Meta’s AI image generator is available as a standalone website

Meta has launched a standalone version of its image generator as it tests dozens of new generative AI features across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. The image generator, called Imagine, was first previewed at the company’s Connect event in November and has been available as part of Meta’s AI chatbot.

Now, with its own dedicated website at, the tool will be available outside of the company’s messaging apps. Like other generative AI tools, Imagine allows users to create images from simple text prompts. Imagine, which relies on Meta’s Emu model, will generate four images for each prompt.

The images all have a visible watermark in the lower left corner indicating they were created with Meta AI. Additionally, Meta says it will soon begin testing an invisible watermarking system that’s “resilient to common image manipulations like cropping, color change (brightness, contrast, etc.), screen shots and more.” For those interacting with the image generator in Meta’s messaging apps, the company also introduced a new “reimagine” tool, which allows users to tweak existing images created with Meta AI in chats with friends.

Interestingly, the standalone site for Imagine requires not just a Facebook or Instagram login, but a Meta account, which was introduced earlier this year so VR users could use Quest headsets without a Facebook login. It’s unclear for now if Meta planning an eventual virtual reality tie-in for Imagine, but the company has recently used its new generative AI tools try to breathe new life into its metaverse.

Meta is also testing dozens of new generative AI features across its apps. On Instagram, the company is testing the ability to convert a landscape image to portrait in Stories with a new creative tool called “Expander.” On Facebook, generative AI will also start to show up in places like Groups and Marketplace. Meta is also testing AI-generated writing suggestions for Feed posts, Facebook Dating profiles as well as AI-generated replies for creators to use in replies to Instagram direct messages.

With the latest changes, Meta is also making its 28 celebrity-infused chatbots available to all users in the United States. The company says it will test a new “long-term memory” feature for some of its AI characters so that users can more easily return to previous chats and pick up the conversation where they left off. The chatbots are available in Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp.

The updates highlight how Meta has sought to make generative AI a core part of its service as it tries to compete with the offerings of other AI companies. Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this year that the company would bring gen AI into “every single one of our products.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Netflix renews the Squid Game reality show for a second season of (mostly) fake torture

Netflix just announced that it has renewed Squid Game: The Challenge for a second season. The reality show is a toned-down version of the dystopian drama of the same name, a program known for its harsh critique of capitalism. Production on the second season is already ramping up, as casting is currently underway.

The Challenge recreates many of the more popular scenarios from the original show, complete with fake deaths by gunshot when a player exits the game. Despite being a fictional version of the drama, the real-life players were put in dangerous situations while competing. Many players said they suffered injuries during the game, and others claimed that provisions were so scarce that people were forced to use condoms as lip balm, among other complaints.

Just like its fictional counterpart, the cash prize was so large that people were willing to put up with less-than-ideal and potentially hazardous circumstances. The winner of the first season will be announced tonight and will take home $4.65 million dollars, $10,000 for each of the 465 contestants. That’s the largest payout in reality show history. However, its winner takes all, so 464 players get nothing. As an aside, Netflix is valued at around $200 billion.

Despite the controversy surrounding the show, it's obviously a hit. Squid Game: The Challenge has consistently perched atop the streamer’s top ten, likely helped by the abundance of news regarding the precarious conditions on-set. Bread and circuses, baby!

The streamer has also revealed a bit more information regarding an upcoming video game set “in the Squid Game universe.” Netflix notes that players will “compete with friends in games they’ll recognize from the series,” so we know it has multiplayer at the very least. It also leaves us with one glaring question. The Squid Game… universe? The MCU better watch out.

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Here’s the cream of the crop from the Day of the Devs Game Awards stream

Day of the Devs is awesome. It’s a showcase that pops up a few times a year to promote promising, in-progress indie games, irrespective of publisher, genre, budget, visual style or release window. It’s curated by the folks at Double Fine and iam8bit, and they’ve been hosting Day of the Devs live events and digital showcases for the past 11 years.

