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.