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!

Grim Games: Papers, Please

Papers, Please
Grim Games is a new series, in which I recommend titles that are fun and a little darker than your average video game. These somewhat twisted games add another dimension to playing, exposing you to morally interesting questions, even straight up evil. Let’s kick off the series with…

Papers, Please is one of my favorite games, even though I suck at it. You take on the role of a poor sap, working the newly opened Grestin border crossing in the dystopian, cold-war era, totalitarian regime that is Arstotzka. Your job is to check that everyone’s papers are in order, before either letting them in, sending them away, or detaining them for questioning. It’s an ungrateful job, and you will be exposed to everything from murderers on the run and terrorists to prostitution rings and families torn apart.

As you progress, the paperwork gets more and more complicated, and you will likely be able to process fewer people per day. This means less pay, which in turn makes you short on the bills. Soon enough, your family will get sick from having no heat and not enough food, but if you’re lucky, you will scrape in cash enough to at least avoid eviction.

Papers, Please

In some ways, Papers, Please is quite depressing, and this feeling is amplified by the gritty, desaturated graphics and a soundtrack that would make any Soviet General stand at attention. And I am completely in love with this gem of a game! Whenever I have had a really good day, I like to fire it up and get a dose of humiliation. Glory to Arstotzka!

2013 was Year of the Game

This was the invitation to the Xbox One launch party...
No year is complete without a year-in-review post. Here is mine for 2013…

Things happened very fast this year, it seems. I changed career path, and went back to my first passion – games. I ran a Kickstarter, I formed a company, I got a full time job and a promotion, working with AAA titles for the new Xbox One – the green wristband shown above was the invite to the launch party at Microsoft (and no, I don’t own one, myself). Tons of work, tons of fun! Considering that only a year has passed since I set out on this path, everything that has happened sort of blows my mind.

I played a lot of games in 2013. Great games, from major releases I had missed, to small indie games made by people like myself. Steam became one of my favorite things. It made me want to talk about games more, not just design them. I hope to do more of that in the year to come.

Photography, my primary business for the last decade, was largely ignored this year. My expensive gear is collecting dust, and all I ever use these days, is Instagram. At the end of 2013, I am retiring the thing that’s been the biggest draw on my site for years, the Microstock Photographer’s Guide. However, I’m still interested in producing videos, and even more so when combined with games. Thus, I’ve become more and more interested in things like YouTube and streaming live from Twitch. Highlight: getting together with a few friends from my Minecraft server, streaming live for 24 hours, while collecting money for charity.

There has been a lot of reading after I started commuting several hours a week. The last few months, it’s been the Malazan Book of the Fallen series (I just finished book 4, leaving 6 more to go). If you’re into epic fantasy, you will want to read it. Reading is one of the few activities I do on a regular basis, not tied to a screen – which is also the reason I haven’t jumped on the ebook wagon (yet).

I’ve been missing the old, regular game night with friends, and social activity definitely took an overall blow in 2013. I need to work on that in 2014. Don’t get me wrong though, overall it was a year of huge improvement. The last few years have been rough on our household, and 2013 came with some real progress in nearly every area. I am very thankful for that.

Happy 2014 to all my friends, known associates and internet lurkers. Thanks for being a part of this interesting ride called Life, and for all your support and awesomeness.