as you’d expect from a monumental moment as this.
Developed by Larian Studios, this fantasy role-playing game, set in the rich tapestry of the Dungeons and Dragons universe, not only swept the prestigious Game Awards but also ignited a debate about the classification of the studio itself. So, is Larian truly an indie studio, and does its success signal a changing tide in the gaming landscape?
Let’s find out.
— The Game Awards (@thegameawards) December 8, 2023
Indie Triumphs On The Grand Stage
Baldur’s Gate 3’s triumph at the Game Awards is undeniably a testament to the power and potential of indie game development. In an industry where massive budgets and renowned franchises often dominate conversations, the victory of a game from a smaller independent studio like Larian is a breath of fresh air.
The fact that it competed against heavyweight contenders like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Spider-Man 2, and Alan Wake 2 speaks volumes about the changing landscape of gaming preferences. Moreover, Baldur’s Gate 3’s success wasn’t just a casual win; it was a resounding success.
They secured a total of six awards, including Best RPG and Best Multiplayer Game. The indie underdog emerged victorious in categories traditionally dominated by gaming giants, showcasing that innovation, creativity, and a passionate development team can indeed outshine massive budgets and established franchises.
What a night. Thank you to everyone who voted in #TheGameAwards.
Baldur's Gate 3 is out now on PlayStation 5, PC, and Xbox Series X|S pic.twitter.com/Uss7VI7hCP
— Baldur's Gate 3 (@baldursgate3) December 8, 2023
A Great Year To Be An Indie Dev
Baldur’s Gate is far from the only Indie title that’s been making headlines this year though. Just take a look at Steam’s top-sellers list. Lethal Company, a multiplayer survival horror game made by indie dev Zeekerss, is still in the top 10 sellers list for several weeks in a row, rising above even games like Call of Duty and CS: GO.
Elsewhere, Cult of The Lamb went viral on Twitter with their upcoming “Sins of the Flesh” update, better known as the long-awaited “*** Update” by fans. Earlier this year, The Game Kitchen’s Blasphemous 2 gave fans the long-awaited sequel to one of the best 2D Soulslike titles. To put it simply, Indie gamers have been eating good.
But this year wasn’t without its setbacks either. 2023 saw the biggest wave of layoffs in gaming history. Even indie studios, who unlike most established studios don’t have financial backers to support them, faced major hurdles, some even being forced to stop production on their games.
Larian’s Journey And Sacrifice
Behind the glittering success of Baldur’s Gate 3 lies a tale of dedication, resilience, and sacrifice. Swen Vincke, the founder and chief of Larian Studios, dedicated the award to the team who poured their hearts and souls into the project for six years, navigating through challenging circumstances and even losing team members along the way.
Vincke’s acknowledgment of the hardships faced by the development team adds a layer of sadness to the victory though, making it more than just an award. It becomes a symbol of triumph over adversity, a testament to the unwavering commitment of a group of developers determined to deliver a masterpiece.
Vincke’s choice to accept the award dressed in armor, mirroring a character from the game, further emphasizes the personal investment and connection the team had with Baldur’s Gate 3. This wasn’t just a project for Larian; it was a labor of love, a culmination of creativity and dedication that resonated with both the devs and the community.
To Indie, Or Not To Indie
Some argue that the term “indie” should be reserved for low-budget endeavors with a specific aesthetic, often characterized by 2D titles and pixel art. Others, including Vincke himself, define indie as being independent of publishers, allowing developers the freedom to prioritize artistic direction without profit-oriented interference.
However, the revelation that Larian Studios is 30% owned by Tencent introduces a twist to the tale. While Larian handles its financing, marketing, and development independently, the shadow of Tencent’s influence raises questions about the true autonomy of the studio. Though I’d argue that owning 30% of a studio of 400 people isn’t really that big a deal.
This raises a broader question for the gaming community: does financial backing from a major player like Tencent disqualify a studio from being considered indie? The answer lies in the delicate balance between financial support and creative independence. Something that even established figures in the industry are struggling to answer.
