The incredible story of Indie Game: The Movie

The independent film’s lifecycle has undergone a lot of upheaval in the last 20 years, but it’s digital distribution that’s truly disrupting things, the latest example being Indie Game: The Movie. The independently produced documentary first premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, began a limited theatrical run on May 18th — and will be available for download June 12th, just a month later.
Indie Game‘s story began on the web, thanks to Kickstarter funding, and covers a topic near and dear to the Internet’s heart: the rise of the independent video game designer.
So while, according to co-director James Swirsky via email, the theatrical release and an earlier sold outscreening tour were profitable ways of building word-of-mouth about the film, making the film available online was extremely important to him and co-director Lisanne Pajot, as “that is where our audience is.”
“We wanted to get this film into the hands of those people who want to see it the most as quickly as reasonably possible,” he added. “Which is the main motivation behind the very tight release windows we’re working within.”
Indie Game‘s digital release will come through three platforms — one expected, two unconventional. The film, like many independent films before it, will be available on iTunes, (s AAPL) but it’ll also be released by VHX as a direct DRM-free download — the second-ever project to be distributed by VHX, following their release of Aziz Ansari’s comedy special last April.
The story of how Indie Game ended up working with VHX couldn’t be more webby. Via the film’s extremely active Twitter account, the filmmakers mentioned they were looking for a distribution platform — instantly, Andy Baio (@waxpancake) connected the two:

Check the date stamp on that tweet — it’s less than two weeks ago. Only nine days after making contact, Indie Game‘s deal with VHX was solidified. “A new record for us, and a trend we hope will continue,” VHX co-founder Jamie Wilkinson said via email.
There’s no exact date yet on when the VHX for Artists platform will be officially open for all, according to co-founder Casey Pugh, but “it will be soon,” he promised.
In addition to iTunes and VHX, Indie Game will also be distributed through Steam, Valve’s video game distribution platform. That’s right, a gaming platform. According to Swirsky, with the exception of a zombie film created by Valve employees several years ago, Indie Game is the first film to ever receive major release through the popular service.
However, the decision to work with Steam made sense for Swirsky and Pajot, because of the film’s deep connections with the independent gaming community. “From a pure distribution standpoint, we can not get any closer to our core audience that being listed side by side with the games that are featured in the film,” Swirsky said. “If you like and bought Super Meat Boy, Braid, World of Goo, etc, there’s a good chance you might be interested in the backstory behind those games, and games like them. Steam brings us to the core of our most relevant audience in a very unique way. It’s kind of amazing.”
Across platforms, the cost will be $10, though those pre-ordering on Steam can purchase it for $8.99. According to Swirsky, “When it comes to sales and knowing their consumer base, Steam is second to none. They know their stuff. They know how to effective launch, maintain and promote the products within their system. When they suggested debuting with a pre-order pricing incentive, it made a lot of sense to us.”
To Swirsky and Pajot, each platform has its unique advantages. Steam, as previously mentioned, delivers the film to the most passionate portion of its fanbase. With iTunes, he says, it’s “a juggernaut. We always wanted this film to be there. They bring an audience and ease of purchase/viewing that we could only dream of with this film.”
And working with VHX, Swirsky says, “allows us to continue the direct conversation with our audience that we’ve been having since Day 1. It’s all on our site, it’s all under our control, it’s as personal as delivering the final film to the end audience as we can get digitally. VHX is doing some really exciting things. We’re really proud to be a part of it all.”
“It’s truly a great film. It also perfectly aligns with our beliefs on the future of film,” Pugh said. “Crowd-funded on Kickstarter and self-released on VHX. This is where the film, video and television business is going and it’s only the tip of the iceberg.”
Between the three platforms, Swirsky and Pajot are hopeful to not only make up the actual production budget of the film, but also compensate themselves for the two years they spent making the film. “The film is very much on track to make back its budget. But that’s a budget that doesn’t include paying ourselves for the past two years. If we go by that budget, we still have a little ways to go. But it should be worth it,” Swirsky said.