The Remarkable Journey of Indie Games: A Timeline

50 years of history that you can read over your coffee break

Andrew Johnston
9 min readFeb 14, 2024

I’m not sure exactly when the term “indie game” was first used, but independent video games long predate the term. Game development has a history that goes back far before the concept of the video game industry, to an age when games were hacked together by bored office workers using the best machines of their day.

What follows is a brief and by no means exhaustive history of independent video games. It is a series of milestones, focusing not just on the games themselves, but on the tools that enabled their creation and the culture that sprouted up around them. It’s economics, it’s marketing, it’s society, it’s records that keep getting higher and higher.

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1973 — David Ahl publishes 101 BASIC Computer Games, a book of type-in programs converted from their original assembly languages to BASIC. It is so popular that at one point, there are more copies in print than computers capable of running the programs.

Late 1975 — Rusty Rutherford creates The Dungeons, better known as pedit5 — the first of a series of Dungeons & Dragons fan games created for the University of Illinois’ PLATO computer system.

May 1984 — The UK company Telecomsoft establishes the Firebird brand to publish hobbyist games for 8-bit computer systems.

Dec 17, 1992 — ASCII releases the first edition of RPG Maker, an early video game creation tool. Illegal copies would quickly spread outside of Japan.


1993 — Harry Dodgson produces the first homebrew cart — a monitoring utility for the Atari 2600. The first homebrew game for the Atari 2600, a Tetris clone, would come out two years later.

Jan 26, 1994 — Brendon Wyber releases a public version of the Doom Editing Utility. This enabled users to easily create WADs, or custom levels for Doom. The modding scene expands quickly.

Nov 3, 1994 — Justin Fisher coins the term “total conversion” to describe his Doom WAD Aliens TC. A total conversion replaces all elements of the source game, effectively creating a new game inside of an existing one.

May 12, 1998 — Macromedia releases Macromedia Flash 3. While intended for developing advanced interactivity for websites, Flash 3 was also sophisticated enough to develop web-based video games.


Sep 23, 1998 — Patrick Wilson and Laine Walker-Avina found the TI Calculator Programming Alliance, a group dedicated to creating programs for the TI-83+ and its successors. They become most known for developing a series of ports and original games for scientific calculators.

Mar 15, 1999 — The first Independent Games Festival is held at the Game Developers Conference. The first grand prize is awarded to a never-released game called Fire and Darkness.

Apr 7, 1999 — Team Fortress Classic, originally based on a modified version of Quake, becomes the first mod to receive a standalone commercial release.

Jul 25, 1999 — Newgrounds founder Tom Fulp posts the game Pico’s School, a game far more complex than what was the norm in Flash development at the time.

Nov 15, 1999 — Mark Overmars releases the first version of GameMaker. This system and its successors will be used to create numerous well-known indie games, including Undertale, Hyper Light Drifter and Nuclear Throne.


Sep 24, 2000 — FuSoYa releases the first version of Lunar Magic, a level editing tool for Super Mario World. This tool and similar programs for other games greatly expand the ROM hacking scene.

Mar 15, 2002 — The first Indie Game Jam is held in Oakland, California. This is followed in April by the first Ludum Dare, a virtual game jam still held to this day.

Nov 23, 2002 — David DeCarmine creates a hobbyist development forum called Holo World. This would gradually turn into a platform for game discovery, eventually turning into Game Jolt, a significant site for young developers.

Nov 21, 2004 — The Behemoth releases Alien Hominid on the PS2, one of the first independently developed games to come out on a console.


Dec 20, 2004 — Daisuke Amaya releases Cave Story, one of the first highly visible indie games. Cave Story spreads rapidly overseas after the first translation patch is released by fan translation group Aeon Genesis on January 30, 2005.

Jun 8, 2005 — Unity Technologies releases the first version of the Unity engine. In subsequent years, this would become a standard engine for small developers, appearing in games like Among Us, Cuphead and Subnautica.

Nov 29, 2006 — Facepunch Studios releases Garry’s Mod, a Source-based sandbox game. While sales are slow to start, it eventually moves 1 million copies in its first five years and over 20 million copies as of 2024.

Jan 4, 2007 — Something Awful forum member Michael “Slowbeef” Sawyer posts a video playthrough of The Immortal, creating the first video Let’s Play. This would become a major tool for indie game discovery during the 2010s.


Mar 3, 2007 — Paul Preece posts the Flash game Desktop Tower Defense to Kongregate, racking up 15 million plays in its first four months. Preece says that the game generated $100,000 per year in revenue, enough for him to become a full-time developer.

Oct 2, 2007 — Justin Kan opens his livestreaming platform to the general public. It quickly becomes popular for streaming video game footage.

Aug 27, 2008 — Microsoft initiates the first Xbox Summer of Arcade, featuring the indie games Braid and Castle Crashers. Events in subsequent years would exhibit titles such as Dust: An Elysian Tale and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

Dec 14, 2008 — World of Goo wins the first award for independent games at the Spike Video Game Awards.

Nov 1, 2009 — Mark Essen raises $5,040 on Kickstarter for his game Flywrench, which becomes one of the first games to receive funding through the platform.

Mar 12, 2010 — A group of developers announce the Indie Fund, an organization meant to provide capital for new developers. Games funded through this fund include Hollow Knight, Tunic and The Swapper.


Apr 29, 2010 — Steve Jobs publishes “Thoughts on Flash,” declaring that Flash would not be allowed on Apple’s mobile devices. This led to a sharp decline in Flash development, with Adobe announcing the following year that they would be phasing it out.

May 4, 2010 — Wolfire Games initiates the first Humble Indie Bundle, popularizing the “pay what you want” model for video games. The following year, they spin this off into a dedicated site which eventually becomes a publisher.

Jul 21, 2010 — Playdead releases Limbo. Not only does this game receive broad critical acclaim, but it sells one million copies within sixteen months of its launch.

Nov 11, 2010 — Unity launches the Unity Asset Store, allowing people to buy and sell assets for game development. While this opens up development to new and smaller developers, it also results in a wave of cheap, quickly-made games intended solely to generate a fast profit.


May 16, 2011 — Re-Logic releases Terraria. It would go on to sell 44 million copies, making it not just one of the best-selling indies of all time, but one of the top selling games period.

Jun 6, 2011 — spins off its video game streams into their own platform, This would go on to become an essential means of game discovery for smaller developers.

Jan 20, 2012 — Indie Game: The Movie, a documentary focusing on several prominent indie developers, premieres at the Sundance Film Festival.

Mar 13, 2012 — Double Fine raises $3 million via Kickstarter for their game Broken Age, making it the first game to receive seven-figures through the platform.

Aug 30, 2012 — Valve launches the Steam Greenlight program, enabling users to act as a first approval system for new games. The intent is to streamline the process for new developers, though the process remains slow at first.


Oct 23, 2012 — Devolver Digital, at this time known best for publishing the Serious Sam series, publishes Hotline Miami, becoming one of the first indie publishers.

Mar 3, 2013 — Leaf Corcoran launches, further opening up online markets to small developers.

Jul 27, 2013 — Ouya announces the Free the Games Fund, offering matching funds to any developer who can successfully crowdfund money. The fund becomes embroiled in controversy owing to credible allegations that some developers are artifically gaming the system.

Aug 29, 2013 — Valve modifies the Greenlight program to make it easier to use, approving 100 games in one day as a symbolic gesture. The following year, Steam’s catalog grows by 80%, the largest increase since the store was added.

Jan 14, 2014 — Juan Linietsky and Ariel Manzur release the first open source version of the Godot engine, which would become a popular Unity competitor.

Sep 15, 2014 — Microsoft buys the rights to Minecraft for $2.5 billion dollars. It will go on to become — by some metrics — the most owned video game of all time.


Apr 9, 2015 — Brendan Greene releases PlayerUnknown’s Battle Royale, which would eventually turn into PUBG: Battlegrounds. This game would set several records, including a high water mark for concurrent players on Steam.

Apr 28, 2015 — Matheus Valadares releases the browser-based game The game spreads by word-of-mouth and via YouTube, where videos featuring the game had accrued two billion views within a year. This would go on to inspire other developers to create similar “.io games.”

Feb 26, 2016 — ConcernedApe releases Stardew Valley. It sells one million copies within the first two months and would go on to sell 20 million copies within five years.

Late 2016 — Spurred on by the sizable growth of the indie sector, Steam’s library hits 10,000 games.

Jun 13, 2017 — Valve retires Steam Greenlight, replacing it with Steam Direct. This program does not feature user screening, instead relying on an upfront fee to cut down on low-quality games.

Jan 15, 2018 — Ben Latimore begins the Flashpoint Archive project, aimed at preserving Flash games and other applications before the software reaches end of life.


Dec 6, 2018 — Epic Games launches the Epic Games Store, a competitor to Steam. Epic aims to draw small developers by offering a more favorable profit share, kicking off a conflict between the two launchers.

2019 — Indie games have generated more than $5 billion in revenue on Steam, with estimates placing the yearly revenue at $1 billion.

Aug 4, 2020 — Fall Guys developer Mediatonic reports that the game has attracted 1.5 million players within the first 24 hours after its release.

Jan 12, 2021 — The “kill switch” for Flash activates, ending Flash in most places for good. Flash portals spend the year scrambling to keep their games functional.

Feb 2, 2021 — Iron Gate Studios releases Valheim in Early Access. It sells more than five million copies in five weeks.


Nov 1, 2021 — A team led by David “PhantomArcade” Brown releases Friday Night Funkin’ on Newgrounds. It becomes the most popular game ever released on the site, generating over 66 million plays as of 2024.

September 2022 — According to Cloud Imperium Games, Star Citizen has raised more than $500 million dollars from backers. This makes it not only by far the largest crowdfunding campaign for a video game, but one of the largest crowdfunded projects ever.

Sep 12, 2023 — Unity Technologies changes the fee structure for the Unity engine to one based on installs. This generates an immediate backlash from developers, forcing Unity to clarify and then revise their fee structure.

Jan 28, 2024 — Pocket Pair releases Palworld in Early Access. It sells eight million copies in its first week and peaks at 2.1 million concurrent players, second only to PUBG.



Andrew Johnston

Writer of fiction, documentarian, currently stranded in Asia. Learn more at