The latest Day of the Devs celebration wrapped up on December 6, the day before The Game Awards, and it featured 20 marvelous and strange independent projects. The virtual show included a few world premieres and release date announcements, but mostly, it was a celebration of creativity and innovation in indie games. This is particularly relevant right now: The Game Awards reignited the debate around the definition of “indie” in November, when its jury voted Dave the Diver into the Best Independent Game category — even though the title is made by Nexon, one of the largest studios in South Korea.

Indie is more than a label; it identifies teams that are operating outside of the AAA system, without a safety net, and it helps players determine where to spend their money. We published nearly 2,000 words on the topic of defining indie games, so read that if you want more juice. But right now, efforts like Day of the Devs feel extra necessary.

Day of the Devs: The Game Awards Edition 2023 offered a non-stop flow of indie goodness, so watch the whole show if you’re into cool stuff like that. We’ve broken out the news and highlights here:

New games

Kind words 2 (lofi city pop)

Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to) came out at both the perfect and most upsetting time — it landed in September 2019, a few months before the pandemic shut down everyday life across the globe. Kind Words is a game about listening to smooth lo-fi beats and writing real letters to real people, and during quarantine, it served as an outlet for thousands of players seeking interpersonal connection, warmth and encouragement.

Kind Words 2 (lofi city pop) is an expanded sequel coming from the original team, Popcannibal. Writing nice letters to strangers is still a core gameplay mechanic, but players are no longer confined to their bedrooms. There’s a whole city to explore, with coffee shops for writing poetry, mountaintops for making wishes on stars, and public spaces filled with people to talk to. The sequel also introduces a social media system with no quantitative feedback — no likes, no popularity metrics, just good vibes.

The Steam page for Kind Words 2 is live now. It's coming in 2024.

Loose Leaf

The studio behind Boyfriend Dungeon is back with something completely different, but potentially just as sexy. Loose Leaf is a tea-drinking, tarot-reading, witchy experience with a serene 3D art style, and Kitfox Games is advertising it as the most in-depth tea-brewing simulator ever created. It looks like an incredibly detailed version of the potion-making minigame from Pottermore, with a side of social interaction in the form of tarot readings.

Loose Leaf is a game about patience, friendships and the magic therein. There’s no release date at the moment, but it has a Steam page.

The Mermaid’s Tongue

SFB Games, the team that brought us Snipperclips and Tangle Tower, has a new project called The Mermaid’s Tongue. It’s part of the Tangle Tower universe and stars Grimoire and Sally, the two detectives from that series. The Mermaid’s Tongue is a murder mystery game about the death of a submarine captain, and players have to interrogate bystanders, investigate their surroundings and solve environmental puzzles.

The Mermaid’s Tongue is heading to Steam and Xbox in 2024, and a Steam demo is out now.

Nirvana Noir

Genesis Noir is one of the most visually striking games of the past few years, and its sequel, Nirvana Noir, looks just as stunning. Nirvana Noir is Feral Cat Den’s follow-up to Genesis, and it offers a jazzy, psychedelic twist on the series. The main character, No Man, is caught in a cosmic conspiracy and players will use dialogue-based detective work to understand the surrounding characters, read between the lines and hunt for clues.

There’s no release date for Nirvana Noir at the moment, but it's coming to Steam, the Epic Games Store and Xbox. It'll be published by Fellow Traveller.

Release dates


Flock looks like a charming, cozy game about soaring around fantastical environments and collecting flying friends, with singleplayer and multiplayer settings. It comes from Hollow Ponds and Richard Hogg, one of the creators of Hohokum, and it is incredibly cute. Aside from befriending birds, the game includes a creature guide for identifying new beasts and there’s a wool-collecting mechanic tied to the sheep roaming the lands below. Flock didn’t have a release window until today: It’s due out in spring 2024 on Steam, PlayStation and Xbox, published by Annapurna Interactive.

Annapurna Interactive

Open Roads

Open Roads has been on the indie radar for a while now, and it finally has a release date: February 22, 2024. Open Roads follows a mother and her 16-year-old daughter on a road trip that reveals hard truths about their family and ultimately tests their bond. It looks like an emotional, moving story, and it stars actors Keri Russel and Kaitlyn Dever.