What Do The Experts Think?
To add fuel to the fire, Geoff Keighley, the face behind The Game Awards, weighed in on the matter during a Twitch livestream. Keighley acknowledged the complexity of the issue, stating that “independent” can mean different things to different people and that everyone has their own opinions about the subject.
He pointed out the myriad factors that contribute to the ambiguity: the budget of the game, the source of financing, team size, and the independent spirit of a game. Keighley emphasized the challenge of setting strict rules and instead deferred to the judgment of the awards jury, composed of 120 global media outlets.
It’s sort of a broad term right. You can argue does independent mean the budget of the game, does independent mean where the source of financing was, is it based on the team size, is it the independent spirit of a game meaning the kind of smaller game that’s different.” – Geoff Keighley
Keighley’s comments shed light on the ongoing debate within the gaming community. The example of Dave The Diver, developed by Mintrocket, a part of the sizable South Korean publisher Nexon, further complicates things because it was nominated for the best indie game award despite being published by a multi-billion-dollar studio.
While the game exudes the appearance of an indie creation, its association with a major publisher raises questions about its authenticity as an independent game. Keighley’s acknowledgment of the debate surrounding the game suggests that the criteria for defining independence in the gaming world are, at best, an open-ended discussion.
An Open-Ended Discussion
The debate extends beyond mere semantics; it delves into the essence of what it means to be an indie game. Keighley hinted that he faces an ongoing struggle to establish clear guidelines, likening it to the film industry’s use of budget thresholds to create distinctions between indie films and bigger cinematic features.
Examples like Baldur’s Gate 3 and Hideo Kojima’s “Death Stranding” further muddies the waters. I mean, Kojima was funded by PlayStation itself. So, are games developed by independent studios but funded by major players still considered indie? The lack of a definitive answer reinforces the notion that the indie label is subjective.
Now, in my humble opinion, I believe that while Larian qualifies as an independent developer, Baldur’s Gate is very much a AAA title. You could make the same argument for all FromSoft titles as well, since while the studio qualifies as indie, the games that they put out are clearly AAA-level. Even Elden Ring’s 2022 GOTY win mirrors Larian’s situation.
The AAA Quality Of An Indie Gem
Baldur’s Gate 3’s scope, budget, and marketing prowess undoubtedly align with the characteristics of a AAA title. However, Larian’s status as an independent developer, free from the constraints of a traditional publisher, reaffirms its indie roots. This raises an essential point: indie and AAA are not mutually exclusive categories.
Its success demonstrates that indie developers can produce games of AAA quality, rivaling the big players in the industry. The game’s extensive nominations and victories, including Best Players Voice and Best Performance, underscore the fact that players are increasingly valuing innovative and immersive experiences over sheer production scale.
Larian has proven that indie studios can deliver blockbuster-caliber games without sacrificing creative autonomy, inspiring a new wave of indie developers to aim for the stars. We can expect to see a whole lot more indie studios putting out AAA level titles in the future, and I for one am all for it.
A New Era For Indie Dominance
In the wake of Baldur’s Gate 3’s victory at the Game Awards, the gaming landscape is witnessing a major shift in direction going forward. The victory not only cements the game’s place in history but also opens doors for indie developers to aspire to greatness.
Larian Studios exemplifies a new breed of indie developers capable of competing on the grandest stage in the big leagues. As we celebrate Baldur’s Gate 3 as the Game of the Year, we also celebrate the evolving definition of indie in a gaming industry that continues to defy expectations.
As the gaming community grapples with this intriguing debate, one thing becomes clear: the term “indie game” is as diverse as the games it seeks to describe. While Keighley’s acknowledgment of the ongoing debate is appreciated, it also underscores the inherent challenges in crafting a universally accepted definition.
Thanks! Do share your feedback with us. ⚡
How could we improve this post? Please Help us. ✍