GameDev Protips: 4 Reasons Why Most Indie Game Developers Fail

In this article, I’d like to shed light on a few mistakes that indie developers should strive to avoid in order to maximize their chances of success. It took a few years for the indie explosion to happen, but it’s finally here. Games are flooding the market by the bucketful. More and more developers are releasing indie games, with their main purpose being to become mainstream and getting success. Making a hit is starting to become increasingly rare, and many developers are becoming pessimistic about the industry as whole. Let’s dive into some of the most common follies.

Lack of depth and polish. If you want to make a good game, focus on having it being well made with high production values. This is easier said than done, but it’s pretty simple to observe. Simply take a look at some of your personal favorite games, and take notice of how the UI is designed, how the characters are controlled, and how the user experience flows. Remember, don’t have too many loose ends when it comes to your game. There’s nothing more immersion-breaking than getting slapped in the face with a bug while playing game. Get as many friends as possible to help you test the game, or hire professional quality assurance services, but whatever you do, don’t release something that’s bug-ridden.

Not enough commitment and originality. Many indie developers don’t do this for a living, so they may lack time or commitment, which can lead to poor results in the finished product. You need to truly dig down and focus if you want to ensure that what you’re bringing into the world is of sufficient quality. Tom Francis’s Gunpoint is a rare example of the power of part time work, but is ultimately an exception rather than the rule. In addition, in order to truly stand out, you have to focus on being somewhat original. Cloning a trending game can only get you so far. Appeal to a niche and do it right, and always try to bring a game that is better than the competition in it’s own unique way. Don’t hesitate to follow your original ideas to get the best outcome — just make sure to get sufficient people playtesting your game along the way to let you know if you’ve strayed too far away from your intended path.

Too small in scope. Many developers think that the indie titles should be small. This is far from being true. Players want games to be long and bring their money’s worth, so it’s a very good idea to focus on expanding the scope of your smaller games if you think it has enough potential (remember to playtest often with real players). Seek to make games that can be endlessly replayable or games that have a strong emphasis on long-term gameplay and havig sufficient retention mechanics. Finding a nice and fun gimmick to base your game around might sound nice and easy, but the reality is that most people are doing this, and because of that, games that rely on gimmicks can get terribly mundane quickly. If you find a fun mechanic during the prototyping stage, don’t be afraid to expand on it and flesh it out.

Neglecting outreach. Let’s get real, the whole point of spending months and years of your life meticulously slaving away at your game is to get an audience to play it. Why bother making games in the first place if only your mother will try it? Okay, so maybe that was a little harsh, but you get the idea. Many developers think that they should hide their babies until they’re deemed presentable enough, but that’s a horrible idea. Start growing your fanbase as soon as you start working — just remember to show off only the parts that you’re proud of. It’s very beneficial to get an audience of fans to get feedback and ideas from, and the truth is that having a pre-existing audience to leverage is one of the primary determining factors of whether a game succeeds or fails. There’s a reason why game franchises are massively lucrative — the audience is already waiting.

Important Takeaways: Focus on making a game with high production values. If you think your production values are good enough and you’ve spent less than a year in the industry, you’re probably wrong. Find playtesters and get their honest feedback. Remember the game developer who gave up? Neither does anyone else. Stay on track, and make sure you’re as committed as possible to getting the game developed the right way: with a focus on shipping a polished product.

Always expand on your game’s scope — small games have a very limited chance of success, especially on the PC platform. Even on the mobile platform, your game will have a much higher chance of success if it’s fully fleshed out and more than just a short core game loop. Don’t forget outreach. It’s way too easy to get bogged down with programming. Don’t fall into this trap. Leave your ivory tower at least once a day and post something on social media. Remember to let your potential audience know about what you’re working on.

GameDev Protips: 5 Basic Yet Highly Effective Marketing Strategies

Indie developers are mostly brilliant when it comes to constructing their game but when release time comes many are often left with the question: “How do I get people to notice my game?” There really is no secret. The ones that find the most success are usually the ones with the best presentation and marketing alongside a solid core gameplay experience. Here are a few tips on how to get your game out there to the masses the right way.

Get on social media. The number one thing any and all studios should have is a social media presence. Set up a Facebook, Twitter, Blog, Website, YouTube channel, etc… anything and everything that can be used as a tool to broadcast your ideas, get on it! You do not know how many times indie game developers come asking for our marketing services without even a website for their studio or game. It really is super simple to set up, and the time invested in interacting with the community goes a real long way in getting word out about your game. “But I am not very social!” is an excuse that comes to mind when I state this but you need to make the effort to reach out to your community or else who will know about your product? Word of mouth only goes so far, and even then you have to establish the word to begin with.

