Small, independent gaming studios are on the rise. Independent game developers have more creative freedom, can take bigger risks, and answer to mainly to themselves. However, there are many caveats that come with creating your own game. It’s difficult for gaming developers to make a living in such a saturated gaming market, and independent game developers have to find increasingly creative ways to avoid competing with big box game developers. There’s an uphill battle for discovery, but not all hope is lost.
Read on for a few challenges indie developers face, and ways to avoid them.
Marketing and attracting an audience
As an indie developer, you don’t have the marketing power and brand recognition to throw elaborate release parties or convince the best journalists in the biz to cover your game, but there are ways to work around this. For example, consider starting an influencer campaign for your creation. Reach out to big names in the social media landscape, and on video streaming sites that are popular among gamers, like Twitch.tv.
Additionally, go where your target gamers are. Once you’ve found your core players, you can involve them in the process, which makes them more likely to spread awareness about your game. Search for forums in your game genre, and participate in online communities. Set up Google alerts and use tools like Mention to get notified when people do mention your game, so you can join in on the dialogue.
You should also spend time networking. You can achieve this by attending conferences, summits, and other workshops geared towards indie game development. This allows you to meet instrumental people who could help you in the future, peers who are experiencing similar challenges, and mentors.
Securing funding is difficult for businesses in all industries, not just gaming. However, gaming developers have a unique set of challenges when it comes to getting game funding. Funding is so difficult in the gaming world because developers can never predict what types of issues will occur during the development process. This is especially true for first-time developers. Matt Raithel, the developer of the game High Jump, said in an interview, “Imagine trying to estimate how long online multiplayer support will take if you’ve never implemented online multiplayer before.”
One option for aspiring developers is to raise funds through platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. It’s important that you’re prepared to put in the work for your campaign and only go the crowdsourcing campaign route when you’re ready. The Hive Jump team, for example, put in 500 hours of campaign development before failing and realizing they weren’t yet ready to raise funds for that platform.
This isn’t to deter you from the attempt but serves as a cautionary tale. Crowdsourcing can be a great way to raise funds and spread awareness, and many developers have found success this way. Check out this list of 10 best games that were funded on Kickstarter to see how others made it happen.
Selling on personal websites
There are plenty of places to sell your indie game, from the App Store to platforms like Itch.io and Steam. However, these take a fee for your game cost, and you should have your own gaming website to increase your web presence and get a higher profit per transaction. A solid indie game site has the right payment gateway installed, through branding, full feature listings, and powerful visuals that demonstrate the game. Your website should centralize everything a potential gamer needs to know about your game, including the world it takes place in, gameplay information, and support.
As a small gaming developer, you don’t have the staff on hand to laboriously test every aspect of your game. Through feedback, you can identify any kinks in your gameplay much quicker and build features and functions that are important to your audience. Of course, the best place to start is having friends and family test your game. You can also post an ad across different gaming sites and platforms like Reddit for a request for playtesters. Before you do so, be sure you have a written process and rating system in place for collecting feedback.
Calculating company overhead
In the beginning, it’s not uncommon for passion to the fuel the company, and emotional investment plays a huge role. This makes calculating company overhead difficult. During this phase, you aren’t paying much attention to marketing, publishing, funding, and other associated costs. However, once you’ve put in the legwork, you start to realize that post-creation tasks are difficult.
Some of your team may be able to dedicate more of their time than others, who need to go on with their lives and make an income. How do you divvy up a company and split costs when a team has different levels of commitment? This is something that can be avoided if you address these issues early on and have a candid conversation with your teammates about the potential (and likely) challenges you could face.