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I want to hug all the indies at PAX
Up on the 6th floor was a pleasant respite from the E3-style corruption that all replaced all human interaction on the main show floor with cacophonous, hateful marketing. (Marketing reduces the sublime elements of games to boobs, guns and spectacle...we are all reduced by multi-story video screens that sell impossible lies) Above all this, in a much quieter space, the indies and board games gathered. Every station was manned by someone who had poured their souls and life savings into making a dream reality.

I sat down with devs. We talked. I played their games. They told me about their relationships, their trials and their bright hopes.

Honestly, it was heartbreaking. So many great games. And yet. So many broken business models, broken production techniques and broken philosophies of what matters. 80% of the games being shown will not make back their development budgets. Maybe 30% of the teams won't survive the next two years. Some will be burnt out on games forever. This human loss is a loss for all of us. A handful will get lucky and stumble towards success that gives them another year or two of financial runway before they crash and burn when luck runs out.

Many of the devs are 95% of the way there to supporting themselves financially, yet they cling to views of the market that prevent them from ever feeding their families with indie games alone.

Some particular painful observations. Not all games I saw have all of these issues, but they were very common.

No understanding how to put their game on multiple platforms. Your game is fun and is pure gold. Leverage those years of work by putting it everywhere. Partner if you don't have the resources to do it yourself.

No understanding of the logistics of multiplayer: You can easily make a multiplayer game that is impossible for others to play. Just do local multiplayer only with no join in progress and no friendly way to play with strangers. You've just guaranteed that the massive effort you put into multiplayer will be enjoyed by a tiny percent of your players only a handful of times. By hamstringing multiplayer with design philosophies from 20 years past, you've essentially crippled all long term social value for your game.

No trial or freeminum version: There's this weird hope that people will see a screenshot of your game and buy it. That is how the world worked for Nintendo in the 1980s. That isn't how the world works now. Give the player value and then upsell them.

Over reliance on PR: Press doesn't translate directly into sales. You need distribution first and foremost. Steam is a start. Mobile is good. Flash portals are great. If you can get into Summer of Arcade or other gatekeeper controlled promotions, there is an incredibly slight chance you can make money on XBLA or PSN, but that indie-friendly window has mostly closed.

No monetization strategy: Many of the games have reams of content, but they aren't charging for any of it. The 'one low fixed price model for everything I build for the rest of my life' sounds lovely for a gamer, but damns developers to the poorhouse.

Years spent building expensive consumable content This kills me. Indies sacrifice richness and length of gameplay for production values and throwaway levels. Painful tales of crunch and burnout result. Afterwards, each one says it wasn't worth it. Yet they do it again and again and again. Future games are 5% more efficiently made because 'they learned their lesson'. They need to be 80-90% more efficient.

No long term vision for a game. So many teams think they'll make a game and then move onto the next. Instead, ask how you turn your game into long term franchise. You've created immense value. Don't throw it under the bus.

Limited metrics or playtesting: Few teams have a version up and running in front of players on a regular basis. Many are showing the game to players in large numbers for the first time at PAX.

Focus on engines. Wow...so much passion for cool engine tech. Such an incredible waste of life. Almost every single design I saw did not require a custom engine and could have been done in half the time with Unity or Flash. And the game play would not suffer in the least. And 100-1000 times as many people would play it.

Complete ignorance of running an online game: Turning their great gameplay into an online service that brings in a steady stream of revenue is a completely alien idea. History has good lessons for indies here. When you create disposable games you get a highly bursty revenue stream with a high likelihood of zero cash flow times. No cash flow = death.

Every single one of these will kill your game and your company even if everything else about your work is great. And it really doesn't take much to fix them. A shift here, a tweak there.

What if there was a slightly easier way of learning these lessons without having to go through a multi-year, multi-game meatgrinder? Cut out just some of the divorces, the resentful kids, the broken friendships, burned up years and the wasted savings. Perhaps by talking about how financial issues create an emotional rollercoaster, a handful of indies might skip ahead a few steps on their personal journey and have one or two few scars at the end.

Yet, when I mention any of these issues, they simple do not compute or are seen as minor unimportant side items. Indie devs have deeply held assumptions and huge time investments in their games. (Talking about engines alone is a nigh holy war) To question some of these topics is to question the foundations of their passion.

So the best I can do often is give them hugs and words of encouragement. I have deep love and respect for those that choose to learn through failure in their own passionate ways. There is something quite heroic and deeply tragic about the blind journey. I've been down it myself many times. Go indies.

take care,
Danc.

Further info
Some links since folks have requested more detail on some of the topics

Work life balance
- Rules of Productivity: http://www.lostgarden.com/2008/09/rules-of-productivity-presentation.html

Efficient Production
- Content is Bad: http://www.lostgarden.com/2007/02/content-is-bad.html
- Good by Handcrafted levels: http://www.lostgarden.com/2010/12/steambirds-survival-goodbye-handcrafted.html

Distribution
- Game of Platform Power: http://www.lostgarden.com/2011/03/gdc-2011-game-of-platform-power.html
- Flash Love Letter 1: http://www.lostgarden.com/2009/07/flash-love-letter-2009-part-1.html
- Flash Love Letter 2: http://www.lostgarden.com/2009/08/flash-love-letter-2009-part-2.html

Generating ongoing streams of revenue
- Learning from touring bands: http://www.lostgarden.com/2005/10/game-business-model-learning-from.html
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52 comments
 
Very interesting post. I hope you spend as much time hugging as you do sharing the vast wisdom mention very briefly here (as I know you love to do, and do do). :) I (as an indie) would LOVE advice on all of the things mentioned. But, then again, I can google and find 1000 opinions on succeeding, all on different planes and worlds (most of which I can see are pretty foolish).

So, if I had questions - or other Indies - Where do we go to unlearn, Where do the hungry hang out? I want to be in that crowd, learning these things from people DOING it, people I would love an hour with!
 
I can't like this post enough. What great timing, too! Thanks a ton, Mr. Cook.
 
So the 6th floor has become Kentia Hall.. Good to know for next year.
 
I feel like part of the problem is that the mental machinations needed for great game design and for running a great business are rarely seen in the same person. Maybe the lesson is: If you're uncomfortable with doing the business, partner with someone who enjoys it.
 
It occurs to me that you can't hug every indie.
 
Thanks for the post. It was a valuable exercise to reflect on why I don't agree with a lot of those points. Sorry that I'm not going to post why -- arguing on the internet is a habit I need to kick -- so I'll just say thanks and give this a bump :)
 
You don't know me, but this is some of the smartest stuff on indie gaming I've read in years. You've got good brains, sir!
 
I need a hug! =)

I've definitely made many of those mistakes in my long history of making unprofitable games. Thank you for the reminders. I know you are spot on.
 
Great post. I would like to defend the single-price for a game model; I think it has its place in the market and can be a viable long-term, repeatable revenue strategy for 'AAA' or Indies. That said, I would wager that total sales of pay-once games will shrink over time, whilst the market is overall growing.
 
"No understanding how to put their game on multiple platforms."

"Every single game I saw did not require a custom engine and could have been done in half the time with Unity or Flash."

WTF?
 
Consider three different types of indie developers:
1) Indies who haven't yet considered Dan's points
2) Indies who have long contemplated Dan's points, but feel they are too time crunched on development to act on them
3) Indies who realize they need to act on Dan's points but don't know how

Your post is the perfect wakeup call for the first group of indies. It also resonates strong for the second group of indies – if you're spending too much time developing without simultaneously developing the business, you're treading risky ground and you need to act now. It's the third group of indies, however, that needs a bit more direction.

You've started a great discussion here, Dan, and I would love to see you take it to the next level. Most indies develop games because they are passionate about bringing to life a particular style of gameplay or creative story. We know we need to make money to survive, but it's not always clear how to build a monetization system that is both lucrative and fits with the spirit of our games.

I congratulate you on your ongoing success with games like Realm of the Mad God. I enjoy the commentaries and insights you provide on your blog. I want to know more!

