Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Importance of Not Being Average

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 16, 2015

I was led to this incredibly awesome 40-minute long talk by Vlambeer’s Rami Ismael – one of the relatively big indie success stories of recent years – by Josh’s post at Kickbomb.  I’ve got it embedded at the end of the post. It’s geared more for newbie entering the indie field, but it’s a great talk for everyone. It’s entitled “How to Survive Your First Indie Game,” or “You Stand No Chance.” While it’s sort of doom-and-gloomy at the beginning, the upshot is “do it anyway.” As in, “You are probably going to fail. But you should try anyway.” Not exactly a rosy vision of the brave, new world of indie.

Then there’s this, by even more-veteran indie Cliff “Cliffski” Harris:

Is Indie PC Gaming the Next Mobile?

This is not about the awesome early days of mainstream mobile iPhones the press got excited about when someone could make hundreds of thousands of dollars on an app that made fart noises. No, he’s talking about the wasteland of mobile gaming today… a battlefield littered with a million corpses of once-promising games. The goldmine that Steam once was when it was highly restricted and curated has become an open, Greenlight-fueled slush pile a mile high. People who thought “just get on Steam and make a bundle” are finding reality to be a lot more stark. A LOT more.

As a friend was saying, things don’t look good for the average indie. My response was, as always, that it’s NEVER been good for the “average” indie.

Still, it’s hard to come away from all of this without feeling a little bit gloomy. This is the brave, new world of indie that I was craving… just like the brave, new world of eBooks that can now bypass the chokehold of the publishers. YAY! For creators, it means you can sell directly to your customers… assuming you can find them and they can find you. For customers, it means a whole lot more content to choose from… just good luck trying to choose something that isn’t crap. Your choices get artificially curtailed because you’ve been burned too often taking chances on unknowns. But how does anybody get from being an unknown to a known… or be allowed to improve?

This is a hard problem. This is possibly an unsolvable problem on a general level. It’s also a very, very old problem. As old as there have been marketplaces in society. The most common solution on an individual basis is to throw a lot of money at it. Spend enough money (probably more than you expect to see back for a couple of years), and you may make yourself famous enough for people to pay attention. That is the Way of the Big Money, that is not the Way of the Indie.

The Way of the Indie starts with “don’t be average.” Don’t be inconspicuous (yeah, that’s a super-hard one for most of us… believe me, I’m totally there). Don’t follow the pack… try to make an end run around the pack and shortcut to where they are probably going. You may end up in the wrong place, but at least you won’t be lost in the crowd.

I wish I could say what the rest of the “Way of the Indie” was, but that’s sort of the nature of indie-dom… we’re all pretty individual and our paths are all different. As Ismail says, what worked for an indie in 2013 probably won’t work in 2015 or 2016. For that matter, even the Big Money approach still isn’t a guarantee.

I just get hammered with a feeling of how much I suck, because I’ve been through at least three of these boom-then-bust cycles as an indie, yet I never was able to capitalize on them during the gravy months. Maybe I’m still just trying to get out of the “don’t be average” category. Probably true… about the only non-average thing I’ve got going for me is indie and mainstream veterancy.

But here’s the thing… it’s always been the case that making games is a stupid way to make money. It’s way too hard and way too unpredictable. But like other creative professions, if you’ve got it in your heart and soul, you won’t give a crap about that and you’ll do it anyway. For those who do, I salute you!


Filed Under: Biz, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • MalcolmM said,

    Unfortunately, I have to agree that indie PC gaming market is becoming more like the mobile market.

    There are so many very similar games on Steam, I don’t have time to investigate all the games I might be interested in, let alone buy and play them. Sometimes I only discover games I end up liking and buying after they go on sale in a bundle. If I had known about these games earlier I might have bought them.

    One decision I think indie developers often handle poorly is when to appear in a bundle. If possible, I think it is always better to get sold on Steam at a discount of at least 50% before joining a bundle.

    For example, I was waiting for the Book of Unwritten Tales to go on at least a 50% sale on Steam. Before that happened, the game was in the weekly Humble Bundle weeklong bundle – the entire bundle cost one third of the Steam price for BofUT2. I only wanted the bundle for BofUT2, but I’m sure the developers of that game didn’t get much of my $10.

  • McTeddy said,

    Thing is… many moderately successful people seem to ignore one major contributing factor to our lives, Luck.

    Flappy Bird was one of the most successful games in years and it wasn’t because it was special. It was COMPETENT but got a lucky break that caused it to explode. It was the right game, in the right place, at the right time.

    Whether it’s the right person playing your game, the right timing for the market, or just friends in the right place. There are MANY contributing factors that might not be within your control.

    Quality can weigh the dice and stack the deck, but it’s still a gamble. Sometimes the people who deserve it will win and sometimes it’ll be those who don’t.

    The house may always win, but I still enjoy the game.