Have a good design sense. Once you have set up your social media accounts for your studio you should keep it consistent as to what is posted and what imagery you use. You have to brand yourself with an appealing logo that is simple enough to be easily identified yet unique enough to be instantly recognizable. Use a color scheme between all platforms and keep the layouts fairly consistent. I think a lot of people underestimate the importance of a color scheme. Using a complementary blend that is appealing to the eye really gives off a look of professionalism and goes a long way to establishing your presence.

Post, post, post! Anything and everything about your game, post! People enjoy quality content and the more you post, the more people will be hungry for more content. Post things that tell the players what your game is about, post early concept art (people LOVE concept art!), take some time and create a few short videos showing off gameplay or your story or even behind the scenes interviews with your developers. Post everything you can because the more content you post, the more buzz will be generated by people over your social media platforms in anticipation of your release.

Emphasize your website. So you have your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts up and running, now move on to making your website. This part is very essential in linking all of your social media outlets together on one, readily available space. There is nothing more frustrating to a journalist than stumbling upon the Facebook or Twitter account of a studio that is creating an interesting game only to not have any more information on how to contact them. Your game’s website is the number one place any journalist will go to first when considering your title, so make sure you have at least something they can get at that has all your contact and press information easily accessible. Make sure at the very least you have a contact email address, links to your social media pages, and a press kit that includes all the information a journalist can use without having to ask you questions about your project. Be sure it has screenshots, logos, banners, bio about your studio and bio about your game.

Reach out to the press. This part can be exhaustive but it is probably the most important job that needs to be done. Create a list of press contacts (websites, bloggers, youtubers, etc…) and send out press releases about your game. When you are closer to release, have some review keys ready to send out to reviewers or even a beta build that can be played by journalists. Nothing is worse for a journalist than when they receive a press release about a game that has no playable build handy. They simply cannot review something that they have not had a hands on experience with.

In the end there is no quick, guaranteed way for getting your game out there to the masses. You have to be willing to put in some extra work in establishing an online presence and interacting with your potential player base. You may be an incredible developer that has created something that is potentially ground-breaking but if no one knows about it then what have you accomplished? Having a marketing plan is vital to any games success and it’s not even that far-fetched to even say in some cases marketing is the key factor to making a game successful. Take some time and research the marketing campaigns of some older games that did find success. See what they did on social media and look at their online presence in different communities. The far majority of the time you will find that successful games become successful not only because of the content of the game, but because of the developers willingness to interact with people and the studios ability to reach a vast audience.

Important Takeaways: Get on as many social media platforms as you and your team can handle. Be consistent in your branding (don’t be afraid to hire some help for logo design). Once you’re on social media, don’t be afraid to keep posting — as long as what you’re posting is valuable of course. Think… awesome screenshots, epic gifs, and exclusive sneak peeks at the development process. Also, don’t neglect your website — again, don’t be afraid to hire some help. A sloppy website is a horrible website. Finally, reach out to some press. As of this writing, it’s pretty difficult to get coverage if your game doesn’t stand out as something truly unique though. Make sure your game is worth marketing in the first place.

GameDev Protips: How To Get Your Indie Game Covered By The Press

With the indie game market pretty darn saturated these days, it’s very hard to stand out. You’ll need to have something that differentiates you from the crowd. Here are a few quick tips.
Firstly, tell an interesting story. With many AAA games coming out, gaming magazines and websites simply do not have the time to cover all indies, so if you want to stand out, the best way of actually doing that is to make an interesting story about your game which is short but comprehensive. You need to show why they should cover your game, and what features set your game apart from the myriad of me-too indie games already out there in the market. Remember, no journalist wants to cover yet another clone, or some kind of student project. Tell something interesting about the development process, the team involved, or just something that isn’t simply, “I made an indie game, please check it out.”


Get in contact with the right people. There are way too many gaming sites, so if you want the proper media coverage, you need to access the right sources to do that. Each gaming website tends to focus on different genres nowadays, so try to find the one that caters to the genre of your game and send it there, as this will increase the chances for your game to receive coverage. For example, if you’re making a retro shmup for PC, don’t accidentally send a bulk email to a website that mainly covers RPGs.


