Feb 142012

So You Want to Be an Indie Game Developer?

First off, enjoying the playing videogames is not the same as making them. Seems pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people assume that just because they like to play videogames, they’d also enjoy making them. If anything, deciding to make videogames will actually cut into your time playing them, at least until you’ve made it big and have enough money to turn game development into your full-time career.

Making games is not about the sudden burst of inspiration and brilliant ideas. Oh, don’t get me wrong – you’ll get those too (and if you don’t, game development might not be for you), but they account for a relatively small percentage of your game development time. The vast majority of your time will be spent slowly constructing the game, whether that’s by writing line after line of code, drawing sprite after sprite, composing song after song, or any of the other tasks that needs to be performed to have an actual game. While having a completed game is rewarding and fun, the process itself also involves a lot of tedium and frustration along the way.

Start small and work your way up. When you’re just starting off, you’re not good enough to make your dream game. For that matter, you might not be good enough to make a game that someone will be willing to buy. Doesn’t matter. The time you spend now making Text Adventure Game Extreme! or The New Adventures of Bootleg Pac-Man is time that you’ll be learning your craft so that you can make your dream games eventually. It is also crucial to see a project through to completion – even with a simpler game, the experience you gain from finishing a project teaches invaluable lessons on how to proceed with more ambitious games.

You’re probably not going to make much if any money at first. Don’t let it discourage you. When you see a successful indie developer, chances are they made several games before they had their big hit. The successful indie developers are the ones who don’t stop when they hit a setback.

Learn from your mistakes. When you release a game and it doesn’t do as well as you expected, figure out why. Maybe the gameplay was good but the amateurish graphics scared people off. Maybe it was too similar to another game. Maybe you released it on the wrong platform. Maybe the price was wrong. Figure out what you did wrong and how you can improve in that area so that you don’t make the same mistake next time.

Before you make a game, plan out the game’s scope. Individual features will often change as you come up with new ideas or discover that old ideas don’t work out as well as you thought, but if you have an idea of the general scope of your game, you can avoid it turning into a project that’s beyond your time and abilities. Perhaps the number one killer of indie game projects is feature creep.

Don’t do it alone. A few people are multi-talented geniuses and can make a fantastic game all by themselves. Most of us are not. Once you have some small confidence in your talents, find someone or a group that can compliment your strengths and make up for your weaknesses. Share ideas, insight, and progress – this will help keep everyone motivated.  Motivation and momentum are absolutely crucial.

Make games that people will want to buy. It’s not enough to just make good games. Your games need to be different enough from what else is out there that people will want to buy your games instead of the alternative. Remember, you’re not just competing against other indie games, you’re competing against big blockbuster games, older classics, and in short, everything out there. You need a unique hook, in gameplay, concept, execution, or whatever – if you don’t, then why go for your game over someone else’s?

Seek feedback especially before but also after release. Don’t become defensive when someone offers criticism. Analyze the complaint and see if it’s valid. If several people have the same complaint, it’s probably valid.

Spread the word. You can have the best and most original game in the world but if no one knows about it, it won’t sell. Create a list with media contacts to send news and free copies of your game to. Become an active user on various forums or where people who might like your game gather. Create a website, a twitter, a facebook, and other forms of social media for your company.

Be nice. If you’re nice, people will help you to succeed. If you’re nice and your games are good, people will buy your games. If you’re not nice, they’ll just pirate them.

Start now. You’re never too young or too old to begin game development. The sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll gain the skills necessary for you to eventually make the best game ever!

 Posted by at 9:01 am

  18 Responses to “So You Want to Be an Indie Game Developer?”

  1. Admin said: “I got my start on XNA & C# so it’s definitely doable. Unity seems to be the big popular engine to learn at the moment since it lets you do multiplatform stuff easily, but I don’t know how easy it is to learn.”

    Very interesting article, Mr. Boyd… I had a feeling you’ve used the XNA app before. Not surprised that you’re familiar with C# (although I thought it was C+, or C++ last time I checked wikia)… From what I’ve been told, Java is kinda the “godfather” of all these scripting languages for web and game design. Now Unity threw me for a loop… I visited the website, and to me Unity seems like an app for those “next gen” games only… All of the games I saw on the site were “Gears of War” esq quality… I can’t imagine somebody (especially a novice game designer) using Unity to produce “8 to 16-bit” RPGs or platformers… With that being said, Unity is only a engine, and work well with Python scripting language (which is a kin of C++, as is Ruby)… Now there are a lot of people out there (like me) who have NO coding experience what so ever… Never took a class or sat thru a 16 hour youtube vid on coding… So how would we be able to produce games without this essential skill? Template friendly apps like RPG Maker VX (they have a “lite” = free version on their website. The licensed version should set you back about $70 us) makes planning and producing a classic 8-16 bit RPG fun and very easy… All one would really need is time to create… I myself, am an inspiring game designer. I’m more art designer then code writer, so VX is what I’m using to produce my RPG(s)… Give it a try if you’re having time constraints issues with the app you’re currently using… I’m also using a free app called Construct 2 (Scirra is the company) for my 2-D side scrolling platformer(s)… Another template friendly app that makes lite work of the thousands of hours you’d be pouring in if you had to code everything yourself… I’m planning on putting this app to good use once I’m finished with the VX RPG project I’m currently working on… BTW, if anyone is interested, I have a deviant art page (that I hardly use nowahdays… Sigh…) showcasing some of my vector-esq artwork… Feel free to leave feedback on any piece I posted on there… I have posted a link here: http://blackmask-comics.deviantart.com/
    There are plenty of game making apps out on the internet now, so check out all of them is my recommendation. Stencyl, yoyo’s Game Maker Studio, etc… Each app is different (to me at least) so I guess it depends on the user… In closing, I hope the info I’ve provided can help any beginners out there in choosing a good app to get started on game making… I hope to have my RPG up and running asap, and will have a site for all things BLACKMASK in the near future 😉 !!! Will spread the word once both are near completion…