Open Roads comes from The Open Roads Team, a group of developers that split off from indie studio Fullbright. It’s published by Annapurna Interactive and it's heading to PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Switch. It'll be on Game Pass at launch.

Open Roads
Annapurna Interactive

These look especially dope


Cryptmaster looks like Inscyrption mixed with hell’s cel-shader, and I’m personally very into it. Cryptmaster blends word puzzles with action sequences; players build their arsenals by solving letter-guessing games with text or voice, unlocking the resulting attack skills. It comes from Paul Hart and Lee Williams, published by Akupara Games, and it’s due to hit Steam in 2024.

Akupara Games

Drag Her!

This one’s for the royalty in everyone. Drag Her! is a fighting game featuring real-life superstar drag queens and kings from RuPaul’s Drag Race, Boulet Brothers’ Dragula and beyond, and it looks like a camp ol’ time. Drag Her! stars Alaska, Asia O’Hara, BenDeLaCreme, Kim Chi, Landon Cider and Laganja Estranja, with voice acting by each performer and unique attacks based on their personalities.

Drag Her! comes from Fighting Chance Games and it’s slated for release in early 2025.


Holstin brings horror to a small Polish town in the 1990s, with beautifully dark pixel-art scenes that swap between isometric and first-person perspectives. The developers at Sonka grew up in this world of post-communism religious influence, and they used their experiences to build a game dripping in psychological and supernatural horror. Holstein is an eerie game that values investigation and sharpshooting in equal measure, set in a rare locale.

There’s no release date for Holstin, but it’s coming to PC, Xbox, PlayStation and Switch eventually. A demo showing off its first-person combat system recently went live on Steam, and another demo is coming in 2024.

Home Safety Hotline

As a true ’90s kid, this one is weirdly comforting. Home Safety Hotline is a text-based horror game that plays out on a Windows 96 desktop, complete with pixelated icons and sad gray pop-up windows. Players log on to work at a call center, where they help their clients get rid of spooky, paranormal creatures and occurrences invading their homes.

Home Safety Hotline is heading to PC in early 2024 (a slight delay from its original release date).

Home Safety Hotline
Night Signal Entertainment


Militsioner is essentially 1984, the video game: It features a cop as an all-seeing colossus, sitting watch over a quiet town, alert and eager to throw you in jail. Players have to escape without attracting the attention of the giant policeman, learning when to sneak and how to talk their way out of capture, and exploring empty buildings and solving spatial puzzles along the way.

Militsioner comes from Tallboys and doesn’t have a release date, but its Steam page is live.


If you're still craving more, check out the full Day of the Devs: The Game Awards 2023 show here.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

GTA 6, The Game Awards and the great indie debate | This week’s gaming news

After a slow month in the world of video game marketing, things are starting to pick up. The past week has given us a first look at the new Fallout TV show, a few release dates and a trailer for a little game called Grand Theft Auto VI — and the Game Awards are still to come. What good timing for us to launch a weekly video game show to dig into the news.

This week’s stories

The Game Awards logo
The Game Awards

The Game Awards

The Game Awards will go live on Thursday, December 7, at 7:30PM ET. Expect a few hours of game announcements, new trailers, awkward interviews and musical performances, including one by the fictional band from Alan Wake 2.

Fallout TV show
Amazon MGM Studios

Fallout, but on TV!

Amazon dropped the first trailer for its live-action Fallout series — and, man, it sure does look like Fallout. The show is set in Los Angeles 200 years after the nuclear apocalypse, and it stars Yellowjackets actor Ella Purnell, plus Walton Goggins, Aaron Moten and Kyle MacLachlan. It’s heading to Prime Video on April 12, 2024.

GTA VI is coming in 2025

The biggest news item this week, pre-The Game Awards, was the first official trailer for Grand Theft Auto VI. As of writing it's already reached 105 million views on YouTube — a pace usually reserved for only the finest K-Pop videos. GTA VI is set in Vice City, it’s coming out in 2025 and I'm sure we’ll hear a lot more about it before then.

Dave the Diver

What is an indie game?

