GameDev Protips: How to Actually Succeed in the Crowded Indie Game Market

There isn’t a simple recipe for success. I won’t pretend that it exists. However, there is a key that’ll lead to a much higher chance of success: the ability to take criticism well. Keeping an open mind towards criticism is essential. Again, unfortunately using this key isn’t quite that simple. You can’t simply accept the ideas because it’s a fact that some ideas are better than others. You have to analyze them, understand them and their origins, and take them in and mold them to fit your project. We could end the article here, but some people need more convincing reasoning, and that’s what is contained below.

On a global scale, your line of sight is pretty narrow; you just don’t know this because it’s as large as you can ever possibly perceive. Furthermore, having your ideas thoroughly challenged will ensure that you can polish them if they do not succeed and make the best possible product. Doing this alone simply isn’t effective as everyone is different, and every person has their own specific method of working on things. This includes their environment, their thought patterns, and the limited visions.

Things will never go as expected; people will get stuck, obvious moments will require guidance, and bugs will appear out of that area you playtested for ten hours straight. Your line of thinking is so streamlined that most of the thoughts your player had while playing your game will never have crossed your own mind and vice-versa.

Take, for instance, a person who is playtesting your game. They can give you constructive feedback and this allows you to adjust your stream of thought and concept in a way that will improve your product. To take things further, imagine that this person is now a team member. A team member won’t just give feedback; they’ll fervently defend their opinions and debates will ensue. The goal here isn’t to win but to hopefully broaden your thoughts in addition to adjusting them as needed. By bouncing ideas off each other you incorporate a broader ideology in your product, allowing you to appeal to a broader audience. Refuting and counter-arguing will eliminate any obvious flaws that an idea could have. You don’t want to just prove something right or wrong. Your job is to explore ideas and improve your own by observing others. Debating will help prove which idea is best overall.

In my career I have been blessed with very talented teammates that know how to listen and will respond to suggestions and arguments, allowing their ideas to cumulate and be purified into their best version. The final game is a sum of all of these “best” ideas. Of course, while just being able to purify an idea is great, it takes a wide range of skills to make a great, successful game. Most AAA teams will need a game designer, a programmer, a UI designer, a UX designer, a level designer, a pacing specialist, a scripter, a project manager, a producer, a director, an animator, a VFX artist, a concept artist, a visual artist, a sound artist... Of course, a team can make it by only having one person fill each position, but if that’s the case there won’t be any bouncing ideas. In addition to this, there is also the concern that very few people are talented enough to fill in all of those fields by themselves. Fortunately for indies, bootstrapped teams can oftentimes cover most of the positions with a few people, and some of these people are proficient in the same areas and can bounce ideas around. With a small team, every major decision is either a simple discussion or a massive debate that takes ages to resolve. If the decision is accepted, it is dumped into the pot of ideas that comes from everyone.

Every team member brings their own ideas and just by nature some of these ideas are better than others. Also, some are specialists in specific areas which are really useful to have when you’re lacking in that area. Some people are generally decent at proposing and refining starting ideas, but when it comes down to the actual implementation of the idea they may struggle — this is where complementary team members come in.

Unfortunately, just because a game is good doesn’t mean it will be successful. It’s extremely important to ensure that people actually know that your game exists and actually care. This is another key talent for making successful games, even if it’s not directly related to their development. The easiest way to start off your marketing is by surrounding yourself by a small group of people that care enough about the project to challenge your ideas, bring new ideas to the table, and defend their ideas with solid logic. You must embrace this challenge in order to expand your mind. Even if an idea sounds bad on paper, try to find its foundation. If it was suggested, it was obviously good somewhere along the line! This technique can help you find hidden treasures that would otherwise be missed.

Important Takeaways: There is no easy way to simply make your indie game succeed, but there is a key that will greatly increase the chance of that happening: Expanding your mind. The ideas of others are a valuable resource and if you aren’t accepting incoming thoughts on your game you’re leaving it untapped. Take these ideas and see if they apply to your project in a beneficial way. You’re only one person after all, so there are another 8 billion people who could be thinking of something better than what you did! You’ll quickly see this when you let someone test your game for the first time as things rarely go as planned. Imagine taking this concept and applying it to someone with knowledge of game design. They’ll give you constructive feedback that explains the problems with those things that didn’t go as planned. Take it one step further and make them a team member, and you’ll have someone who actively defends their own ideas which spurs debate, a key to creating the best possible product.

Debating as a whole will result in the refinement of every idea proposed, which leads to the better product mentioned. Your job in these isn’t to “win” the debate but to explore ideas and improve your own through witness others’. You can get by in a team with just one person who specializes in each area but then there’s no one to debate with so the ideas remain unpurified. While I’m completely confident I could create a game on my own, that game would be nowhere near the quality of one that had the input of others — without specialists those particular areas of a game will generally be lacking. In addition to the game itself, marketing is key to success as well. The best game ever made will not be successful unless people know it exists! Try to find a partnership if possible to boost popularity, but at the very least show your game to a small group of people who actually care enough to challenge your ideas. Again, this leads to debate which is key to refining ideas that result in you making the best game. Even if some of their ideas don’t sound great at first, there’s often a good reason they were proposed in the first place. Try to find the foundation, the hidden gem, and attempt to look at things from their point of view.