Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Becoming an Indie is easy. Success is what’s hard.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 29, 2016

An article at Gamasutra last week proposed 10 easy, one-liner steps to becoming an indie game developer. It was instantly met with criticism, and some arguably better articles appeared correcting the deficiencies. But while the original author made it sound like a more generalized blueprint to “going indie,” it really just outlined the straightforward approach that he’d taken, with the Unreal engine.

The real general advice for aspiring indies is the same as the advice for aspiring writers or musicians or anyone else wishing to take the plunge in a creative field: Choose your tools, get started, learn / take lessons, and practice, and don’t expect to receive immediate success for your first endeavors. And also assume that “success” is going to be a concept that will require constant redefinition.

The challenge with aspiring indie game developers is that there are a dizzying array of choices that need to be made up front, things like what will your development platform will be, what gaming platform will you target, what tools will you use, what kinds of games will you make, how will you distribute them, etc.

My “simple” suggestions would be:

#1 – Use what you’ve got. You probably already have a computer , so make that both your¬†development platform (the machine you’ll make games with) and your target platform (the machine that will play the games). One option is to make web-based games, which solves both the target platform problem (many different machines can run it), and the distribution problem.

#2 – Use tools that are an optimum (for you) combination of inexpensive, beginner-friendly, and well-supported. The price may be free (as inexpensive as you can get), but if it is poorly supported, bugs won’t get fixed, the documentation is sub-par, and there’s little community to offer you help, you are just going to be frustrated. And if you are just starting out and you jump into something too challenging to use, you are going to get frustrated early. This may involve some research.

#3 – Start simple. I’d recommend starting with 2D games instead of 3D. In the end, they both have their own challenges, but 2D is easier to get your head around. When you get past the training and start making your own stuff, start with the simplest gaming concepts you can, and then expand. I’m a big advocate of making your own version of Pong to start.

#4 – Get training. You’ll probably need some before you even choose your tools, just to learn how they work and what they can do. These days, a lot can be obtained online for free. YouTube tutorials for the win. But yes, follow tutorials. It may seem frustrating painting by numbers to make a duplicate of someone else’s dirt-simple game, but it’s worthwhile if you are just learning. There are also books available (many digitally) and even some not-too-expensive courses for training you can sign up for. This is valuable even for the seasoned vets, because there’s always more to learn.

#5 – Game Jams provide a really cool opportunity to take a break from your current projects and get some quality, intensive practice… and to practice *finishing*.

#6 ¬†– CREATE. Create lots. And while maybe your first efforts end up so bad that they aren’t worth finishing, definitely practice finishing a game and distributing it – if only to people who are friends of yours.

#7 – Have reasonable expectations. Your first efforts will probably not be marketable. Game development is a skill as much as it is a process. Or, really, a ton of skills. Your first complete game might not be worthy of public distribution. With each project, increase your goals. Learn what you can do better and try to achieve that. Keep improving in whatever areas need the most work. Didn’t finish the game last time? Finish it this time. Took too long on the last one? See if you can speed your development time on this one. Only sold 15 copies last time? Aim for at least 150 this time. Reviews averaged only 2.5 out of 5 last time? Aim for higher quality to get at least a 3.5 this time.


While these suggestions are simple, the implementation is not. Making a game – even a game jam release – is challenging. There’s really no other substitute than rolling up your sleeves and getting the experience.



Filed Under: Game Development - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • Jay K. said,

    Good stuff. My son is wanting to learn game development more seriously. I’ve pointed him at this article, though I think he’s figured out quite a bit of it himself already.

  • Namco said,

    Re: #5 (the point about finishing). Yup, finishing needs to be learned. Unless you want to be like me and spend around 7 years finishing a game (it’s taken 7 years of on-off programming because a lot of the time I come in from work I either won’t be in the mood or say to myself that I’ll get on it in a bit and never do!).