The meat of this week’s episode focuses on the longstanding debate about what “indie” actually means. One of the titles nominated for Best Independent Game at the Game Awards, Dave the Diver, was commissioned and bankrolled by Nexon, one of the largest video game studios in South Korea. It’s not indie, and its inclusion in this category highlights how little consensus there still is around the definition.

This is kinda my area of expertise — it’s my 13th year as a video game journalist and indie games have always been a core feature of my reporting. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I mean when I say “indie,” so I sat down and formalized this thought process. There are three questions that can help define a game in an indie gray area: Is the team on the mainstream system’s payroll? Is the game or team owned by a platform holder? Do the artists have creative control? I dug into these questions this week, and discuss how having a publisher isn’t related to the indie label at all.

But when all else fails in the indie debate, there’s one ultimate question to ask: Can this team exist without my support? This is why the distinction matters: The indie label helps to identify the artists that would not exist without game sales, crowdfunding or word-of-mouth support from players. It exists to determine the teams that are truly living and dying on game sales, and it helps players decide where to spend their money. If Dave the Diver didn’t sell well, its team would likely have the chance to try again. If, say, Pizza Tower didn’t sell well, its studio could have folded.

I think this is an important conversation, so give that story a read and let us know in the comments if you think my questions help or just make things more confusing. It’s probably a little bit of both.

Now playing

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood on Steam Deck — it’s the latest game from Deconstructeam, the indie studio that made The Red Strings Club and Gods Will Be Watching. The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is a game about building tarot decks, manipulating elections, betraying a coven of witches and seducing everyone; it’s sexy and well-written, and I highly recommend it. Another game I’m looking forward to is A Highland Song from indie studio Inkle; it just came out this week and I’m excited to dive in.

Let us know in the comments what you’re playing! Also, we still don’t know what to call this weekly video game news show, so leave us some name suggestions, too. Thanks!

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Let AI Jimmy Stewart put you to sleep with a new Calm bedtime story

Jimmy Stewart can now send you off to a blissful night's rest with a Calm bedtime story. The mindfulness app is known for its Sleep Stories, read by celebrities including Harry Styles and Idris Elba, to help users drift off to dreamland. To revive Stewart's iconic voice Calm has collaborated with AI company Respeecher. The new It’s a Wonderful Sleep Story, which Calm has dubbed “a heartwarming new holiday tale,” is now available for Premium subscribers.

Stewart starred in several major films (including It’s a Wonderful Life) and was known for his signature drawl and calming voice. Tina Xavie, chief marketing officer of CMG Worldwide (the company that manages Stewart's estate) said that makes this AI recreation a great fit for Calm's bedtime series. Folks at Respeecher trained its system with old recordings of the star and merged them with a voice actor's rendition of the story.

"Hello, I'm James Stewart, but you can call me Jimmy. Tonight I'm going to tell you a story," the AI-generated Stewart begins, before urging listeners to get nice and comfortable. “It’s a heartwarming story of love, of loss, of hope and of joy, but most of all — it’s a wonderful sleep story.”

According to Variety, the project received the green light from both Stewart’s family and his estate. While this project was created with consent from the necessary parties, the growing use of AI to replicate voices of celebrities and other public figures has sparked ethical debates. There have been several instances of unauthorized use of likenesses or voices, including that of Drake, Tom Hanks and Gayle King.

The It’s a Wonderful Sleep Story has also been receiving some backlash on social media. Users on X (formerly Twitter) have called it "despicable" and "terrifying" with one user saying there was "no way Jimmy Stewart would be okay with AI using his voice."

Despite the backlash, Stewart’s family is happy to see his legacy live on. In a statement, Kelly Stewart Harcourt, one of Stewart’s daughters, said “It’s amazing what technology can do and wonderful to see Dad’s legacy live on this holiday season in new ways.”

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Pixar’s Disney+ pandemic movies are hitting theaters after all

Amid COVID-prompted lockdowns, many major movies skipped US theaters entirely and went straight to streaming services. Those included the Pixar films Soul, Luca and Turning Red, all of which debuted on Disney+. In 2024, though, you'll get the chance to see those animated films on the big screen. Soul will get a theatrical release on January 12, Turning Red will hit cinemas on February 9 and Luca will emerge on a silver screen near you on March 22.

