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.