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28 Oct 2013

Initial Steps to Take Before Developing Your First Indie Game

I hate Mondays, and I’m certain you, reader, do as well. We all hate Mondays – they get in the way of our relaxing weekends and remind us that we have a long way to go until the upcoming weekend arrives. Yet, Mondays also signify new beginnings. Did you have a bad work at week last week? Monday presents a new work week, and perhaps this week will be more positive than the last. Mondays are not all bad, and to celebrate new beginnings, I’m providing tips for breaking into indie game development.

Perhaps you are ready to make your own new start and make your dreams realized. Maybe you have always wanted to develop games but didn’t know where to start, or perhaps you have always thought that developing games was solely for large teams of individuals. Perhaps you have no idea how to program, develop music, create graphics, but you have an awesome idea for a game and know how you want the game developed, and if this is indeed the case or you are facing a variant of the case, you still have the power to develop your own indie game. Whatever the case may be, follow the tips below to help you to break into the industry, and set yourself on a path to developing your very first indie game.


Keep expectations realistic

We have all dreamt about making the next big epic game. Who wouldn’t love to be the creator of the next game that’s as talked about as Watch_Dogs, or as beloved as the Super Mario Bros. or Legend of Zelda series? Yet, you have to start somewhere, and chances are your first game will not be as popular or as epic as the games mentioned above, so do not expect your first game to be a smash hit. Instead, be realistic about your first game. Sure, you want to strive to make the very best indie game you can develop, but after all, you are developing your first game, so don’t expect greatness out of the gate.

Your first indie game is going to be a learning experience, and while that isn’t to say that every new game you develop will not be a learning experience in itself (even the most seasoned game devs continue to learn from game-to-game), your first one is going to be a truly eye-opening, trial-by-fire lesson in how to make an awesome game. Thus, keep your expectations realistic – not low, just realistic. Know that your first game may not blow everyone away like you are hoping it will, and if this happens it’s okay. The main point with developing your first game is this: learn extensively from this experience, take notes regarding your experience whenever possible, reflect often back to your experience, and apply what you learned to your next game.


Communicate with the indie dev community

You are ready to be an indie dev, right? Then it’s time to start acting like one and get to know your fellow indie devs (and, you’ll probably find a few aspiring indie devs along the way). Communicating with the community to some degree is key: mostly because, of course, communicating with your fellow indie devs will help you to learn about the industry, the process, and more. Moreover, when you begin to develop your indie game and you find yourself stuck and in a bind, you can reach out to the community, talk to them about the problem, ask for suggestions, and so on, and from there fix the problem and learn from the experience.

See a pattern here? From beginning to develop indie games to actually developing indie games for a living, you are always learning: this never stops.

So where can you find a decent indie dev community? Reddit is the best place to start, in that you can find multiple subreddits related to indie development. Here, you will be able to communicate with actual indie developers, ask them questions, and more as they do their part to help you out and tell you about their past experiences and what they have learned from them.

Find local indie dev meetups in your area if applicable, and if you are very serious about communicating with indie devs and learning in the best way possible, consider making a trip to a GDC Conference if possible. My interview with Tyler Owen last week revealed that Owen discovered that he could actually make a living developing games at GDC, where he was given some sound advice for doing so. Plus, you can get some contacts, network with indie devs, and essentially, create a firm foundation for developing your first indie game.

Quick tip: If you go to GDC, create some business cards to give to people. Business cards are invaluable, and they will help you to create and form relationships with people in the industry.


Get free/discounted tools

Whether you are an artist, sound engineer – whatever the case may be – there are a plethora of awesome free tools that you can use to begin the development process. And, if you still have your university email address? You can use it to get huge discounts on premium-priced tools. For example, if you need a copy of Photoshop, instead of paying a ton of money for it, you can usually buy it through your respective university or as stated a second ago, by using your university email address to get a huge discount.


Just start developing (and hire who you need along the way)

Can you program? Begin programming the foundation for your indie game. Solely an audio engineer? Begin create the music tracks you think your game will use. An artist? Begin creating the graphics your game will use. Can you see the idea of the game in your head, but you do not have any of the above skills needed to create the game? Write the ideas you have for your game and how the game will play. And from there? Hire the professionals you need.

We’ve mentioned this too many times to count now, but outsourcing is your friend. Multiple sites such as Elance, Odesk,, and other outsourcing sites will allow you to hire literally any role you need filled in the development of your game. Are you going to find the perfect writer, sound engineer, graphic designer, etc. the very first time? Probably not, but eventually you will, and the best part about it? Again, you are learning from this experience. You will know what a good hire looks like, and you can use this knowledge obtained in your future games.

Moreover, you can also hire professionals that live around your area. Craigslist ads are great for this, as are community forums for your particular area. Instant feedback among the professionals you hire locally is helpful too, as when you work alongside them, you are able to learn instantly what works and what doesn’t.

Quick tip:  if you are able to find a small team of professionals locally that have proven to provide great work, consider entering into a local play jam. Play jams, force you to develop a game based around a theme over a weekend, so you are limited in time and what you can do. The point of play jams is they force you to think critically about developing a game and force you to focus on what is most important for developing a solid game in as little time as possible. Plus, it allows you to network with other indie developers and can possible provide you with the ideas for future games – in fact, Aaron San Filipo (one of two devs behind ‘Race the Sun’) told me in an interview that the idea for ‘Race the Sun’ actually came from a play jam!


I mentioned earlier that Tyler Owen discovered he could make a living being an indie dev by visiting a GDC conference, and you want to know what that advice was? It’s simple: just get started. If you want to develop your own indie games, the only thing stopping you is literally you. It is now possible to find individuals across the world and have them help you to develop your very own games, and it is possible to communicate with likeminded individuals such as yourself as you learn the in’s and out’s of indie game development. Moreover, you now have access to literally any tools you could ever need for developing your own indie games, so what are you waiting for? Stop waiting, get out there, and start working on developing your own indie game today!

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