Given that these movies have been around for as long as three years, it's unlikely that they'll set the box office charts alight. But the theatrical releases mean you'll have a chance to enjoy these films as originally intended.

They could also help pad out Disney's bottom line a bit during a rough spell for the company. Among other issues, Disney is slated to release just one Marvel movie next year, Deadpool 3. In addition, the three Pixar films will act as a lead up to the studio's next film and perhaps help get very young viewers accustomed to going to the movies. Inside Out 2 will arrive in theaters on June 14.

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TikTok’s Ticketmaster integration expands to users outside the US

Back in August, TikTok teamed up with Ticketmaster to allow artists to sell tickets to live events directly through the social media app. The service, however, was exclusive to the US, until now. TikTok just announced the partnership with Ticketmaster now extends to more than 20 countries throughout North America and Europe, in addition to Australia and the UK.

The tool only applies to artists officially certified by the platform, though TikTok says that amounts to more than 75,000 entertainers and event providers. The functionality is simple. The artist embeds a link to a relevant Ticketmaster event on a video. Users click a link on the bottom left of the screen and purchase a ticket, but we encourage would-be buyers to keep an eye on those hidden fees.

Music is the primary motivator here, but you can snag tickets for comedy shows and sporting events, among other types of entertainment. TikTok boasts that the program has already supported successful ticketing campaigns for artists like Shania Twain, Burna Boy, The Kooks and many more, going on to say that there has been more than 2.5 billion views of videos that utilize the in-app ticketing feature since launch.

The tool’s available now for those living in newly-eligible countries, like Sweden, Switzerland, Poland and around 17 more. TikTok hasn’t announced future availability for additional locations, but a spokesperson has stated that the company is “very excited to see how the partnership with Ticketmaster will develop over time.”

Snapchat made a similar move last year, partnering with Ticketmaster to match users with nearby live concerts. However, TikTok’s method is more streamlined and should allow for quicker access to tickets.

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Kiss’ final show ended with a performance by digital avatars made to immortalize the band

Kiss’ final live performance at Madison Square Garden in New York last night also turned out to be the first for the band’s successors — four digital avatars that will play on in the real members’ retirement from physical shows. Kiss concluded the last show of its “The End of the Road” tour by introducing the new virtual band, which then performed “God Gave Rock And Roll To You.”

The avatars weren’t just straight replicas of the current band members — Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer — but interpretations of them “as fantasy-based superheroes,” said Pophouse Entertainment, which partnered with George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic for their creation. And, it says that’s just “one of the many and varied ways in which Kiss will live on as digital performers through their avatars in the future.” Industrial Light & Magic also created the digital avatars of ABBA (or ABBAtars) for the ongoing ABBA Voyage show in London.

No specific plans for the virtual band have been announced just yet, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see similar Kiss experiences pop up in the near future. Gene Simmons, who founded Kiss alongside Paul Stanley, said the move will keep the band “forever young and forever iconic,” while Stanley called it a way to “see Kiss immortalized” and take the group “to a completely different level beyond being just a music band.”

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Amazon just dropped the first teaser trailer for its Fallout series

Amazon has released the first official teaser trailer for Fallout, its upcoming live-action series based on the best-selling video games. The clip gives us a look at Amazon’s take on the post-apocalyptic wasteland, and Yellowjackets actor Ella Purnell emerging from Vault 33 to meet it for the first time. The series will be set in Los Angeles 200 years after a nuclear war brought Earth to ruins.

The trailer arrives a few days after Amazon released stills from the show, now showing a deeper look at the characters and the horrors they’ll encounter in the wastes. And it so far seems a promising indication of how the series will approach its well-loved source material. 

Starring alongside Purnell, Fallout also features Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) as a breakout ghoul, Aaron Moten (Emancipation) as a member of the Brotherhood of Steel and Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks) as a vault overseer. There’s also a dog named CX404, which we see in the video and in marketing materials toting around a severed hand. Fallout comes out on Prime Video on April 12 next year.

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The Game Awards raises an old question: What does indie mean?

