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!

Hard Booting Life

I’m rebooting my life. Not one of those reboots where you’ve downloaded some update and now it has to restart to finalize. More along the lines of: everything froze and I had to hold the power button down until the whole thing shut off, and when I turned it back on, all I could do was hope everything would be okay! Technically, it’s still in the process of starting back up.

What happened? The short version is this: due to health and work issues, our household took a huge financial blow which sent us reeling and scrambling to pay even the most basic bills, like rent and utilities. The situation was so bad, there was no way I could chase down enough freelance work to cover the losses, and so I started looking for a job instead. As in one with a salary and benefits.

Three months into the job hunt, I had landed a few interviews and wasted a ton of time on companies with highly inefficient HR. I felt pretty hopeless at that point, but I had no choice but to power through until something paid off.

Eventually, a friend offered me a job at the coffee shop he’s managing. It’s not exactly a career job and the pay sucks, but it’s better than nothing and I was happy to take it. If nothing else, I hoped it would take the edge off the stress of not having any reliable income — sleepless nights and daily panic attacks are no fun – minimum wage plus tips is way better.

The entire process has made me rethink my priorities. Stability is more important to me now, than being my own boss. I’d love to start my own business again some day, but I would do it very differently today, and it would not be in the form of a freelance career. So here’s my new plan:

The current job is a starting point. My own personal Ground Zero. It allows me to barely scrape by, as opposed to bleeding out. The next step is to get a better job. I’m content making lattes and chai until the right match comes along, and when it does, I look forward to plunging in and getting productive. And paying off the debt I have accrued.

Maybe down the line somewhere, the perfect opportunity, idea or partnership will lead to a new entrepreneurial adventure. If not, it’s probably just because I’m happy doing whatever I end up working with. Besides, I will always keep doing creative side projects in my spare time. It can’t be helped. I must, MUST, create things and tell stories just to function as a human being. Without it, I become a dull boy.

My strength is also my weakness. All my life I’ve been producing content of some sort, as a writer, photographer, editor, even musician. My strength is knowing a lot about content creation. My weakness is not having a single, specific area in which I am the ultimate expert.

I’m a jack of all trades, but I have no regrets whatsoever in that regard. In fact, I think of it as my greatest asset. It’s just a matter of finding a position where my experience fits.

In case you’re looking to hire, or know someone who is, here are a few relevant links: