Top 5 Highest Grossing Indie Games

These five titles are some of indie gaming’s biggest success stories.

July 8, 2016 by Morgan Shaver

Developing indie games is a risky business, with developers trying to manage both the cost and the time involved in creating an enjoyable video game. However, there are successful indie game titles that not only received critical acclaim, but also helped launch the careers of their respective developers.

There is no shortage of indie games available for purchase, and the following five represent some of the highest grossing indie games both monetarily as well as overall popularity.

5. Fez

Fez is an indie puzzle platformer designed by Phil Fish and developed by Polytron that skyrocketed to success less than a year after its release in 2012. In fact, Fez managed to sell 20,000 copies the day it was released, and continued its momentum by hitting over a million copies sold at the end of 2013. Fez scored high praise among critics and was enjoyed not only on the PC, but also the Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, and PSVITA.

In the game, you play as Gomez, who lives peacefully in a 2D environment until he receives a red fez and witnesses the breakup of a giant, golden hexahedron that tears the fabric of space-time to reveal a third dimension. After the game appears to glitch, reset, and reboot, the player is able to rotate between four different 2D views of the 3D world. This rotation mechanic is the basis of Fez’s puzzles, as it reveals new paths through each level by connecting previously inaccessible platforms.

4. Hotline Miami

Devolver Digital is a well-known name in the indie gaming circuit, developing successful titles such as The Talos Principle, Shadow Warrior, Hatoful Boyfriend, and Broforce. However, Devolver’s success can be traced back to their 2012 indie game, Hotline Miami, which went on to sell over 1,700,000 copies across platforms such as the PC, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita. Designed by Jonatan Soderstrom and Dennis Wedin, Hotline Miami was nominated for numerous awards and continues to be a favorite among indie gamers.

The reason for this lies in Hotline Miami’s fun and addictive gameplay. Set in 1989 Miami, players control an unnamed protagonist dubbed “Jacket” due to his distinctive letterman jacket, who awakens in his apartment to cryptic messages instructing him to kill various people at a designated location. Through each stage, the player must navigate from a top-down perspective while trying to accomplish the goal of killing every opponent.

3. Bastion

Founded in 2009 by Amir Rao and Gavin Simon, Supergiant games found success with their first game release, Bastion, in 2011. As of January 2015, Bastion has sold over 3 million copies across various platforms, including PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita. The game won several awards, in addition to receiving extremely high praise from critics. Thanks to the success of Bastion, Supergiant Games went on to develop and release another widely successful indie game, Transistor. In addition, the developers are currently at work on their highly anticipated third title, Pyre, set to debut sometime in 2017.

In Bastion, players control main protagonist, The Kid, as he navigates through various different fantasy-themed environments that form paths as the player approaches the edge. Each level consists of a single plane viewed isometrically and populated by enemies that attempt to harm the Kid. As the player progresses through the game, a narrator voices the gamer’s actions. In-between levels, players visit the Bastion, where they can exchange fragments to buy materials and upgrade weapons.

2. Braid

Creator Jonathan Blow first came up with the concept for the indie game Braid during a trip to Thailand in 2004. Blow partnered with Microsoft to release the game on Xbox Live in 2007, with the PC version following in 2009. During Braid’s first week of release, the game sold over 55,000 copies, and by 2014 Blow stated that he had accrued over 4 million dollars in revenue from Braid. Although initially criticized for its short length, Braid went on to receive high praise from critics and won several awards, including Xbox Live’s Arcade Game of the Year in 2008. 

Braid is played by solving physical puzzles in a platform game environment. Players control the game’s protagonist, Tim, as he navigates across each different game level. A notable element to the game is the player’s unlimited ability to reverse time and rewind actions, even after dying. Braid is divided into six different worlds that are experienced sequentially and can be accessed via different rooms in Tim’s house. In addition, each world has its own unique time-based mechanic that players will have to figure out as they collect puzzle pieces to unlock sections of the story.

1. Minecraft

Minecraft is not only one of the highest-grossing indie games, it is currently one of the most popular games on the market right now. Developed by Mojang’s Markus Persson, Minecraft’s full version was released in 2011 and went on to win a total of five awards at the Game Developer’s Conference. Critical acclaim aside, Minecraft is truly one of the biggest indie game success stories. As of 2016, Minecraft averages a mind-boggling total of 56,000 copies sold per day, and sold a whopping 106 million copies to date! Furthermore, developer Markus Persson became a billionaire after selling Mojang to Microsoft in 2014 for a total of 2.5 billion dollars.

Minecraft is an open-world sandbox game with no assigned goals for players to accomplish. This allows users unlimited freedom when it comes to playing the game, although there is an achievement system if they want to remain on task. With the option of playing in either first or third person, Minecraft’s main gameplay includes breaking and placing blocks. The in-game world is composed of various 3D objects (mainly cubes) that are arranged in a fixed grid pattern. The exterior of the cubes represent different materials, including dirt, stone, ore, water, lava, and trees. These blocks are able to be crafted into anything the player desires, with many players recreating popular locations and even creating their own custom games.