Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Sixteen Indie Success Tips

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 29, 2012

Mike Rose quotes Robert Boyd’s five steps to indie success at Gamasutra:

5 Ways to Be a Successful Indie Developer

I don’t consider these to be all that controversial. The first one – don’t go it alone – is about the only one I’d raise a minor exception to, and that is primarily an implementation thing. I’ve seen a lot of first-time indies band together in a team to make a project and collapse in failure partly (or entirely) due to teamwork failure. Too many cooks, too early, can induce disaster. When you are first learning your chops, there’s really not much need to involve others.  And I’d say that there are stages of development for any project can be well-served with a single developer – generally the early stages of design and development. Although even then, having other sets of eyes or people off whom you can bounce ideas can be invaluable.  I’m not saying it’s the best approach, just that it’s viable.

But even with some minor exceptions and nit-picking, I’d consider all five points almost axiomatic.

Will doing these make you successful? Only if you also live by the unwritten tip number six: Don’t give up.  You haven’t failed if you haven’t quit trying, right? Seriously, while there are some folks who get lucky on their first try, most “successful” indies I know struggled for a quite a while with poor to lukewarm sales before finally “making it.” And often even “making it” is no guarantee of long-term success. It’s an ongoing challenge.

So now, let’s move along with the Indie Fad Du Jour, Kickstarter:  At Indie Games Reviews, there’s an article that I feel is slightly less authoritative but nevertheless useful about launching an indie Kickstarter project:

The 10 Commandments for Indie Game Developers on Kickstarter

This is told from the perspective of a backer. I’m sure many of us here have backed a Kickstarter project or four by now, so we know of what the author is speaking. But some of the advice here runs counter to real-world results and suggestions from the funding sites themselves. And seriously – while it’s possible for a nearly-complete project or an already staffed studio to say, “deposit your $20 today, and we’ll deliver a game in six months,” anybody who thinks they can build and deliver something as complex as an RPG in that time frame is probably a clueless idiot that nobody should fund a penny to.  I mean, maybe someone like Aldorlea Games, using a well-known, mature toolset like RPG Maker could pull that off. Or Jeff Vogel. But a new studio building a new game? Not likely.

But even given my reservations about certain of these “commandments,” I think a lot of this advice can be useful even for non-crowdfunded projects. Are you trying to attract potential team-members to your project? Are you trying to generate buzz for your game? The same sort of things that could attract potential backers may also attract the people with whom you want to network.

I’m still waiting for the piece of advice that will turn me into an overnight success. I mean, literally overnight. The advice that would tell me how to sell a million copies of Frayed Knights, or how to build a best-selling mega-game in the next 24 hours. Somehow, I don’t think I should be holding my breath waiting for something reputable along those lines to appear on Teh Interwebz.

Filed Under: Biz, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 14 Comments to Read

  • Albert1 said,

    You’re on the right way, you should just understand that humour is counterproductive – financially speaking ;)! Lot of people say they love humour in games, then end up always buying sequels of the same “serious” games. I think this is largerly true also for indie games & their customers. So, why don’t you build on Frayed Knights codebase&artbase a creepier RPG?

  • Robert Boyd said,

    Actually, the interview that led to that “5 Tip” article was setup in a slightly different way than the article portrayed. The question was “Why do you think Zeboyd Games is seeing such rapid success?” The actual advice to other indie developers came at the very end of the article – do something that others aren’t doing and don’t lose hope if your first games aren’t a huge success.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    So a question for you, Robert: Was BoD7 your first commercial release, or had you released other games prior to that?

  • Robert Boyd said,

    I released two games before BoDVII.



    They sold a few hundred copies at $1 each. Not exactly rousing successes.

  • necronomicon said,

    Let’s face it, the “rapid success” all boils down to Steam picking them up. About anyone who is a decent indie dev would see rapid success with a push from Steam.

  • Robert Boyd said,

    And why did Steam pick us up? Because we could show them that we had found a certain level of success elsewhere – both critically and commercially.

  • Yodhe said,

    How to sell a million copies of Frayed Knights, simple, give away a free Ipad with each one.

    How to build to a best selling mega-game overnight, easy, just become a publisher, and pass off the work as somehow your own vision/effort.

    The only things I have found that have kept me going for the four+ years I have been working on my opus, is apart from doing what one loves (in the absence of material reward/motivation), is break everything down into the simplest steps, and do one thing at a time. One step a time, and seemingly by magic the next footstep is there waiting to be taken, Though of course it helps to look around, to make sure you’re going where you want to.

  • necronomicon said,

    Steam has rejected a lot of games that had had success elsewhere. You still basically got lucky.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I also know some indies who got on Steam, got promoted at release by Steam, and still didn’t do very well at all. Don’t assume that getting released on Steam is an automatic win, either. Yeah, your potential sales skyrocket with a bit of Steam lovin’, but it’s not like Steam automatically translates into 5 or 6 digit sales.

  • Albert1 said,

    The best advice to indie developers I ever read was from Chris Hecker. He wrote that you should draw a Venn diagram representing what you’d like to make/play, then draw another one which contains what has (probably) chances to sell: the intersection of the two is what you should pursue. Too often I read advices saying that indie developers should exclusively develop what they like, without taking into account that little bit of marketing/economic common sense that every business requires! As I’ve wrote in a previous comment, at this time it seems that everything carrying the “indie mark” will automatically gain praise from reviewers, eventually becoming succesful – this, in my opinion, because lot of indies think of themselves as avanguarde artists, and journalists often are art/movie-critics-failed-to-be… but soon the reality will knock the door!

  • necronomicon said,

    Well, Zeboyd wasn’t much before they got on Steam… I’m pretty sure a lot of devs could use just a tiny bit of all the push Zeboyd got because of Steam.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I’m sure Robert can clear things up pretty well, but I was reading about the success of BoD7 and CStW back when they were exclusive to XBLIG. I ended up buying the game a second time when it came out on PC and Steam. Steam may have taken it over the top, but the games were pretty successful by XBLIG standards long before that.

  • Albert1 said,

    @necronomicon: I’m not a fan of Zeboyd games, but I’d be hesitant to consider their success only a matter of luck. Sure, an incompetent could be lucky one time, maybe two, but Zeboyd people hit the target multiple times – it’s unlikely to be just Steam boost, either.

  • Robert Boyd said,

    Yes, there is a certain degree of luck in getting major review sites to cover your game and to get storefront holders to deal with you. Still, we were seeing a fair bit of success before Steam; Steam just multiplied it.