    PS: Mr. Boyd??? I wanted to ask a question… More of a favor if you will. I need some help creating a “side-battle view” (think PA 3 n 4, final fantasy, etc…) combat script… I’ve tried to ask for help on the RPG Maker forum, but everyone just directs me to Tankentei’s battle script… Which is not exactly what I need… With mostly all of these scripts (ones developed by the community) you have to import the corresponding resources in order for the script (and sometimes the game itself) to work properly… This is what I want: I want to be able to use my “own created” resources with a side battle system script that can work with whatever resources I desire… Apparently this is an issue on the RPG Maker forum as I have yet to find a script that works with whatever resources you happen to be using in your game… I hope I’m making some sense to you, Mr. Boyd as I’m confident that you will understand my plight, and help me out anyway you see fit. Again thank you for any help with my dilemma…

  2. I just bought all your games in Steam. Starting playing Breath of Death VII and I like it, reminds me of games I played on my childhood. I want to start developing games and your post is really inspiring, keep up the great work and sharing your experiences. I will start my first game small in scope so I can actually finish it. Will send you a copy when I am done 🙂

  3. Trying my hardest to go indie. You never really expect the hair pulling out stress when you are getting close to finishing a game. I honestly had to scrap my last project because I couldn’t take the huge amount of buggy code I had written previously.

    I know that my new project will be written without all of those flaws. To the best of my ability at least. Oh, and I loved breath of death on XBLIG! Freakin fantastic.

  4. I would like to know what engine did you use?

  5. Is XNA a free software? What do I need to get it? Im currently developing indie game in unity, its a FPS Logical game, but I would want to create something simple but more fun, 3d games, like fps require a lot of polishing (A LOT)

  6. Thanks for this article, Robert.
    I would imagine that there is a difficult trade-off between engine development (or at least reusable code) and content creation. As an indie developer, you have the burden of managing both. Did you have to make yourself stop engine development at any point, in order to focus on content? And did you regret not focussing on the engine more once you were deep into content creation?

  7. er…write up….I hate screwing up a word like that.

  8. Interesting read. I feel the first part. I thought when I was younger I wanted to make games because I loved playing them, especially rpg’s, but I also realized that making games would probably do to me what taking a class on film criticism did to me in regards to movies. Basically I see all the flaws, I easily spot area’s where actors aren’t really doing a good job…..example being Stiller in the second Night at the Museum movie. When him and that lady are on the plane, you can just look at his face and see he is not even trying to act like he is on a plane. I can’t believe they used that take for that section. Also, I couldn’t stand the fact that the people in the Prince of Persia movie were in a desert, and yet they never got dirty, or looked roughed up or anything. They were constantly immaculate in their perspiration, and complexion……

    Anyway, I figured if I got into game making, I would lose the ability to really relax with my games and just lose myself in them. I figured this out earlier than college, but it took that college film class to make it really sink in and make me glad I didn’t go the game maker route. Now I am just aiming for a IT degree in networking, which I am enjoying the learning process a great deal.

    Anyway, good right up.

  9. Generally speaking I don’t write a huge design document before starting a project. I’ll figure out the major aspects of the game early on (plot synopsis, characters, any unique gameplay systems) and then add details as we actually make the game.

  10. Great article, some good advice in here. As someone who is about to start on their first project, the start small and work up part hits home in a good way. I originally had grandiose plans, but I’ve since cut them back into something much more workable.

    I’m curious, how much design document/outlining do you do before starting work on something? Do you write up a ton, or just some core concepts and ideas and go to town, updating as you go?

  11. Loved your article. The part about being a nice person is certainly true. You probably dont remember but I tweeted you shortly after CSTW came out on xbla asking about how I could buy the game through the Australian xbla, you reply was so helpful and professional that I bought you game then later donated to your kickstarter fund and then gifted your game through steam to my friends for their birthdays. All in all I probably bought your game 3 or 4 times over, plus the donation from kickstarter, so id say that your tweet, professionalism and friendly nature probably paid off 🙂

  12. > This will be my new link for when someone tells me they want to go Indie.

    Yep, same here.

  13. Thank you for this!

    I have a question. Lets say you start learning the trade with XNA & C# and you want to move to PC. Do you stick with XNA or do you move to something else?

  14. Great article. It’s so true. I recommend XNA and C# also to start learning. It’s simple and easy.

  15. I got my start on XNA & C# so it’s definitely doable. Unity seems to be the big popular engine to learn at the moment since it lets you do multiplatform stuff easily, but I don’t know how easy it is to learn.

  16. Out of curiosity, what would be a decent starting developer environment. I’ve checked out the xna packages and there seems to be a ton of help for it. It’s also run with c# which isnt terrible to learn. Thanks for an inspiring post!

  17. You’re an asset to the indie community, thanks for the continued advice.

  18. Simple. Truth.

    This will be my new link for when someone tells me they want to go Indie.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.