It’s Thanksgiving Day over here in America, and while everyone is reflecting on what we have to be thankful for, I feel as if it’s proper to reflect on what indie developers have to be thankful for in 2013. Sure, it’s hard to ensure your game is noticed. Certainly, developing your game and ensuring it’s perfect is a chore and downright difficult. And absolutely, ensuring your game not only breaks even but makes a bit of a profit to fund your next game and give your team a little scratch to live on is a constant challenge, but there are also many things to be thankful for. Let’s reflect on them on this Thanksgiving Day, and remind yourself why you love being an indie developer.
Games can be sold and downloaded digitally
If you were striving to be an indie developer even 10 years ago, this was downright difficult to achieve. Even if you were lucky and were able to secure a spot on retail shelves, you were competing against other AAA titles (i.e. much more popular games and franchises), and if you could not secure a place on store shelves? You were faced with the monumental task of trying to get people to visit your website, learn about your game, and purchase it. Likely, you would also have to worry about shipping a physical copy of the game, meaning you also had to worry about printing the discs, instruction manuals, etc. Even 10 years ago, we lived in a very analog world.
Now? Indie developers are able to sell their games via multiple platforms digitally, and if someone decides to purchase a game? They can buy it, install it to their device, and be playing it within minutes. You no longer have to worry about competing for shelf space, printing discs, boxes, and manuals, and instead you can focus about what really matters after you have finished developing your game: spreading the word about your game.
There are multiple ways to spread the ‘good news’ about your upcoming game(s)
Let’s go back to 10 years ago. Social networking was still in its infancy via sites like Friendster, and Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. didn’t even exist. Gaming journalism was alive and well, but if you wanted your indie game covered? Good luck, as 99% of the games covered year-to-year were AAA titles. As for smaller publications, blogs, YouTube personalities, and so on that could ‘spread the word’ about your game? They were few and far between, and even if they could lend a few sales to a game, it was nearly impossible to find these people to begin with. Remember: social media didn’t exist yet. Heck, even Digg, the grandfather of sites like Reddit and the first successful ‘social bookmarking’ site, didn’t even exist.
Indie developers were far more limited in grabbing people’s attention about their upcoming game as opposed to today, in which it is possible to find a few publications and individuals to help you spread the word about your game with a quick search on Twitter. In the (recent) past, indie developers were not so fortunate.
Finding people to help you is easier than ever
We have heard the tales of legendary figures such as Sid Meier creating every aspect of a game such as Civilization from scratch. To an extent, even a few years ago if you wanted to develop a game and didn’t know anyone that could help you, you basically needed to know (or learn) everything about developing a game from scratch. If you were lucky, you could find friends that had the skills you needed to develop your game – or at least knew you could find someone to help you with the game.
In 2013, if you run into a roadblock and need someone with certain skills to help you with the development of your game, it’s as easy as outsourcing the task to someone via sites such as Odesk, Elance, etc. (I’ve talked about them extensively in past articles). Trey practically swears by these sites, in that if he needs someone to complete a task for him, instead of finding someone ‘off the street’ to help you, he can hire someone on another side of the world to help him out.
Even 10 years ago, getting help via this route was possible, but it wasn’t remotely possible to pick-and-choose talent out of a pool like what is offered on Elance, Odesk, Freelancer.com, and so on. Even so, knowing if you could rely on the individual was an entirely different matter, but by seeing reviews and past hires of people you hire, you can accurately tell who is worth hiring before you hire them.
There’s something to be said about broadening your horizons and learning new skills in the development process. Yet if you do not have the time and need a task completely right away? Outsourcing the work is simple.
Affordable, powerful tools are available to everyone
Powerful and affordable tools such as Unity have made the development process easier than ever. As recent as a few years ago, tools for developing indie games were expensive and not nearly as powerful as they are today. Nowadays, any tool you could ever need is available to indie developers, and good tools at that.
Gamers love indie games
8-10 years ago, indie games were synonymous with games developed in someone’s basement. Most of them weren’t good (there are exceptions of course), and the indie gaming market didn’t even exist. Today? When most gamers want innovation, they turn to indie games as opposed to AAA games. This attitude is spreading among mainstream gamers as well, and this is thanks to the rise in quality and the ease of developing indie games. In short, if anyone wants to develop a game, there is a way to make this dream realized.
More than a few platforms
Again, let’s go back 10 years ago. If you wanted to release a game, you only had a few platforms to choose from: PC, Xbox, PS2, Gamecube, and the Game Boy Advance. That’s it. Literally, that’s it as mobile gaming was still way in its infancy.
Today? There are too many platforms to count. Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android, PC (with many additional platforms to sell your game, such as Steam, GOG, Humble, etc.), 3DS, PS Vita, and the new microconsoles such as OUYA, GameStick, and so on. And the crazy thing about this? I’m probably missing a few platforms in this list.
There are multiple platforms where you can develop and release your game, but not only that, each of the platforms mentioned about has a chance to be profitable for indie developers. Compare 10 years ago to now, and you’ll agree that indie devs have more choices than ever.
I understand: sometimes, developing games can get you down, and it may seem as if your back is against the wall as you attempt to get people to actually look at your game for a few seconds. Yet, we live in an incredible time – a time in which anyone with an idea can see it realized no matter if they do not know every skill needed to develop the game. It’s a great time to be an indie developer, and for that, let’s take a moment to reflect and be thankful that we live in an amazing time.