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27 Feb 2014

Surviving Your Next Indie Game

The old saying goes, “you’re only as good as your last…” – anything! As an athlete, you’re only as good as your last game As a film director, only as good as your last film. And as an indie developer? You guessed it: you’re only as good as your last game.

But what if your last game was your debut game and it was successful? What if you are gearing up to develop your sophomore game, and you want this game to be better than ever? Well, you certainly have the right attitude, but you must practice various disciplines in order to not only have a successful sophomore game, but every game going forward. Nobody wants to be a one-hit wonder – nobody wants to be the Fountains of Wayne of game development. Be a Springsteen of indie development by following these disciplines below.


Make the game you are passionate about/want to play

The best novels, the best albums, the best films, and of course the best games ever made were made by people that made a work of art that they want to see come to life. George Lucas wrote and created the original Star Wars as a true labor of love, as he wanted to make an homage to the classic sci-fi serials he watched decades before such as Flash Gordon. Stephen King wrote The Dark Tower series because he was so enraptured by Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Clint Eastwood’s role in the ‘Man With No Name’ trilogy (Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) simultaneously that he wrote an epic series about a gunslinger searching for a dark tower in a post-apocalyptic world.

Shigeru Miyamoto has stated that he developed The Legend of Zelda because he had fond memories as a boy of exploring caves, pretending to fight monsters, and so on, thus he wanted to capture that feeling and pass it along to players. The point is this: find something you’re passionate about, find something that speaks to you on an emotional level, and develop a game around that.

That doesn’t mean you have to develop a game that’s a sprawling epic either. If you love crossword puzzles, develop a game that involves crossword puzzles to some degree. If you enjoy pirate-themed adventures, develop a game with a pirate theme. The bottom line is this: don’t develop a game you think people will want to play.

Develop the game you want to play, and your passion with shine through.


Learn from success as much as you learn from failure

Most people will tell you that you should learn from your failures, and they’re right. Learning from failings as an indie developer will help you to realize what you shouldn’t do again. But then what? What’s the value of learning what you should not do if you never learn what you should do?

Take the time to learn from your success as much as your failure. Find out what works, and when you figure this out, do your part to figure out how to improve on your past success so you can be more successful than ever. From there, you will find success on a much more frequent basis as you continue to develop your second game and your future games as well.


Plan ahead, but always be flexible

I have a friend that always likes to plan ahead. For everything. The moment something doesn’t go according to plan, the guy starts to freak out, panic, and does everything in his power to try and steer the situation to align with his plans. The guy is a bit of a control freak (even though he means well), and although he has a great skill for planning, he’s awful at being flexible and altering his plans on a whim.

The point is this: you can plan all you want, but the development of your game is never going to go according to your plan. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan of action in mind (in fact, it’s vital that you do), but instead of trying to plan ahead for every little thing that could go wrong, know the direction you want your project to go in. Do your part to accomplish the most important things in the project first, get those done, and the rest of your plan will fall into place.

Remember: flexibility is key when developing games. If you can’t be flexible and change your plans on a whim, well, you’re probably in the wrong industry.


Know the point of your game

This may sound like a no-brainer, but it isn’t. We’ve all played games that are so mucked with ‘cutting edge features’ (and too many features at that), that the gameplay suffers. A game that attempts to do too many things at once will eventually lose its focus (i.e. its soul), and when this happens, you have a mess of a game on your hands.

To avoid this, keep in mind that actual point of your game and focus the entire development process around that. For example, it’s easy to see the purpose in Super Meat Boy: run, jump, dodge obstacles, and get to the end of the level. Hotline Miami is the same way: eliminate every enemy by any means necessary without getting hit, and then leave the level.

It’s even simple to spot the point of an open game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: upgrade your character as you attempt to complete the game’s main story. The side-quests, countless dungeons, and tons of loot are all bonuses to the game, yet in its simplest form, I described exactly what the point of Skyrim is all about.

Again, always keep in mind the point of your game. Have a clear objective regarding what it’s all about, because if you don’t, there truly will not be a point to your game. If this happens? Nobody is going to care about the game, and nobody is going to want to play.

And if your game does not have a ton of features? That’s perfectly fine! Remember: ‘tis better to do one thing to perfection than many things mediocrely.


Do you have any tips for helping beginning indie developers to survive their next games? Let us know in the comments below!

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