Make money on development. The story of a lone game developer

Today I would like to share with you a haggard and nagging story about the mental torment of a dreamer who imagines himself to be an independent game developer. In order not to be too trite, I will dilute the text with graphs and numbers, as well as summarize under the article a good and life-affirming result.

This article is about believing in yourself, in tales from the market and in the future. This is a text about what you need to do what you love, but you also need to set the right goals. This is a story about how not a genius, an ordinary person, to get depressed after failure and how to formulate the term “success” in order to finally come to it.

Why make games?

Creating a world in which everything exists according to your rules is delightfully pleasant and interesting. To see how your pictures come to life on your phone - I still experience childish delight and unimaginable pleasure from this. But since I did something, then I am the creator? And since I'm a creator, then I need an audience that appreciates and recognizes me! And yet, since I like to make games so much, could I make this a matter of my life, my favorite work, and earn fabulous money from this? There, Rovio, Zepto Lab, a Vietnamese youth with Flappy Bird, they coped, but I? Watch how I have nice cubes knocking on each other ...

So, besides the obvious motivation for creating the “I can!” Games added no less obvious motivation is “I want to earn fame and earn a bag of money!”. By the way, the last one,Unfortunately (fortunately) , it becomes the main one.


In 2009, I believed that since the flick button on the iPhone has reached the top, can I make the Magic 8 Ball and swim in the rays of mobile glory? The goal was then chosen by the Android Market due to the relative cheapness of devices and a low threshold for entering the market. “Competitors” were honestly studied, which were recognized as shameful as one: no application used Accelerometer, although just for Magic 8 Ball the use of this marvelous sensor suggested itself.

Development was carried out in the evenings after the main work and in 2011 the Magic 8 Phone was ready for release. Advertising? Reviews? Well, what are you ... We set the price at $ 0.99, press the "Release" button and wait for the frantic payments from Google. Seriously, it’s impossible to convey how disappointed I was that nobody downloads such wonderful software even after I made it free. Then, Google sent me a letter stating that I was violating Mattel’s rights to Magic 8 Ball and wiped the application from the Android Market.

Fig. 1. Schedule of the current Magic 8 Phone installations, on which the fading of hopes and dreams is clearly visible

The most memorable commentary on Magic 8 Phone was: “Nice idea, nice app! But Magic 8 Ball ... seriously? .. "

The boy is growing, but still believes in Santa Claus

In 2011, I bought and passed the platform game LIMBO from PLAYDEAD. It was delicious. I became a fan of this game, I was impressed with everything: physics, animation, atmosphere, gameplay, plot, - everything caused me agility and delight. I got the idea to write something similar for Android devices, namely, a game about a girl that smashes into pieces from a collision with the harsh world. A prototype was written, sent to publishers in Chillingo, the response was “Oh, great, but something damp. They drank sounds, leftovers and come with the finished product. And also for the iPhone OS, because Android is poorly monetized. ” I was inspired and ... the development went out. For a long time I was lazily looking for artists, I ruled minor bugs, but in 2012 I bought my first iPhone 3GS. I transplanted the girl into a wheelchair for ease of development and decided to rewrite the prototype for iOS.

In December 2013, a game called SOPOR entered the App Store for trial by global gamers. I screamed about it at the thematic forums, declared participation in IGF 2014 (Indie Game Festival), was noticed by IndieStatik, who wrote an article about my trailer. In the first two days of the release, a game for $ 0.99 was downloaded by 20 people! Then two people, then zero. Zero, zero, zero. Plus, it turned out that the game crashed after the very first death. Everyone has. Updating the application with a bugfix and the inclusion of Game Center brought several downloads, but brought even more one-star reviews: now SOPOR crashed when the application was launched on all devices with iOS under 7.0.

Fig. 2. Schedule of paid SOPOR installations since release

Game Center was drunk, bugs fixed, the game was left to the mercy of fate free and careless. Despite this, downloads per week: 1-3 pieces. A few months later, a very “tricky” move was found for monetization: we set the price to one dollar, and every two weeks we make two days of free distribution. In iTunes Connect, you can set a schedule for price changes, so once set up and cut the cabbage. For two days of free mass of websites that tell users about pleasant changes in prices on the App Store, check out a freebie of my game, publish this great news, and a bunch of fans of sales and distributions are gathering. Then the game becomes paid and a couple of weeks by inertia it is bought by good users. Two weeks pass, two days free, and in a new way.