Remember, when it comes to the press release, keep it short and concise. You love the game you created and can talk hours about it, but let’s face it, if you want to have the best outcome, you need to say more in less time. Bring out the exciting stuff first and spark interest with the help of your game’s stellar features, as this would help you get the results you seek. When it comes to the pitch, don’t bore journalists with an overly long history of your game world. Instead, focus on emphasizing key selling points that they might be interested in. The last thing a journalist wants to read is three paragraphs of backstory about the lore in your game.


Launch at the right time. Some months are more filled with AAA game launches, so you need to see what big games are appearing in that period of time and avoid them, instead try to reach out to journalists during a time period that makes sense. Journalists usually will want to keep up with the latest releases, and so your tiny indie release has much more chance of slipping under the radar. Also, If you want coverage, then ensure that the journalists actually have a way to cover your game. A good way of doing that is to provide a key for your game. If your outreach email doesn’t contain a way to download the game, chances are, it’s going right into the bin. It also helps to be ultra responsive. Press people might have questions for you about your game, so make sure that you respond to their questions promptly. This will help get your press coverage faster, even if it might catch you at a bad time. No one likes waiting too long to get a reply back. If you find yourself too swamped with emails, a short email back will suffice.


Of course, at the core of it all, you just have to make a great game, because in the end this is all that matters. A good game will have a much better shot at press coverage and recognition, so it’s crucial to ensure the quality of your game is top notch. Try not to cut corners, and instead devote at least a good three to six months minimum to polish it before releasing into the wild.


Important Takeaways: Tell an interesting story when reaching out to press, or whenever talking about your game in general. Get in touch with the right people, and double down on your game’s niche. Actively seek out communities that will actively play your game instead of simply promoting the game to other game developers on social media. Launch at the right time (ask other game developers about their experiences) and most importantly, make your game’s vertical slice as polished as possible. Remember that first impressions are everything it comes to indie games — don’t rush anything.

A Super Actionable 10-Step Guide On How To Market Your Indie Game

Marketing can be tough, but all you need to get started is the following plan:

1. Create a crystal clear map of where you want your game to be.

2. Prioritize your marketing options. Stop focusing on what isn’t effective.

3. Spend the majority of your time on the strategies that do work.

4. Make data-driven decisions with that data that you’ve collected.

I’ve taken the time to outline the 10 steps below, with an example of how you might go about tackling each step.

Hope you’ll find this helpful!

 

1. Set a three-month goal of where you want to be with your marketing. Be as clear as possible in your metrics, and set numerical goals and values.

Example: “By the end of 3 months, I will have 3,000 people following my game on Twitter.”

 

2. Have an extremely clear vision of what your ideal player looks like, and the specific problem that you’re solving for them in terms of your game.

Example: “My game is a roguelike game similar to Binding of Isaac. My ideal player is a person who would enjoy that type of game.”

 

3. Create a list of 10 clear strategies that will help you in achieving your specific goal, and use estimations for each of the possible options.

Example: “First, I’d like to connect with more people on Twitter by following people who seem like they would be interested in that type of genre. Second, I’d like to create a Facebook page for my game and start getting likes on it via paid ads.” Third, I’d like to build my mailing list by creating a website for my game and sending that out to my friends.

 

4. Sort your list of marketing strategies by largest impact towards your goal.

Example: “I personally love Twitter, so that’s going to be the first item on my list. I also love Facebook as well, so that’ll be next. Mailing lists are pretty nice, but not a priority for me at the moment, so that’ll be third.”

A. Twitter

B. Facebook

C. Mailing list

D. Fourth Item Goes Here

E. Fifth Item Goes Here

 

5. Do the first item on your list for 7 days.

Example: “For the first week, I’ll be connecting with people on Twitter.”

 

6. Track every day how effective the activity performed towards your goal.

Example: “Seems like I got 50 followers today. This is 5 more followers than I got yesterday. Sweet!”

 

7. On the second week, spend 80% of your time doing the next item on the list, and 20% doing the previous week’s activity for another week.

Example: “I’ve been dedicating 1 hour every day towards marketing, so I’ll mostly focus on getting more Facebook likes this week via paid ads. I’ll also spend a tiny bit of time on Twitter, but mostly focusing on Facebook this week.

 

8. At the end of two weeks, evaluate which one of the options got your more traction towards your 3-month goal.

Example: “Looks like Facebook ads was a horrible waste of time. I’ve been spending way too much money for very little engagement compared to Twitter.”

 

9. Spend 80% of your time on the activity that was the most effective. Spend 20% of your time on the third item on your marketing strategy list. Stop doing whichever of the first two activities that weren’t as effective.

