Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Five Questions New Indie Game Developers Should Ask Themselves

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 22, 2015

DontFeelLikeDevA recent survey found that most authors make less than minimum wage. Must game developers do, too, although I’ve arrived at that conclusion purely through anecdotal evidence. Seriously, on a per-hour basis, I’d do far better flipping burgers at McDonalds.

Daniel Cook wrote not too long ago about Minimum Sustainable Success in the games industry. His point is that even as a low-budget indie, it’s still a hit-driven industry, and as far as playing the numbers is concerned, the chance of releasing a hit game that makes up for all the failures is diminishing in glutted market.

If you want to get really brutal about it, there’s the cockroach analogy.

Making a living on your creative efforts is not only “not easy,” it can be frustratingly difficult, requires a long-term commitment, and the road is fraught with peril and an easy death (well, bankruptcy) as a business. There’s a lot more to it than just “doing what you love.”

And yet – with my emphasis more on games than on writing – I still see people coming in with a get-rich-quick game idea that they believe nobody has ever thought of before (mainly because they haven’t done their basic research, yet consider themselves to be “idea” people).

Look, I love games and game development. And I am a big cheerleader for people wanting to jump into the indie game development arena. I always have been. It’s never been easier to make games. I love people being empowered to turn their ideas into something real. But as encouraging as I want to be, I would also encourage people to do a little self-assessment as they jump into game development.

Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t know whether or not its for you until you try it. And usually, that first experience is a troublesome, sometimes rude awakening about the realities of the process. The question is whether or not you emerge from that process feeling energized by the challenge, or thinking there’s no way it was worth it.

Sure, there are days that motivation can be hard to find, because it is hard work (like the included comic suggests). But ultimately, there are some questions an aspiring indie game developer should ask himself or herself. If the answer is solidly “no” to any (or especially most) of these, some reconsideration might be in order.

#1 – Do I really want to make games, or do I just want to see my game idea made? (In other words, am I asking for help, or am I asking people to do the work for me?)

#2 – Am I willing to get my hands dirty doing the hard work, learning new skills, and and growing?

#3 – Am I willing to suck at it for a while, and admit to the world that I might not be heaven’s gift to game development? (If your ego is too wrapped up in this, you might never be able to release a game to the public.)

#4 – Is the process of creation as exciting as the final product to me? (Granted, some parts of development might be less exciting than others…)

#5 – If this game were to utterly fail, would I still keep making games? (Assuming you could afford to do so)

The last one is the key. Creators create. They find it hard not to. The challenge isn’t in the creation, it’s in honing skills and learning how to create things that are of worth to others. There are too many people in the games industry today (even the indies) who put that cart before the horse, who consider “monetization” as their primary goal, and their designs all feed into that. That’s the glut that I see in the games business.

In the end, making games – or any other creative product – is a long-haul gig. It’s about the journey, and hopefully turning it into something sustainable to you can actually live on what you love doing. Yeah, paying the bills is critical. I get that. But the first step is not figuring out how to make money at it. The first step is learning how to make something worth people spending money on. Once you can do that, then you can start worrying about all the details of how to turn it into something that will pay the rent.


Filed Under: Game Development, General - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

  • Cuthalion said,

    Hm… yeah, yes, yeah, moreso at this point, and probably. Ok, looks like I’d better keep at it!

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Okay, we won’t revoke your indie card this year… 😉

  • McTeddy said,

    Won’t lie, I often want out of the dev side of the game industry. Love the games, but most of the time, it’s really not worth the effort you put in by any sane metric.

    But, I am still doing it. Apparently, my sane measuring capabilities are still way off.

  • Cuthalion said,

    *Phew* I was worried for a second. Of course, if I actually finish the game, I’ll have indie tenure and won’t have to worry about it being revoked unless I sell out or say something mean on Twitter!

  • Cuthalion said,

    McTeddy, I agree. It’s not sane. But it’s hard to escape the gravity of this particular metaphorical star.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Ain’t that the truth!

    It’s a stupid-hard way to make money. Which is kind of my point of the questions. If you are in it for fame, for money, or for just seeing your one single super-mega-game realized (hint: probably won’t happen), then you are probably making a poor choice. But if you just CAN’T HELP YOURSELF – welcome to the club. It’s crazy in here.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I should note that yes, it’s possible to build a sustainable income as an indie and many friends of mine ARE doing just fine being indie as a vocation – but it wasn’t like they started out that way. They are like the garage band playing clubs and bar mitzvahs until they finally made it relatively big.