The Independent Games Festival: A Celebration of Creativity and Innovation

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Young gamer playing video game wearing headphone.

The Independent Games Festival: A Celebration of Creativity and Innovation

The Independent Games Festival: A Celebration of Creativity and Innovation

The Independent Games Festival (IGF) is a prestigious event that brings together developers, artists, and enthusiasts from all around the world to celebrate the ever-evolving world of independent video games. The IGF has played an instrumental role in nurturing creativity, innovation, and artistic expression within the gaming industry.

Impact on the gaming industry

The IGF has had a profound impact on the gaming industry by providing a platform for indie developers to showcase their talents and gain recognition. By doing so, it has helped to diversify the gaming landscape and challenge the dominance of large studios and publishers. The IGF has also encouraged collaboration and networking among developers, resulting in new partnerships, projects, and ideas.

Moreover, the festival has acted as a catalyst for the growth of indie games as a whole. Games that have won IGF awards or been showcased at the event have gone on to achieve critical and commercial success, further elevating the status of indie games in the industry. Notable examples include Braid, Limbo, and Undertale, which have all been lauded for their innovative gameplay, unique art styles, and captivating narratives.

The objectives of IGF

Let’s delve into the primary objectives of the IGF, discussing its role in fostering creativity, supporting indie developers, promoting diversity, and encouraging innovation in the gaming industry.

Fostering creativity

One of the primary objectives of the Independent Games Festival is to foster creativity within the gaming industry by providing independent developers with a platform to showcase their unique talents and ideas. The festival celebrates games that challenge conventional norms and push the boundaries of what is possible within the medium.

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By recognizing and rewarding innovative games, the IGF helps to nurture an environment in which developers feel encouraged to experiment with new concepts, art styles, and gameplay mechanics.

Supporting indie developers

The IGF aims to support indie developers by offering them a stage to present their games to a wider audience, including fellow developers, publishers, and gaming enthusiasts. The event provides valuable exposure for developers, allowing them to gain recognition and, in some cases, secure funding or publishing deals. By offering a range of awards and categories, the IGF helps to acknowledge the diverse talents of indie developers and ensure that their hard work and dedication do not go unnoticed.

Promoting diversity

The IGF is committed to promoting diversity within the gaming industry, both in terms of the games themselves and the developers behind them. The festival encourages submissions from developers of all backgrounds, providing an inclusive space where diverse voices can be heard and celebrated.

This commitment to diversity is evident in the wide range of games showcased at the IGF, which spans various genres, styles, and platforms. By promoting diversity, the IGF contributes to the enrichment of the gaming landscape and ensures that all developers have the opportunity to share their unique perspectives and ideas.

Encouraging innovation

Another key objective of the Independent Games Festival is to encourage innovation in the gaming industry by celebrating games that push the envelope and challenge the status quo. The festival’s Nuovo Award, for instance, honors games that embrace unconventional ideas and experimental gameplay.

By recognizing and rewarding innovative games, the IGF helps to drive the industry forward, encouraging developers to think outside the box and explore new possibilities within the medium.

The History of the Independent Games Festival

Let’s trace the history of the IGF, from its inception in 1998 to its current status as an influential force in the gaming industry. The Independent Games Festival has been a significant event in the world of gaming for over two decades, providing a platform for independent game developers to showcase their talents and receive recognition for their creative endeavors.

The IGF has played a pivotal role in the growth and evolution of the indie gaming scene, giving rise to numerous groundbreaking titles and success stories.

The Beginning: 1998-2000

The IGF was established in 1998 by the UBM TechWeb Game Network as part of the Game Developers Conference (GDC). The event was created with the aim of providing a space for independent developers to showcase their work and compete for awards in various categories.

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The inaugural IGF saw a modest number of entries, but the innovative and diverse nature of the submissions set the stage for the future growth of the festival. Notable early entries include games such as “Fire and Darkness” and “Tread Marks.”

Gaining Traction: 2001-2006

As the years progressed, the IGF started to gain traction, with an increasing number of developers participating and the quality of the entries continually improving. During this period, the festival began to gain a reputation for showcasing innovative games that pushed the boundaries of traditional gaming. Titles like “Alien Hominid,” “Narbacular Drop,” and “Everyday Shooter” gained recognition at the IGF and went on to influence the industry in various ways.

The Golden Era: 2007-2012

Between 2007 and 2012, the IGF experienced what could be considered its “Golden Era,” with several now-iconic indie games winning awards and garnering attention. During this time, the festival played an instrumental role in the success of games like “Braid,” “World of Goo,” “Fez,” “Limbo,” and “Super Meat Boy,” which not only received critical acclaim but also achieved commercial success.

This period saw a marked increase in the prominence of indie games within the gaming industry, with the Independent Games Festival serving as a launching pad for numerous successful careers and projects.

Expanding Horizons: 2013-Present

In recent years, the IGF has continued to expand its horizons, attracting an increasingly diverse range of entries from around the globe. The festival has also adapted to the changing landscape of the gaming industry by incorporating new platforms, genres, and technologies.

This has allowed the IGF to remain at the forefront of gaming innovation, showcasing cutting-edge titles like “Papers, Please,” “Her Story,” and “Hollow Knight.”

Today, the IGF serves as an essential event for independent developers, offering a space for them to showcase their work, network with industry professionals, and gain recognition for their achievements. The festival continues to evolve and grow, reflecting the ever-changing world of gaming and the increasing prominence of indie games within the industry.