The Game Awards got it wrong this year. One of the titles nominated for Best Independent Game, Dave the Diver, was produced by Nexon, one of the largest video game studios in South Korea. No matter how hard you squint, it is not indie. Dave the Diver is an excellent pixel-art game about deep-sea fishing and restaurant management, but it was commissioned and bankrolled by Nexon subsidiary Mintrocket, with billions of dollars and decades of experience at its back.

When The Game Awards nominees were announced on November 13, fans were quick to point out the error, and the recurring debate over what “indie” means was reignited. Taehwan Kim, Nexon’s overseer of Mintrocket, weighed in on November 14, saying Dave the Diver “may look like an indie, but it's not necessarily the case.” The official tweet listing the nominees for Best Independent Game now carries a reader-generated context tag reading, “Dave the Diver is not an indie game. Mintrocket, the game's developer, is a subsidiary of Korea's biggest game company Nexon. They are not independent in any sense of the word.”

Dave the Diver

A discussion around the definition of “indie” bubbled up throughout November, but it raised more questions than it answered. One common conclusion was that the media outlets who voted Dave the Diver into the independent category were fooled by its pixel art, a style that’s associated with indie games. During a live Q&A on Twitch on November 26, The Game Awards organizer Geoff Keighley argued that “independent” was a broad term with an unknowable definition, before essentially saying Dave the Diver’s inclusion in the indie category was the jury’s fault.

Specifically, Keighley said the following: “It’s independent in spirit and [it’s] a small game with a, I don’t know what the budget is, but it's probably a relatively small-budget game. But it is from a larger entity, whereas there are other games on that list that are from much smaller studios. Even like Dredge I think is published by Team17, so is that independent or not because you have a publisher? It’s a really complicated thing to figure out and come up with strict rules around it, so kinda we let people use their best judgment. And you can agree or disagree with the choices, but the fact that Dave the Diver was on that list meant that, out of all the independent games the jury looked at, or what they thought were independent games, that was one of the top five they looked at this year.”

The jury comprises 120 media outlets (Engadget has traditionally been one of these, but we did not participate in voting this year and look what happened), so Keighley is chalking the mistake up to mass hysteria and moving on. Meanwhile, there’s still little consensus on what constitutes an indie game, at The Game Awards or elsewhere.

Dave the Diver

I’ve reported on video games for 13 years and indies are a central theme of my coverage. I ran The Joystiq Indie Pitch back in the day, and I’ve made a concerted effort to write about smaller games from creators working outside of the mainstream machine, because these are the experiences that speak to me personally. The indie scene is the source of the industry’s magic. This isn’t just a debate about language — “indie” is a distinction that identifies which games and teams need outside support to survive and expand on their innovations. Understanding the label can help players make decisions about where to spend their money, the lifeblood of any game-development studio.

All that to say, the debate over the definition of “indie” is not new, but it is constantly changing, and it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating. So, I’m here to offer guidance on the question of what makes an indie game or studio indie. It is a weirdly complicated topic and my approach is one of many, but the loose framework I use could help resolve some common, recurring arguments. 

Basically — it’s all about the system, man.

I’m joking, but also I’m not. Generally, when I’m trying to decide whether something is actually indie, I rotate through three questions:

  1. Is the team on the mainstream system’s payroll?

  2. Is the game or team owned by a platform holder?

  3. Do the artists have creative control?

The first question is about identifying where a studio’s money is coming from and what kind of support a game has outside of sales. If a team is wholly owned by another company of any size, it is not indie. We’re not talking about publishing deals; this opening question is about acquisitions or subsidiaries of bigger studios. Dave the Diver is a prime example here — it’s developed by Mintrocket, a subsidiary of Nexon that was created just to develop more contained, experimental games for the publisher. Dave the Diver is definitely not indie, and we’re only on question one.

