Your Indie Game Will Fail

The title of this post is true for most indie game developers out there, at least if you measure success in terms of profit. There are other ways an indie game can be a success but I’ll get to them in a bit.

In today’s video game marketplace competition is tough. It’s easier than ever to make, publish and distribute new games, but with that, it gets increasingly difficult to get noticed, attract an audience and make money. This is true for all games, but small indies typically invest their own money in everything from buying assets in the Unity marketplace to renting booth space at PAX, making them more vulnerable to the impact of financial failure.

If you’re making games as a hobby and income is just pocket money – read no further. Go make games, and have fun! But if you’re hoping to go full time, or build a small studio, be prepared to work your ass off, doing a lot of things that have nothing to do with designing features or levels for your title. There will be spreadsheets.

Research is crucial, of course. You’ve looked at similar titles on Steamspy, to get a feel for how they sold on Steam, right? You’ve tracked down any postmortems or shared sales numbers from teams and projects similar to yours, correct? If you want to take your indie games past hobby level, you can’t ignore the existing market.

As an initial reality check, answer these three questions to the best of your ability:

  1. What are the projected sales numbers in the first year?
  2. What’s the price point you have in mind?
  3. How much time (unpaid hours) and money will you put into making the game?

With this information, you can figure out whether your expectations are realistic. When you realize that they’re not, you can start to think of ways to tweak the numbers.

The Price and Profit Calculator

To help my fellow indies, I made a tool that lets you experiment with different projections. I call it the Indie Game Price and Profit Calculator.

Being realistic about your expectations helps you make informed business decisions about marketing, partnerships and thinking outside the box to boost your numbers (or lower your cost).

Don’t let competition and volume take the wind out of your sails. As mentioned, even if you fail to profit from your release, there are other ways an indie game can benefit you. For one, it’s a great way to learn more about all aspects making games, from audio design to publishing. It’s also a great way to network with other indies, many of whom are in the industry. Networking may lead to jobs or partnerships, and so on. Having finished and published something does open doors. Making an indie game is just as much an investment in the careers of everyone on the team, as an opportunity to make a profit. If not more so.

Regardless of your motivation for making games, I hope the calculator tool is useful, and best of luck with your project!

A Newspaper Simulation Game is Coming

It’s time to publicly announce my new work-in-progress, a video game about being the Editor in Chief of a small but highly ambitious newspaper. Start out as a small, failing rag, and build a media power house!

The gameplay is about growing a staff of great reporters (keeping them happy and matching them with the right stories), shaping the paper and growing those subscriber numbers, while working under a mysterious Owner and the whims of the Advertisers.

There are many elements to such a game, and it will take me a while to finish this – the very early screenshot shown with this post looks nothing like the final game, I can promise that much. There is no release date yet, however, I am sharing the journey so if you want to see what’s up, you can!

For sharing, I am using the blog and social media, as well as uploading devlog videos to YouTube.

Subscribe to the channel to get notified about new uploads. I’ve got a pretty good plan for where I want to go, treating the project as I would any project I’d work on in my day job.

This is a game idea I have been mulling over for years, even before I started Torgar’s Quest, and I am happy to now be working on it. Back then, I knew my skills were not ready to take on a challenge of this complexity, but now it feels like all my prototypes and experiments were warm-up for this. Always aim for bigger, better projects!

Top 3 Tips for Better Management + Bonus Tip

I was a manager long before I started working professionally, going back to when I first started organizing after school clubs for gamers in my neighborhood, as a young teenager.

I am not intimidated by the idea of taking charge of a situation or team of people. In fact, I enjoy trying to balance all those things! It can be stressful at times, sure, but it’s also fulfilling to bring people and pieces together to create something bigger than myself.

Over the years, I have worked in many different setups and with projects of every size and budget. In the following, I will share three things that I’ve come across, which made a difference to me and (I hope) made me a better manager.