The Eligibility Criteria

To ensure that the Independent Games Festival remains true to its mission of promoting independent games, the festival has set forth a series of eligibility criteria that all entries must meet. These criteria include:

  • Independent Development: The game must be developed by an individual or a team that is not financially backed or owned by a major game publisher or studio. This requirement ensures that the festival focuses on truly independent projects, providing a platform for lesser-known developers to gain recognition.
  • Originality: The game must be an original work, not a mod or a derivative of another game. This criterion encourages creativity and innovation, ensuring that the IGF showcases unique games that push the boundaries of the medium.
  • Release Date: The game must not have been commercially released before the specified date (usually around one year before the festival). This requirement helps to maintain the relevance of the IGF, allowing it to remain at the cutting edge of gaming innovation.
  • English Language: The game must be submitted in English or include an English language translation. This criterion ensures that the judging process is consistent and fair, as all judges will be able to understand and evaluate the game.

Submission Fees

The IGF charges a submission fee for each entry, which helps to cover the costs associated with organizing the event and evaluating the entries. The fee is tiered, with lower fees for earlier submissions, encouraging developers to submit their games well in advance of the deadline. It is important to note that submission fees are non-refundable, regardless of whether a game is selected for the festival or not.

The Application Process

To enter the Independent Games Festival, developers must complete an online application form, which includes providing information about the game, the development team, and the game’s platform(s). Additionally, developers must submit a build of their game for judging, as well as any supporting materials, such as screenshots or trailers, that can help to showcase the game’s unique features and qualities.

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It is essential for developers to provide a stable and accessible build of their game, as this will be the primary means by which judges evaluate the entry. Developers should also take care to ensure that their supporting materials are of high quality, as these can play a crucial role in capturing the attention of the judges.

The Judging Procedure

Once the submission deadline has passed, the IGF begins its rigorous judging process, which involves several stages:

  1. Preliminary Judging: During this phase, a large pool of judges, comprised of industry professionals, journalists, and experienced game developers, evaluate the entries based on their own expertise and preferences.
  2. Finalist Selection: The highest-scoring games from the preliminary judging round are shortlisted as finalists in their respective categories. These finalists are then evaluated by a smaller panel of expert judges, who determine the winners in each category.
  3. Audience Award: In addition to the main categories, the IGF also features an Audience Award, which allows the public to vote for their favorite game among the finalists. This award provides an opportunity for developers to gain recognition from the gaming community at large.

Categories and Awards

The Independent Games Festival boasts an array of award categories that cater to the diverse range of games developed by independent studios. These categories include:

  • Seumas McNally Grand Prize: This prestigious award recognizes the best overall game, taking into account various factors such as design, innovation, and artistic achievement.
  • Excellence in Visual Art: This award celebrates the most exceptional visual art in a game, recognizing the creativity and technical prowess of artists.
  • Excellence in Audio: This award honors the game with the most outstanding audio design, including sound effects, music, and voice acting.
  • Excellence in Design: This category rewards games that demonstrate exceptional gameplay design, mechanics, and systems.
  • Excellence in Narrative: This award highlights games that showcase compelling storytelling and engaging narratives.
  • Nuovo Award: This category honors games that break the mold, embracing unconventional ideas and experimental gameplay.
  • Audience Award: This award, voted on by the public, recognizes the game that resonates most with players.

The Event Details

Let’s talk about the other event details of the IGF, discussing its schedule, activities, attendees, and the festival’s broader impact on the gaming industry.

Schedule and location

Typically held over the course of several days, the IGF takes place alongside the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, California. The event features a packed schedule of activities, including game showcases, awards ceremonies, and networking events.

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Attendees have the opportunity to experience a diverse range of indie games, learn from industry experts, and connect with fellow developers, publishers, and enthusiasts.

Game showcases

One of the central activities of the Independent Games Festival is the game showcase, where selected finalists are given the opportunity to present their games to attendees. These showcases allow developers to receive valuable feedback, gain exposure, and potentially secure publishing deals or other forms of support.

For attendees, the showcases offer a unique opportunity to experience the latest indie games, discover new talent, and gain insights into the creative process behind each project.

Panels and discussions

Throughout the festival, various panels and discussions take place, featuring industry professionals, game developers, and other experts. These sessions cover a wide range of topics, including game design, marketing, funding, and the challenges and opportunities of indie game development. These discussions not only provide valuable information and insights but also offer attendees the chance to engage in meaningful conversations and learn from one another.

Awards ceremony

The IGF culminates in an awards ceremony, where winners in various categories are announced and recognized for their achievements. The awards cover a broad range of categories, such as Excellence in Visual Art, Excellence in Audio, Excellence in Design, and the prestigious Seumas McNally Grand Prize, among others.

The ceremony is an important moment for developers, as it celebrates their hard work, creativity, and innovation. It helps elevate the status of indie games within the broader gaming industry.

Networking events

The IGF also hosts numerous networking events, allowing attendees to connect with one another, share ideas, and form potential partnerships. These events, which often take the form of mixers, parties, or informal gatherings, help to foster a sense of community within the indie gaming scene and encourage collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

Attendees and impact

The Independent Games Festival attracts a diverse range of attendees, including independent developers, publishers, journalists, and gaming enthusiasts. The event’s impact extends beyond the festival itself, as it plays a critical role in shaping the indie gaming landscape and promoting the growth and recognition of independent games.

Many games showcased at the IGF have gone on to achieve critical and commercial success, further solidifying the festival’s influence within the industry.


Through its various award categories and recognition, the IGF has helped to reshape the gaming landscape, ensuring that indie games receive the attention and appreciation they deserve. As the festival continues to grow and evolve, it will undoubtedly remain at the forefront of the gaming industry, showcasing the best that indie developers have to offer.

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The Independent Games Festival is an essential event for the gaming industry, championing the creativity, innovation, and artistic expression of independent developers.

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