The second query feeds into the first, and it’s helpful in making fine distinctions about games that exist in gray areas. What about something like Cyberpunk 2077? It’s a big-budget game built by CD Projekt RED (CDPR) — a studio that, at first glance, seems like it could be indie. However, there are two factors that take it out of the running for me. First, CD Projekt, the umbrella organization that supports CDPR’s game-making, is a publicly traded company with shareholders and a board to answer to. Second, CD Projekt is the owner of GOG, a distribution hub that allows the studio to sell its own games and DLC outside of Steam and the Epic Games Store. This ability to sell directly to players at massive scale takes CD Projekt out of the indie realm. Generally, companies with the most influence and money are console makers and platform holders like Valve, Xbox, PlayStation, Epic Games, Ubisoft, EA, and, yes, CD Projekt. They are the AAA system, and anything they own is not indie.

Dave the Diver

Lastly, on to publishers. Sorry, Keighley, but securing a publisher has very little to do with whether a game is indie nowadays. We’re blessed in 2023 to have a thriving indie industry constantly pushing against the AAA complex with different goals, more diverse voices and a broader sense of innovation — and publishing is a big part of this system. Today, indie-focused publishers (of which there are many) tend to include clauses that protect a developer’s creative vision, preventing the larger company from interfering with artistic decisions and keeping the game indie to the core. Once upon a time, it might’ve made sense to only consider self-published games indie, but that era is long gone.

The indie scene has evolved massively since the early 2010s, when games like Braid, Super Meat Boy and Fez were carving out the market’s modern form. Back then, self-publishing was all the rage for independent developers because it was often their only option, and as a result there were more distinct lines between AAA, AA and indie games. Devolver Digital found its first breakout hit as an indie publisher with Hotline Miami in 2012, and that’s around the time the floodgates opened. In 2014, as the industry’s largest companies started funding and publishing programs for them, the number of indie games skyrocketed across platforms including Steam (remember Greenlight?), the App Store, Xbox, PlayStation and Ouya (RIP).

Today, indie games come standard on every console. There are multiple indie-focused publishers, including Devolver, Annapurna Interactive, Panic, Raw Fury, Team17 and Netflix, and most of them offer complete creative freedom as a main selling point. Meanwhile, platform holders like Sony and Xbox are hungry to sign distribution deals with developers of all sizes in an effort to score exclusives and pad their streaming libraries. It’s the most stable (and crowded) the indie scene has ever been. Having a publisher has no bearing on whether a game is indie.

Being owned by a publisher, however, changes everything (see question one). This is more of a concern than ever, as platform holders like Microsoft, Sony and Epic Games have recently been buying studios they like, no matter their size. Hell, even Devolver has dipped its toes in the acquisition pond recently — which, yeah, means those teams are no longer indie.

Dave the Diver

The “indie” label is transitory. Certain studios can be indie but an individual game may not be, and plenty of small companies flow between states as they age and take advantage of growth opportunities. Bungie, for example, started out as an independent outfit, then it was absorbed by the AAA complex under Xbox, and then it broke free and was briefly indie again, before Sony pulled it back into the mainstream system’s cold embrace.

So, yeah, that's my way of determining if a game or studio is indie. By all means, take my triplet of questions and have fun trying to break the logic — it probably won't take long. There is no perfect structure here and there are plenty of outliers within my own framework. Alan Wake II, according to my questions, would be considered an indie game — but its developer, Remedy Entertainment, is a publicly traded company, which brings shareholders and a board of directors. This pushes the studio and the game into The System for me, but honestly, I’m still unsure about those labels as I type this. That’s OK — when all else fails, look inside your game-loving soul and ask, can this team exist without my support? (Alan Wake II, for what it’s worth, is a delicious and unique experience that’s worth playing, regardless of your feelings on Remedy's shareholders).

Does Mintrocket need my support to keep Dave the Diver and its creative team going? Probably not, and definitely not in the same way as Larian Studios, the independent developer and publisher of Baldur’s Gate 3. Baldur’s Gate 3 is an excellent, expansive 3D adventure from an indie studio and it’s up for Game of the Year at The Game Awards, but it was snubbed in the Best Independent Game category. Meanwhile, Dave the Diver, a cute title backed by billions of dollars, is up for the indie award, but not Game of the Year. It seems like The Game Awards jury made the classic mistake of seeing pixel art and immediately calling it indie. That’s an unforced error, but it reveals one point where we can all agree:

Indie is not an aesthetic.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at