If you have tried your hand at being an indie developer (and if you’re visiting our site, chances are you have), then you probably know that it is easier said than done. Being an indie developer – and a successful one at that – is much harder than you probably anticipated, but it is not impossible. If you are willing to put in the work and dedicate yourself to mastering this rewarding, exciting craft, then you are going to figure out this wild world of indie game development and learn how to make it work for you.
Plus, being an indie developer is an absolute blast.
Before you begin your foray into this crazy world, you need to know the challenges associated with being an indie developer before you meet them head on. Below are the biggest and most common challenges indie developers face every single day.
The million dollar idea (that also makes a great game)
You know, I hear people all the time say that they have an awesome idea for a video game. Yeah, we all do. Anybody that has ever played a video game has had a few great ideas pop up in their minds from time to time, and that’s great. But ideas on their own are worthless unless you do something with them. Most people never get to this stage. Those that have are quick to realize that a great idea usually never equals a great video game. By prototyping in trying to implement the idea into a video game, it quickly becomes easy to see that great ideas do not represent great gameplay mechanics.
Finding that million-dollar idea that also makes a great video game is one of the hardest steps of being an indie developer. It is the reason why you see so many clones of other games all the time; fresh, new ideas are difficult. Even so, you need to keep pushing forward and trying to come up with that new, awesome idea that players are dying to experience.
Discoverability is also one of the biggest hurdles of being an indie developer – but it is absolutely mandatory in order to be successful. You have to have a customer base; otherwise, you do not have much of a business to begin with. Add to the fact that more people than ever are trying their hand at being an indie developer, it may seem as if getting discovered is more about luck than anything else.
But as I was reminded late last week, “we make our own luck.” The same applies to you. This is why networking with your peers in the industry is so valuable, because they can help you to get your indie game discovered easier than going alone. This is why getting your app reviewed is also important, because it allows your indie game to be discovered by more people than ever. In short, it is important to get people talking about your indie game. In the end, what we are talking about is…
We could talk for days about marketing: in fact, we have written dozens of dozens of posts talking about this exact subject. You may have a great idea for an indie game and you may even know how you want to build your indie game, but where most indie developers stumble is marketing. We understand: the last thing an indie developer wants to do is focus on ‘selling themselves’ and explaining to the worldwide their indie game needs to be played above everyone else’s game, but it goes with the territory. You want people to play your game, and the best way to entice people to experience it is, you guessed it, marketing.
This means constantly plugging your indie studio and indie games on social media, enticing your followers to engage with your brand, and coming across as a likable, human being in an effort to again, get more people to play your indie game. It is a difficult and time-consuming process, but it is mandatory if you want your indie studio to be successful.
Whenever you hear about indie developers running out of funding, it is usually because the game they were developing was a little too large in scope. The indie developers were in above their heads, and because they had no experience managing a project of that magnitude, the entire project crashed and burned, causing them to run out of funding.
If you want to avoid the ‘not enough funding’ debacle, ensure that the scope of your indie game is aligned to your experience. I know, I know, you want to develop your complicated, epic Magnum opus; the game you have always dreamt of developing. But just like a child that catches his/her football cannot expect to be a starting wide receiver in an NFL game tomorrow, so too can you not expect to begin developing your dream game that is huge in scope. Instead, start small. Create a basic game to show yourself that you can do this, and use the lessons that you learn from each project to go a little bit bigger and bigger in scope.
Warren Spector didn’t develop Deus Ex the first year he became a video game developer; it took him years of hard work to get to that point. Be patient, learn from your experiences and mistakes, and hopefully you will be able to make your dream game soon enough!
Making it all work together
One of the hardest things about being an indie developer is making everything come together and work properly. It can be difficult to balance your finances, marketing appropriately, ensuring more people this week have downloaded, installed (and kept your indie game installed) moreso than last week, and so on. It is a balancing act that is always ongoing, and if you can figure out a way to make it all work together for your indie studio, you are going to do just fine.
Sticking with it
As with anything in life, it can be easy to throw in the towel and give up on this whole indie development thing. But you do not want to do that. Developing indie games is one of the most rewarding, most fun, and downright most amazing careers of this world has ever known – and we firmly believe that as well. Sure, it isn’t an easy career path – but the most rewarding ones are not easy, either. If you have any questions or comments about making this entire indie development thing work for you, ask us in the comments below. Beyond that, search our site to learn about how to improve your indie studio and start making your dreams come true. We are not going to say that it’s going to be an easy road (it’s not), but we can honestly say that no matter what happens, you are going to be glad that you chose to develop indie games for a living.
No matter how many hurdles you will experience as an indie developer, let us tell you that in the end, it will all be worth it.