Fig. 3. Schedule of paid SOPOR installations for the year before an unprecedented leap

Fig. 4. The jump. Or a Chinese miracle if you want

So the game lived for more than a year, until at the beginning of March 2015, several dozen Chinese people bought it. Then more and more. Apparently, somewhere in China there was a review of SOPOR, but I never found it. Now from China there is a steady profit of about $ 2 a day. I have so far refused a cunning monetization scheme, but soon I will return to it again. By the way, in April 2015, I received the first and so far the only payment from the App Store: 8900 rubles.

Ropes are great

In January 2015, I started developing a new game. This is an endless / final runner in which a rectangular can of condensed milk moves through the refrigerator tunnel to the coveted freedom. The world is directed from top to bottom, a rope is used to move. Well, like a rope ... Remember Team17 Worms? Here is such a rope. I loved to jump a worm on this rope, it was the funniest thing for me in the Worms World Party. And so I decided to make a game in which the main character, under the influence of gravity alone, seeks to exit the harsh refrigerator. And all would be well, the victory is near, but in addition to the dog’s cold, there are other residents in the refrigerator who do not at all share the main character’s desire to leave the ice cage.

However, pretty lyrics. Milli (that’s the name of condensed milk) has several lives left; in case of death, he appears in the nearest checkpoint. Each life is restored within 5 minutes. If all lives are exhausted and you do not want to wait, the player can watch a short video advertisement, for which he will be given an additional three lives. That's the whole monetization of a free game.

The game was released in May 2015, and was offered for review to 50 different resources about mobile games, most of which answered in the style of: “Great game! But we have so many applications, so let’s you buy an advertisement or a paid review from us? ”, Which is expected.

It’s early to talk about the success / failure of this project, so I’ll tell you my vision of the life of an independent game developer in general.


You can probably say that I have been “developing games” since 2010. Most likely, this is the same as "I’ve been five years in independent game development." And here are some obvious things that I learned very slowly over the years.

1. Right goals

Unfortunately, not all people are geniuses. Moreover, not all people, as they say, are creative. The global goals of “capture the market”, “create a mega-popular application” are good exactly until you have broken this goal into subtasks.
Steve Jobs in his sensational speech at the University of Cambridge said that you need to look for your calling, not exchanging for boring and uninteresting work, that you need to work and earn with pleasure. He's right. However, this is not about a game developer alone and this does not mean that you need to quit your job / university and rush into the abyss of developing your, of course, brilliant game, selling a car, a cottage and kidneys. I will seem a boring gray man in the street, but if you spent half your salary on marketing and development, then depriving yourself and your game of all this salary is silly. This will give time, but it will deprive all the means. Ordinary people in life always need a compromise. Including setting goals. After all, I can assess what happened to me with at least two points:
a) For two years I have been developing a game that in two more years brought me a lousy 9k rubles.
b) For a month, without any movements, a long-written toy brought me a bonus of 9k rubles.
If you treat GameDev as a "hobby" not tied to generating income, then it’s just psychologically much easier to live with. Fanaticism, as a rule, does not lead to great success. No need to rush into the pool before thoroughly probing this pool with a stick.

And further. A good way to make money on developing games without an advertising budget: rive clones of popular games. Marketing has already been done before you, sit on the wave and go. But here I will not even dig deep. Clones are not for artists.

2. Analytics

Always include some kind of analytics in the game. Flurry, Google Analytics, its php api on its website. You need to know how the user behaves inside the game. Even if your game crashes, you will learn at least some lesson from this thanks to the knowledge of the player’s body movements in the game.

Fig. 5. Events in the game. Gentleman's set

3. Faith and success stories

Do not try to imitate the guys with success story. The success stories of companies without a marketing plan, without a budget for advertising, with a bare ass in the wind - a few. Do you believe that you are one of those geniuses who will blow up the market with their upcoming game? That awesome content will sell itself? Perhaps this is true, but the content needs to gain a critical mass of popularity in order for it to start selling itself.

All these success stories are very similar to the classic scenario of an Indian film: a simple guy from the province with an average voice and mediocre choreography is beaten “into the people”. The public likes these stories because they project this amazing story of a simple guy onto themselves - such a simple guy.
Although, if you believe that you are a genius, drop everything, tear the market. Honestly, I will rapturously read your success story.

4. Quantity or quality

Today is a turning point in my life. From now on, I decided that there would never be a turning point in my life. That moment when I give up everything and begin to live off my games. I will continue to develop games in my free time, upload them to the App Store and Google Play, devise ways to monetize them, and sometimes order reviews and advertisements. Good favorite main job, far from game dev, no less favorite “hobby” in the evenings, once a year I roll out fresh releases, twice a year I update old ones. It is possible that this path will lead me to complete autonomy from working as a mercenary-programmer, but I will not rush to it frantically, and spend my time on just one entity.
And if this is the path of many failed games instead of one successful, well, therefore.

On this slightly rainy note, let me finish.


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