Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Indie Games: Learning From Failure

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 1, 2013

Just a couple of links to articles today. As usual, when these articles call out the failures, I wince. I’ve done a lot of these myself.

This first one comes with a great warning:

The following list might be filled with things so stupid that you wouldn’t ever imagine doing them, and yet I did all of them at some point, often multiple times. If that’s the case you can as well just make fun of me since you’re already here.

How NOT to Market Your Indie Game

Some that I need to be reminded of from time to time…

  • Don’t release the screenshots that you took 5 days into the development, they will stay in the Internet forever and haunt you. (Press posting about your game and using a year-old screenshot as a news header would be the best example)
  • Don’t ask reviewers if they want a review copy of your game. Throw it at their faces. They weren’t gonna buy it anyways.
  • Don’t try to make a game for both casual and hardcore players.
  • Don’t insist on adding more content instead of polishing what you already have in the game.

Here’s an oldie-but-goodie that is quite painful to read. It’s about an otherwise decent, fun, competent game which probably deserved much better success than it received… and which, five years earlier, perhaps might have received reasonable success. But as of last year (when the article was written) — it couldn’t pass muster. It sold (at the time of the article) a grand total of EIGHT copies. EIGHT! In the preface to the analysis, author Tom Grochowiak (himself an experienced game designer & developer, who has made some of these same mistakes) says the following:

As human beings, we’re often victims of the survivorship bias. Starting developers focus on the success stories and look at indie game development with starry eyes and big hopes. How hard can it be if Minecraft sold millions and a simple puzzle platformer can become a major hit? Well, very hard. The truth is that most indie projects fail. We should be paying more attention to the lessons we can learn from failures rather than look up to the lucky few who made it, thinking it’s going be the same for us.

Very good points. Back when I was a newbie at this (and I still act like a newbie, so I’ve not completely learned my lessons), I had the same impressions. If such-and-such a crappy game could sell X copies, it should be easy to sell 1/10th of that! The truth is… it’s very hard.

Eight copies. That’s not as unusually bad as you might think.

Failure Study: Rune Masters


Filed Under: Indie Evangelism, Production - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • McTeddy said,

    “Throw my game in reviewers faces”… I think that advice sounds like fun. Especially if they give me a bad review, so I can throw a few more copies.

    But that’s actually new advice for me. I’ve been asking reviewers and frustrated at how little response I get. I never really thought about NOT giving them an option.

    Thanks for this.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    This was something brought up by Adam Ames of True PC Gaming ( http://truepcgaming.com/ ) at Utah Indie Night several months ago. He said that even if a reviewer is interested, is he interested enough to email you for a link, wait for a response, get the link, download, and THEN try it after he’s forgotten your initial pitch?

    Sending it to them at the beginning removes one intermediate step, and can significantly increase your chances. After all, when it’s all digital, it’s effectively no cost to you.

  • Anon said,

    “Throw feces at game reviewers.”

    Good tip if they still ignore your game.

  • Cuthalion said,

    I’ve already broken the screenshot rule. Oops.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I’ve broken it in the past, and paid the price. I wonder if the people digging up the old images are doing it deliberately – and if so, why (simply so that they can have something different from what everyone else is showing?)

  • Cuthalion said,

    It seems there must be a tradeoff between showing something that followers will care about (instead of walls of boring text!) and having more control over what people will associate your game with. I’m not sure it would be worth ceasing to show the early shots… I mean, I’d hate to spend tons of time trying to get the press to talk about my game once it’s closer to release, only to have them pick a shot from back when I was building the movement system with placeholder art. But the alternative is to essentially keep the game a secret, since most people aren’t going to read, and I’ve seen that marked as a standard PR mistake.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Maybe the happy medium is to do what the art license sites do, and mark your early images with an impossible-to-ignore, difficult-to-edit-out watermark or something describing it as a pre-alpha screenshot.

  • Stick Games said,

    Speaking on what Tom Grochowiak stated, there are so many intangibles that go into making an indie game a successful game. I feel it best to make games that you enjoy and want to share with other, and if you’re lucky, a good enough amount of people will agree with you!