Example: “I’ll continue to be active on Twitter, and start working on building my website and mailing list.”

 

10. Repeat this process for three months.

Example: “This marketing stuff sure can be tedious and confusing sometimes, but I’m committed to trying my best and staying consistent.”

GameDev Protips: How To Sustain Yourself As An Indie Game Developer

If you plan to make a living as an indie games developer, you must focus on return on investment. Are you meeting your weekly, monthly, or even yearly annual ROI projections? Games can take years just to see any return on investment, so meeting your projections is paramount to staying afloat in this industry. Not meeting your projections, combined with a low quality of life, is not where you want to be. Always have multiple contingency plans if things don’t work out.

Get help. Don’t try to do everything yourself. If you have the money, invite other people to help you with your project. Someone else may have the marketing savvy or graphical skills that you lack. Sure, you may be able to get by, but by hiring someone else it will free up a lot of time for you to work on aspects of the project better suited to your strengths. If you’re short on funds may be a good idea to get in touch with friends, family members or people who owe you a favor. If you can, try to get these people to work for you pro bono, or for a nominal fee. Another option for those short on funds would be to promise to share the game’s revenues. Revenue sharing can be an effective option, but it takes careful management and negotiation to make sure that everyone is satisfied with their share.

Be open about your game. You should let others see and play your game regularly. This way, people can offer input on your project beforehand so you can adjust it during the development process. As a designer you will not be able to solve every problem on your own. Allow others to help you and provide you with insight. Also, Try to use popular tools that are already on the market. Tools like Unity and Blender help you create animations and 3D graphics. You can also save money by using open source tools, or tools offering free trials. Developing a game will never be cheap, but there are ways to make it less expensive.

Always plan for the unexpected. Do you think it will take you you one year to build your game and launch? Plan as if you needed twice the amount of time. Will you be able to survive for that that long? Make sure your finances are in order before beginning your development process in earnest. You can also do contract work to supplement your income if you have to, or just take a break from development in order to focus on your day job.

As a designer, you have to be very realistic with your goals and what you are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve those goals. Know your weaknesses. Too many times we fail to properly assess our talents, so we spend too much time doing what makes us miserable. However, if you do not know something that potentially help you game and/or business, then do your best to try to learn it. Even if you don’t master what you’re learning, you might be able to understand enough to better discuss your needs with people who can help you.

Important Takeaways: If you want to make a living as an indie game developer, you have to focus on return on investment. What sort of returns are you getting for your time and your efforts? If you don’t know how to get something done and you’re wasting your time and money trying to figure it out, try to find help from more knowledgeable people. It’s not a good use of your time if you try to do everything yourself, since your time is valuable. Also, plan for any unexpected problems that might crop up during development, as they will almost certainly occur.

GameDev Thoughts: Should You Waste Your Time Reading Game Design Articles?

Game design has a plethora of resource materials available for anyone interested in game development. I personally have read hundreds upon hundreds of articles online, and dozens of books on the subject matter. What I soon noticed though was that a lot of them have the same sort of content, and I found myself questioning whether reading re-hashed material would be good use of my time. Obviously this repeated content is helpful for the uninformed reader, but once you’ve read one article, it’s fair to say that there’ll be a lot of overlap in the content that you might consume later on.


However, I’ve come to realize that no matter how much content is repeated, every resource has its own unique take on it, and those unique “gold nuggets” are what separate each article from each other. Even if you’re reading something that you may already have heard, it still helps you reinforce the things you already know. Getting to the “gold nuggets” is simply a matter of sifting through all the materials you can, but not at the expense of your general knowledge. After all, if the content is repeated in most resources, then it probably is important.


You can visualize this concept through the conversations you have with coworkers, or other people around you. A lot of the time your greeting is practically the same day by day, but the content that follows afterwards may or may not be something you already know. This helps expand your breadth of knowledge for future reference.


Important Takeaways: Just because a book or article or other type of resource you’re consuming is telling you something you’ve heard plenty of times before doesn’t mean that it won’t tell you something that you haven’t later on. Even if it does end up being completely uniform with what you already know, it’ll help reinforce those concepts, and perhaps revitalize them if they had been forgotten or nearly forgotten.


In the best case, that particular resource will show a unique perspective and give you another potential way to go about your game design. Finding articles that are of value is a mixture of finding that they reinforce core concepts effectively, shine a new light on older ideas, or both, with an article that has a healthy mixture of both being the best. Don’t dismiss the river that you’ve looked at over and over again, because each time you look you might find a few gold nuggets that you didn’t see before.