GameDev Thoughts: Is Making Indie Games Really Worth It?

Making a successful indie game may sound like the easiest thing in the world from an outsider’s perspective, but is probably just as hard as rocket science. Okay, so maybe not that hard, but difficult enough that the overwhelming majority of indie game developers can’t make it anywhere close to a sustainable career. The barrier to entry is low, but the overall cost is pretty darn high since you’re either spending a ton of time or a ton of money during the development process. If you self-publish your game, you and your team will ultimately foot the bill. Weigh the odds and consider the production cost of each idea. Crowdfunding can help turn your game into a reality, but you will still be responsible for any unforeseen costs. What about website production, paid advertising, and playtesting? These are all things your supporters might not be willing to pay for. There is always the option of finding an outside publisher for your game. AAA publishers have plenty of funds and almost any need you have as a designer will be taken care of. Smaller publishers have less money, but they generally tend to provide greater creative freedom. Which publisher you choose depends on your monetary needs as a developer and their specific terms. Ask yourself how much support you actually need, and how much freedom you’re willing to give up for it.

Playtesting is another factor to consider when selecting the right project to work on, and whether that project is worth it. If you have a completely new or complicated idea, you need to do much more playtesting in order to make sure that the game is balanced. Also, games introducing novel ideas must be well balanced and free of bugs lest you create a bad first impression that ruins future sales. Quality assurance testing should be very thorough and exacting, in order to create the best product possible. This product isn’t just for fun; it has to pay itself back! Sometimes framing game development in a business sense may be a bit off-putting, since indie game development is largely all about the passion — but the goal should be to make a game that’ll allow you to continue to make more games.

Even if you have chosen the right idea, you need to ask yourself if you’re actually willing to commit to it. This new project could easily burn up the next couple years of your life, take priority over your relationships, consume your disposable income and otherwise occupy your life. Your dream of seeing this game come to fruition has to has to take precedence over almost every part of your life. Also, consider whether or not you’d be willing to commit to the development process on a full-time basis. It might be risky, but you might never finish your game if it’s made on a part-time basis. Your bills will still come barrelling towards you regardless of whether you’re actually working on the game or not, so the more time you can dedicate every day the better your chances of surviving. The reality is, you might go broke. You always must consider the possibility when you’re going to make a game. Sure you might have savings, but what if those become depleted because of one personal emergency or another. What if a business partner of yours decided to secretly spend the majority of your Kickstarter money on liquor and strippers? What if you realize deep into a project that it’s simply not going to work out in all practicality? Game development is financially risky, so make sure that you have contingency plans before you start making a game in order to accommodate any unexpected situations.

Important Takeaways: Becoming an indie game developer is a risky endeavor. Before deciding that indie development is for you, consider how much in the way of time and money it will take for you to produce and how much you’d be willing to commit yourself to creating and publishing the game. If you don’t have the resources to finish your game on your own, then you might consider enlisting the help of a third party publisher. Your choice of a publisher will rely on your financial needs and your desire for creativity, meaning looser terms. There are pros and cons for both the larger publishers and the smaller ones, so consider them carefully. You might go broke during the process of making an indie game, so make sure you have your finances in order and a good buffer zone. Even if you have a perfectly sound development plan, unexpected scenarios can throw a monkey wrench into things. Indie game development may or may not be worth it, depending on your tolerance for risk, and your level of passion.