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!

Lessons from a Part Time Job in Retail

IMG_3038After years of freelancing and being a one man company, I took a part time job. It’s three months later and time to share a few observations I have made. The job I have is a relatively simple one – I sell cupcakes and make coffee drinks at Cupcake Royale. It’s a far cry from my previous jobs, doing web projects and media content, photography and consulting, and I expected to have a hard time adjusting. Turns out, I was wrong.

The company itself is a good one, which I’m sure makes a ton of difference. Cupcake Royale is a small, local chain, they treat their employees well without any of that corporate feel (I can bring my iPod to work! Yay!). The people I work with are cool, and in about the same age range as any other job I’ve ever had. I work 4 nights a week, being the weekend closer, and though I’ve missed out on a few social events, it’s really not that big of a deal. The important part is, that I have half days and a 3-day weekend to work on my own projects, as well as continuing to do freelance gigs on the side.

Base Income = Stability

The greatest advantage of having a part time job, is that I am no longer relying on client work. Not only does this allow me to be more picky about the projects/clients I take on, but it gives me breathing room to work on my own projects, such as the sim game I’m making (currently being tested for iPad).

Less Stress, Better Sleep

Besides giving me some freedom to choose, the part time work also takes away a great deal of stress. In the months leading up to taking the job, I was having increasing anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia. All that improved greatly, now that there’s more stability.

Greater Ability to Focus

When I’m at work, I have found that I switch off the things that would otherwise occupy my mind, and just focus on the tasks at hand. This is good for two reasons. First, it gives me a mental break from obsessing over my many projects, and second, it’s a great mental exercise in focusing in on one specific project for a set amount of time, and then move on to the next one.

It also means that I am not checking my email, social media, reddit and news sites every 3 minutes, like I would when I spent my entire day in the home office.

The downside is a much lower pay rate than I’m used to, but I’m okay with that because…

Productivity Went Up

When I do have time off now, I have become more productive than ever, even though more than half my week is spent working for someone else. Part of it is added exercise from standing, walking, crouching, pulling and scrubbing (as opposed to just going for a walk, which was my only regular exercise before). But there is more to it than moving around more, namely a little voice in my head that keeps telling me to make the most of the time I do have. That voice was always there, but it has definitely gotten louder in the last three months.

People Skills Improved

I don’t think of myself as an introvert per se, but I am a terrible sales person. The pitch, in all its many forms, has always seemed awkward and uncomfortable to me (the same can be said for my dating days, and that whole game). When I sell cupcakes, the situation is fairly simple – the person in line is there because they want the product. I greet them and try to get a feel for their personality within a few seconds. Then, depending on what conclusion I reach, I may or may not engage them in either banter, a light compliment – I deliberately try to compliment people that stand out, to get better at it – or perhaps an up-sell of some sort.

By facing my demon multiple times a day, four days a week, I have gotten better at it. I was a bartender in my mid 20s, but I didn’t pick all these things up back then. Maybe I was too busy partying, maybe I just wasn’t ready to absorb. Either way, I quite enjoy having this part time job.

I’m hoping at some point to replace my current position with a better one, but have come to the conclusion that better doesn’t necessarily come down to just higher pay. Right now, I can walk to work, I have a lot of free time, and I don’t take my work home with me — except to eat it. That is worth a lot.