Transparency in Good

Working at Valve taught me that transparency can work very well across product teams, departments and professions. Valve has a flat structure, and short of HR personnel files, pretty much all information is readily available to any employee who cares to look it up. This is in stark contrast to most other bigger companies I’ve come across, where everything is on a strict need to know basis.

Transparency is inspiring and motivating. If you are curious about any aspect of the company, you can do the research. If you have an idea, you can check what’s already in the works and see if and where it might fit in. You can find the decision makers and talk to them directly – just be sure you’re not wasting people’s time. With great power comes great responsibility, after all. Coincidentally, no one considers it a waste of your own time, to seek knowledge about what/how the company is doing.

Transparency helps to break down walls and creates a culture where employees are encouraged to talk to each other outside their day-to-day groups. It breaks traditional corporate hierarchies and lets ideas flow according to interest. It also helps to bring everyone up to speed on new developments, company vision, and can even quell harmful rumors.

Delegate with Trust

Many managers find it hard to let go and trust others to do something, they themselves may have to answer for at some status meeting down the line. While understandable from a human perspective, it is also terrible leadership. If you have qualified people on your team (which I assume you do), the best thing you can do is trust them to do the thing they were hired for – which includes making as many decisions as the project allows on their own.

No one likes micro management, and most managers who do it, are really just overly worried and need to let go. Micro managers aren’t helping anyone with their meddling. I am not saying you should ignore people, or not train them before letting them loose, just that you give them direction at first and let them ask questions on their own, once those directions are given.

Delegate responsibility and then trust that it is taken seriously. That doesn’t mean that you shed responsibility. It means you include others fully, to the degree they are comfortable and qualified, in getting the job done. If you really can’t trust your team enough to fully delegate tasks to them, then there are bigger issues at play – and I’d start with a close look inwards (if everyone else seems to be wrong all the time, you’re likely the wrong one).

Though it can be hard to let go, the results speak for themselves. Sure, there will be the occasional mistake but those happen anyway. What you get once you learn to delegate, is a team with stronger engagement and motivation, and with a sense of purpose you just can’t buy (well, maybe you can, but it’s much more cost efficient to invest in trust – trust me). Quality and productivity go up!

Fight for Your Team

There will be situations, where you’ll be delivering bad news. Projects end, budgets are slashed, deadlines are pushed – there are many variations. One thing they all have in common? If you’re in charge of a team, and bad news is coming, you better fight with everything you got to either avoid it or minimize the impact on your team mates. As team lead, their interests are yours as well, and from their perspective, standing up for the team is your greatest responsibility.

At the mid-management level, you have the added pressure of having to push back against people who are technically your superiors. This is where most managers crumble and end up throwing their teams under the bus (whether they mean to or not). You cannot be afraid to push back, if that is what makes sense in the situation. Sometimes there is nothing to be done, but if you didn’t try, you have failed.

It’s important to keep in mind, that in a healthy work environment, no one is your adversary. Everyone wants to create/ship/sell something awesome and make a lot of money, maybe even get some repeat business.

In my experience, solutions can often be found or compromises can be made, that can lessen the impact of a delay or project setback. It’s almost always a matter of decision makers failing to think the extra step out, and consider the immediate impact on those “on the floor”. Having been on both sides, I can easily see how that happens – no system is perfect, which is why human connection is key.

Bonus Tip: Meet Your Coworkers!

As I said, human connection is key. Get to know those you answer to, and those who answer to you. Once that happens and there is a basic human connection (you don’t have to be BFFs here), it becomes more natural to communicate. Pushing back ends up just being seen as constructive discussion, internal secrecy becomes plainly ridiculous, and trusting people to do their jobs becomes the default.

Have lunch with your coworkers every now and then – not just your team mates! If you have team meetings, invite someone from another team to sit in. Sit in on one of their meetings too. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it becomes to understand each other, and to share relevant knowledge and information, once you put the phone/laptop down for half an hour and meet each other in real life.