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4 Oct 2013

Why do Some Indie Games Fail?

It’s a part of development that no indie developer wants to think about: the failure of their game. While nobody wants to think about their game failing, it is important to consider that this may actually happen. Failure is a looming force that can affect your game if care is not taken during the development process, and the sooner you realize why games fail, the more likely you will be to minimize the risk of failure and ensure that your game is being developed in the right direction.

Why do some indie games tend to fail? Let’s find out.


Non-Existent Art Style

There’s a great moment in our debut episode of Game Academy Radio where Trey tells a story about hiring an artist that ultimately could not give characters in one of his games a certain art style. We then discuss the importance of having a compelling art style, which ushers in a certain style for your game altogether.

Nobody wants to play a game that has no art style. Think about some of the best indie games to be released in the last few years for a moment: what do they all have in common? Their art style is wholly unique, to which their game as a whole becomes a unique, separate piece of art from other games. Do you want to play a game in which the characters appear to be cookie-cutter characters pasted into a game? Do you want to play a game where the backdrops, levels, etc. look as if they were created in less than a day? Of course not! A non-existent art style will turn players off immediately, because at the end of the day, why should players spend time playing a game that isn’t going to be memorable to them later on?


Development Time Took Too Long

Never put more time into a project than you can expect the project to give back to you. Unless your game is a true ‘labor of love’ and money is not a concern, you need to keep your game on track at all times. If you take too long during the development process to create the game, that is lost time; and time is, whether you want to think about it this way or not, always money. By taking too much time developing your game, you are likely going to lose money – thus making your game a failure from a monetary standpoint.

Games that take too long to develop are usually taking too long for a reason: mainly because the project lacks focus. A project that lacks focus will never blow players away in the way you intend for it to do so. If you ever find even a small inkling that the development process of your game is taking too long, take a step back, realign your focus, and do your part to place it ‘back on track.’ Without question, your game will be considerably better in the end.


‘What’s the Point’

You do not want your potential customers to mutter these words. Ever. Sure, you can develop a good game from a technical standpoint, yet if it looks and/or plays like every other game? Who is going to buy it? Remember all of the countless ‘Super Mario’ clones that were developed on 8-bit/16-bit/32-bit consoles? What about the wealth of World War II first-person shooters that flooded the marketplace around 10 years ago (I’m still sick of WWII shooters as a result)? Do you think the games that tried to imitate Super Mario Brothers or Call of Duty did very well? Absolutely not.

Rather, it was the games that took the popular concepts as mentioned above, flipped the idea on their heads, and created something truly unique in the process. Sure, platformers were all the rage for much of the mid/late 80’s and early 90’s, but it was games such as Mega Man, Bionic Commando, and of course, Sonic the Hedgehog that took what people loved about the platformer genre and placed its own unique mark on it.

Mega Man tasked players with shooting their way through difficult levels, fight a boss, and steal their power that they could use on future boss battles. Bionic Commando was a platformer where players couldn’t jump, but instead had to navigate through levels by shooting out a robotic arm. Sonic the Hedgehog introduced the element of fast-paced speed into the platforming genre. And as for WWII games? It was games such as Company of Heroes that took the atmosphere of a WWII battlefield and transformed it into one of the greatest turn-based strategy games of all time. These games took popular concepts, placed a spin on it that no one else had done before, and released a game that was so unique, players had to have it.


And guess what? You remember those games for this very reason. They’re memorable (not to mention completely solid and fun), and that’s what you need to aim for whenever you are developing your indie title. Don’t be a clone: be less like Epic Marko Cousins, and more like Mega Man. By doing so, players will be interested in your game, and from there, you can win them over.


Choosing the Wrong Platform

We’ve witnessed it before: awesome games releasing on a platform that it doesn’t belong on. In my interview with Joel McDonagh over at Game Academy Radio (which you will hear later today), he asked me if I had ever played a few SRPGs that he mentioned. I said I hadn’t regardless of being a fan of the genre, and he said they were released on PSP, which is exactly why I hadn’t ever heard of them regardless of the games, as McDonagh stated, “being the reason to purchase a PSP.”

Had it been released on the Nintendo DS (this was released before the 3DS) or a mobile platform (or heck, even Steam), you can bet that I and so many other people would have played the game McDonagh mentions in the interview. Choosing the wrong platform can hurt the overall sales of your game, thus resulting in your game becoming a failure due to the low sales. Choose the proper platform wisely when developing your game (and one that makes sense for your game), and from there you will see the sales that your game deserves.


Zero Marketing Strategy

This is a big one. Just because you do not have a lot of money, that does not mean you can ignore the marketing of your game. Besides, marketing your game isn’t solely about how many publications cover your game, how many press releases are sent, and how much advertisement your game gets around the Web: instead, it’s about how you present your game to the public.

Remember earlier when I discussed how you should ensure that your game stands out from the crowd? That’s marketing, in that you are creating your game in a way that will hopefully entice gamers to purchase and play your game. Creating a catchy name is also marketing, as it forces people to look further into what a game is all about. You can’t tell me when you first heard about a game called Super Meat Boy, you didn’t investigate further to find out what it was about. Team Meat created a unique, awesome name for their game, and the result? People like you and I had to see what it was about.

When given the chance, play your game for the masses whenever possible. Attend conventions, livestream your game as much as possible, and allow people to actually see your game and get excited about it. Sure, you need to do all of that ‘fancy marketing junk’ (and I give you an idea as to how to do that here and here), and you can do that yourself or hire someone to do it for you (highly recommended), but first and foremost, ensure it sounds interesting. The best marketing professionals on Earth can’t entice players to purchase and play a game that sounds boring and unappealing, so do your part and make it sound compelling.


Many Other Reasons

There are also reasons why games fail. Perhaps they are unpolished, have a learning curve that is unbearable steep (thus resulting in players that stop playing almost immediately and tell those they know to stay away from the game), or even have an inflated price attached to it (e.g. a puzzle game that costs $20. Who would buy that?).

So what can you take away from all of this?

  • Stay on track
  • Ensure your game feels ‘new’
  • Above all, do your research
    • Compare/contrast other successful games in the same genre and figure out why they succeeded. Borrow successful ideas from them, implement them into your project, and success will follow.

No one wants to be reminded that failure is a possibility, but by realizing that it is and knowing what cause failure, success can follow.

1 Response

  1. Omniquitous

    Good stuff, thanks for sharing your insight. The art style factor is a big one for me personally but I also despise clunky character controls that are disengaged. The character movement should feel like an extension of the user.

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