1. Know your numbers. To make a living from indie games, you will have to start running your own business. There is no way around it. If this idea scares you, or you find it largely uninteresting, then get yourself a commercially-minded but creatively-sympathetic business partner immediately. In addition, you should try and get hold of a good business accountant (hard to find!) and read up on the laws of running a starting a company. Get your paperwork done, and file as a company. After you get your business up and running, you’ll need to know your numbers. You must have a good web analytics package on your website: this is the single most useful piece of marketing advice anyone has ever given me. Without this, you won’t know why your game is selling or not selling. Google Analytics is immensely powerful and free: I highly recommend it.
2. Know your potential. Up next are sales projections. How much money can your indie game make? Well, we’ve now seen that a statistically insignificant percentage of indie games can sell over a million copies! More sanely, Amnesia, an indie game from a developer with an existing fanbase, which features graphics approaching AAA quality has managed to sell nearly 200,000 units. Other indies are delighted when their games break 10,000 or 20,000 units. Industry veteran Simon Carless has some rather interesting sales stats on every platform here, breaking it down very elegantly. You’ll want to use this data in conjunction with your market research to figure out how many sales your game is capable of.
3. Know your opportunities. Persistence is the most important trait you’ll need as an indie developer. You’ll need to make mistakes, learn from them and carry on anyway. You have to love doing this in order to do it at all: that’s why the indie games scene is one of the best places to be in this cruel world! Also, indie developers are banding together and collaborating at an ever increasing rate. Look at some of the cross-marketing in games like Super Meat Boy, or projects like Cliffski’s ShowMeTheGames.com. Getting actively involved with the indie games community can really benefit your work.
4. Know your revenue model. Think of this as part of your game design. If you’re looking to target the mobile market, here’s some food for thought: free-to-play games incorporating virtual goods offer the highest possible ceiling in terms of revenue right now. They allow customers who love the game to pay more than average, and they also capture small amounts of revenue from players at the other end of the scale, who otherwise might not buy a “full version” of the game. However, just because something has the highest ceiling does not mean that’s where you should aim: it may simply not be suitable for the type of game you want to make. Remember, we’re in the “Anyone Who Wants to Make a Game” category here; you’re doing this because you have something you want to create, not because you want to make the most money possible. So, it’s important to know that traditional “pay-once” titles are still very viable for individuals and small companies, especially in the PC sector.
5. Know your value. If you do go down the pay-once route, we would urge you to look into DLC and ways of offering more value to customers who truly love your game. Pay-once arguably offers more opportunity for immersion and scope than free-to-play, so you may well gain some very passionate fans who would love to get hold of more content. It’s also more customer-friendly: you don’t have to keep badgering people to give you money every five seconds. That could lead to a more meaningful relationship with your customers. For a good example of how to make the most of long-term customer commitments in gaming, look at Penny Arcade. They make products and hold events that their fans love, and they have a truly mutually beneficial relationship with their community. There’s no reason that an indie game development company couldn’t adopt a similar approach.