Seven truths about indie development

Original author: Sarah Woodrow
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This is a translation of an article from the blog of an indie developer who has been creating games for several years, gained some experience, was disappointed, but continues to work. I believe that basically his opinion on indie development will be useful only to those who have embarked on this path. So here is the article:

1. Nobody knows anything

Developing a game inside a large company stimulates people to specialize, and allows them to develop skills in a certain field. An indie developer must be good at everything, he needs to constantly develop. You may feel ready for it. So, this is not so. Every day you will learn something new, everything will constantly change, and, of course, from time to time, something will go wrong.

About 30 percent of your time will be spent actually on creating the game. The rest of the time you will need to spend on other things. In fact, you are lucky if you spend 4 months a year on, in fact, the game itself. You probably don’t know much about how to run a business, about marketing and the like, but you will have to do it. And, of course, you don’t know anything about the future, for example, what platforms will be in 5 years, how technologies or audience will change.

What to do?

You need to listen and hear your customers, respect them. Let them teach you. It’s impossible to please everyone, but you need to understand who your audience is. These should be some specific people with understandable needs, tastes and preferences. It may be a surprise for you to understand what your audience wants, as their wishes can seriously differ from your plans. But, in general, it is you who must find your audience, not you. In fact, nobody is looking for and waiting for you.

Be prepared to quickly change your plans, adjusting to the audience. You are not a huge corporation, and changing your plans will not be a problem for you. It makes no sense to have a business plan for years to come - every week everything changes, and it's like trying to predict the future. It’s better to know at the very beginning what you’re generally going to and understand how to achieve this ...

Once again - yes, any developer can know a lot, but he will never know enough.

2. To get a plus, you need 3 to 5 years

Yes, for most indie developers, it takes at least 3 to 5 years to become profitable. After all, indie development is not an oil well for you. This is the same business as others. Even Tesla Motors will not have a profit for the first 10 years.

Creating every game is a risky venture. There is a great deal of luck in how a game becomes successful. As a result, there are very few people whose first game brings a lot of money. There are no guarantees. And the thing is this - even if you start to receive money, then, of course, you will want to reinvest it in order to lower the risks. You will want to get to other platforms, make your game see even more people (that is, invest in marketing), spend money on software, hardware, etc., that is, spend on what is necessary to exit your business to a new level. Of course, all this costs a lot of money, and you will need to reinvest. Your salary is the last thing you want to spend money on.

At the same time, you need to have a roof over your head, and some means of food. There are tons of ways to solve this problem. For example, you can try to get an investment, get into some kind of incubator, go out on Kickstarter, take out a loan, use savings (if any), or just do a project in your spare time from your main work. Some just starve. This is also a good option.

3. Nobody knows who you are and you are not interested in anyone.

The bad news is ... no one knows what you are. You will have to earn a reputation from scratch, and you will need to somehow attract the attention of people. All this takes a lot of time.

As previously stated, great success is often the result of good luck. But you can influence this very luck. To do this, you need to establish connections, communicate with different people - all these are important conditions for luck to come to you. You have to constantly ask yourself a lot of questions, for example - “What is important for our customers?”, “What do we generally sell to people - features or something else?”.
Do something for people so that they can get an idea about you and give you feedback.

The good news is ... no one knows what you are.

You are not limited by anything! You can do all kinds of things, experiment and try.
You have nothing to lose, you have no fans yet, and you cannot disappoint anyone.
You can release a beta version, even with bugs. They should even! Because when people don’t play your games, you yourself don’t learn anything.

In the meantime, no one expects anything from you. No one wants to steal your ideas. Nobody knows you.

4. You need to rethink how you measure your success.

Too often, I see people value a game by selling it. People are already mentally spending their money before they receive that money. Many are convinced that their first game will be a breakthrough, and they will receive a good income. They see that some similar game has brought a lot of money. Their game is also very good, and even a talented team. Of course, in their opinion, this means that they will be all right.

But sales forecasts do not work very well. Fortune telling is sometimes more reliable. Especially if these forecasts are based on sales of games made by other people. In general, counting on success based on sales of other people's games is not a good idea. This is the way to disappointment. Instead of spending time on such predictions and calculations, it is better to spend it on creating games. That's when you release your game, you will get real information from the real world.

In general, I have not yet seen that if developers copy some games this would give similar results.

Success is the result of certain conditions. Each game and each situation is different. Of course, you can look at the results of other people's activities and, perhaps, understand how they did it, and draw conclusions, for example, which platform should be used, but in general, you need to understand that you are doing the game in other conditions.

Everyone knows that in life there are things more important than money, so why do we sometimes take a different position for games? In my opinion, you need to think first of all about making a good product that will make people happier.

My game is not selling well now, I just released it. Nevertheless, I believe that this is a good product, it makes people happier, and this is the main thing that I aspired to. I would not do what I could not do well. And, by the way, the lack of initial sales is not necessarily an indicator that there will be no sales in the future either. Well, on the basis of this game you can do something else.
As I already wrote, I believe that the path to success takes at least 3 to 5 years, and my criterion for success is not only money. I measure my success with the knowledge gained and the progress towards my ultimate goals.

