Tips For Becoming A Successful Indie Developer

Being an independent game developer sure sounds glamorous, doesn’t it?  Working on your game, pursuing your passion, without The Man (a game publisher) cracking the whip and beating you down, forcing you to stick to a schedule and budget.  You have the flexibility to make the game you want, with all the features that you know better than anyone that your players will crave.  And best of all, you get to retain ownership of your intellectual property.

At least, that’s the upside. But there’s also a downside. You have the front the money for development — or get funding from someone who will probably want an equity stake in your company in return. And then there’s the marketing of the game: something for which you probably don’t have the expertise and certainly not the time. And speaking of time, just running the company will take up your time.

Being an indie dev is a difficult task. So, here are a few random tips that might make being a successful one a little easier:

  • Hire the right people for your team.  Sure, it’s nice to work with your friends, but if your friends can’t do design, programming, art and audio well, you aren’t going to remain friends for long.
  • Invest time in your development tools. Build systems to empower your designers to get features in game as quickly as possible.
  • The biggest cause of failed projects is not managing the scope of the project. Don’t try to do more than the size and talent of your team is capable of.
  • It is better to create a great small-sized game than a mediocre larger one.
  • Remember that success is at the end of a long road. Your team’s first few games will suck, and only a fraction made afterwards (about 20%) will actually be profitable. How are you going to get there? Have a business plan that involves some combination of bootstrapping, loans, crowdfunding, angel investing, and/or venture capital — even contract work or going through traditional publishers.
  • If you’re going to be in it for the long haul, think in terms of building a business, not just a game.
  • Follow the data. Look at the metrics from your failures and spot the little pieces of success in each.
  • Start devising a marketing plan when you start developing your game. Plan how you are going to promote your game at various development stages after the initial announcement, and how you are going to promote it after launch. Set aside 10–25% of your time just for marketing tasks.
  • Be prepared to work long hours.  The game industry is notorious for sixty to eighty hours weeks.  This is because you are constantly innovating, in both design and code. Often our innovations don’t work out as well as we thought, and we have to go back to revise or fix things that we thought would be much easier to implement.
  • Don’t forget the “company” part of “indie game dev company”. You also need to have the bandwidth to handle tasks related to your company, such as office management, accounting, legal, and human resources.

That is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  If you really want to be successful, talk to other developers and learn from their mistakes.  Read Gamasutra, attend the Game Developers Conference, follow development blogs, go to user group meetings.  Constant practice and learning are the best remedies for failure.


About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, The 3DO Company and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, a game design instructor at ArtCenter College of Design, and co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on August 1, 2016, in Career Advice, Game Production and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Indie developer has a freedom to make the game of own choice and no restriction of budget and schedule. In today’s world mobile app developers are in a great demand.

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