And the goals of creating my last game, for example, are as follows:
1. Prove to myself that I can make a game that people like.
2. Create a game that can then be used to sell various goods and other games.
3. Get the necessary knowledge from the results of launching the game on different platforms.
4. Promote information about us on Google.

Here's what happened:
1. We are already working on several other games. We sell t-shirts and toys. We found out what the fans of our game want.
2. We have data from different platforms and we want to reach three more platforms in the near future.
3. We have learned to progress through Google and are now trying to do it through Facebook and Twitter.

In general, the game we created opens up all new possibilities.

As a result of creating this game, we learned a lot of new things, met many new people, negotiated, participated in exhibitions, interviewed a huge number of users. It would be scary to think about this amount of work 2 years ago. But now we have a good idea of ​​all this and know how to become even more experienced.

But these are still the first steps to building a sustainable business. We are moving step by step, little by little, so it is unlikely that we will turn on the wrong road.

In general, we are still on the road, and we like it.

5. You have to make yourself the best boss for yourself.

Often with people who work for themselves, not too good things happen.
People sometimes work for wear and tear, eventually break down. Of course, this negatively affects their whole life, including relationships outside work. Sometimes people work with clients and / or employees who cannot be tolerated, which also leads to stress. Sometimes people forget why they started developing games, and ultimately, all their activities begin to come down to the desire to make money, and come to what they dreamed about. People become exhausted.

Thus, it is better to establish some rules for yourself so that this does not happen to you, for example:
1. Do not work for the sake of earning, but enjoy the work and live for the sake of life itself.
2. Work with those people who understand you and who you care about.
3. Live according to what you believe. Do not compromise with your values.

If you work for your own company, then you have to hand cards in order to create an atmosphere in which you enjoy working. It should be such an atmosphere in which you can develop, learn new things and create new ones, enjoy life. You must know your purpose. Even if you do not plan to hire employees in the near future, the culture of your company should be.

The process is important here, not the result. You can strive to create a successful game, but if you do not like the creation process itself, then, in general, you should not do this.

Let's be honest. The only thing that really matters, after all, is love. You started making games because you like games. You started making games because you want to spend more time with games, you want to love your work. Do not forget about it.

Stay true to what you want and what you strive for. It’s easy to go astray from such a path, especially when you don’t have money and are worried about the future, but if you lose your way, you will definitely come to the future that you don’t want.

6. You will have to take risks

Game development is a risky business. You will have to think a lot to make decisions, and sometimes just do something based only on intuition.

Those decisions that can have a positive effect on the development of your business in the long term, as a rule, differ from those that lead to quick good results. Sometimes you will have to make difficult decisions that may seem rather dumb from the outside.

For example, we knew that the release of our game on Xbox and PC platforms is not the best solution. Our game is designed for multiplayer, but no one now plays in multiplayer on a PC. XBOX Market - Too Rich. But we went for it, and, in our opinion, were right.

You need to gain experience, create something like a resume for your company. You need to be able to show that you can and can make games, somehow start. For example, it was important for us to learn how to make games for consoles, and the Xbox was quite suitable for this.

Of course, we could make a game that we thought could sell well, especially for XBox and PC. But we decided to continue to develop our existing game, because we believe that it will be interesting to someone.

We took the risks by spending 6 months on development (about 3 months combined with work, and 3 months full time working together). This allowed us to make a game corresponding to the level that we call Minimum Viable Awesome.
You've probably heard of Minimum Viable Products, and so - we approach the creation of games a little differently. We strive to ensure that the game is not minimally suitable, but that it is as impressive as we can make it so on time.

We had a million ideas, but at one point we realized that if we continue to postpone the launch, it would be too long, and we started.

At first, we wanted to spend more time learning, reading more information about creating games, etc., but we now understand that the best training is learning from our own experience. Therefore, we are now making small games, releasing them, and learning from them. In general, we spend time understanding what we need for progress. We are based on our previous experience, on the lessons learned.

Sometimes, in order to get an answer to a question, we just do something, for example, the question “What will we get if we launch the game on such and such a platform?”. The answer to such a question will allow us to build the business strategy correctly in the future.

We do not know the future, but it is important to think about it and make plans based on some priorities.

7. It will be harder than you think. Even if you have everything thought out, it will be difficult

The decision to become an indie requires both courage and an ardent desire to make games. But even when you know that all this will not be easy, you cannot prepare yourself for every surprise. Creating a game will take a lot of time, usually much more than you expected. So the sooner you get started, the better.

It is really hard and stressful, but also exciting and fun. You will need to find ways to survive all these difficulties, because otherwise you will give up and it turns out that you did it in vain.
Well, in general it’s all just our opinion regarding game development ...

Do not do this for the sake of money, money and success. Do it for creativity, because making games is a kind of art. Believe me, it will pay off in the long run.

Of course, only time will tell how good this strategy is. We may not have huge sales, but we can enjoy what we do. It gives us the feeling that we are on the right track. No one can tell you how to run your business. Every game, and generally every business, is not like the others, and you just need to learn how to quickly, cheaply and simply find out in which direction you are going. It takes time, effort, patience and perseverance.

The basis of success will be years of failure and learning from your mistakes. Starting a game development business, you need to understand that this is a long time.

All you have to do is start and continue trying to become better and better in your field. Keep this course and believe that the result will be. Success is achieved by one who does not give up.

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