Go beyond the broad design philosophy concepts and give us some details like the specific types of content to sell and, most importantly, what to charge for it. More specifically, I'd like to learn how to know what to charge. Where do you get the physical data to determine what the fair market value for your product is? How does one weigh the pros/cons of charging more for a niche market vs. trying to reach a larger audience at a lower price point?

Keep up the good writing. I look forward to your response.
 
Spelunky XBLA, Antichamber, Fez, Snapshot, Faraway, Closure. You're speaking with a lot of broad plattudes, but these are some of the indie titles that were actually at PAX, and I'd like to see how they could be leveraging your advice specifically.

The only game where online multiplayer seems applicable is Spelunky, and it seems like a large investment versus the actual risk of adding to its longevity. Online communities for the majority of competitive indie titles (even medium to large ones) tend to die off quickly.

Flash is not conducive to being portable to multiple platforms. Unity doesn't make sense as an engine base for games like Spelunky, Snapshot, or Closure. Unity might work for Antichamber, but it's already using Unreal's UDK.

Most of the games mentioned will eventually be brought from console to PC and Steam, and their lives will be extended by promotions like the Humble Bundle.

Splitting up content into DLC batches doesn't make much sense to me for games like Spelunky, Snapshot, or Antichamber. Valve certainly doesn't believe in segmenting Portal's single player campaign.

Freemium is a current fad, especially on mobile and casual platforms, but most of these gmaes are neither mobile targeted, or casual. In-game currency is where freemium games make money, and what does currency do in a content focused puzzle game? Allow you to cheat? (I did try to convince Derek that microtransactions to buy items in a pre-game-starting Shop would be a great money making scheme. though).

I could go on, but it seems like this post could be distilled to, "Why aren't indies making FarmVille, Smurf's Village, or World of Warcraft?"
 
Spot on with some of the biggest reasons why indies fail if they're trying to operate like a big publisher without doing the work required. You (and by extension, Ross) are missing another type of indie developer however.

4) Indies who realize they have to act on Dan's points if they wish to succeed in the traditionally defined sense, but believe the personal sacrifices are not worth the monetary gain.

There are still people who go the indie route because they don't want to deal with the business side of things at all. Bringing in a business manager still requires the creatives to wear the business hat at times - unless you're going to just ignore what she says and do whatever you want anyway.
 
I talked to one guy about the launch and he said if it doesn't do well immediately he's ruined. That may be the reality of xbla, but it isn't necessarilly true of all platforms.
 
there are successful marriages that end in divorce and failed marriages that drag on til death does them part. save your heartbreak for the latter :)

running out of money is not a failure if you fulfill your dream of making a game you're proud of, or a game you want to see made, or a game you've always wanted to make, etc.
 
The problem is that running an online game and getting a fanbase for it seems to be quite a challenge for indies. I've seen plenty of indie game devs who have produced the online games you mention but who fail to make any money off them because they simply never reach the critical mass required to sustain a community. A game that's empty tends to stay empty unless you can attract more players.

Of course, if theyre smart, they'll have the "attracting players" part as part of the design.

I'm just saying that having a game online isnt a panacea. Although I do agree that if you arent across all platforms and arent thinking of how you can grow an online community that you can make some revenue from then you are eventually going to lose.
 
Appreciate all the comments. Minor clarifications.
- Not all games I looked at had every single one of these issues. This is just a laundry list of issues I noticed. I suspect Spelunky and a handful of other extremely high profile titles will do fine. :-)
- This post pertains specifically to 'making a base level of living'. For those who do game development for a pure hobby and have other means of support, of course it doesn't apply.
- Turning your game into an online service certainly isn't a necessity for all games (Heaven forbid!) But for certain games, it is good to know your options so when there is a strong fit you can go for it.
- In case anyone has read my stuff in the past, I'm pretty down on XBLA or PSN unless you have some pretty serious biz dev relations or press coverage. That window of opportunity has mostly passed. Is your game Bastion? Does it have the top slot in Summer of Arcade. Those are currently rough bets to make.
Sun Kim
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+Daniel Cook Hello. Could I translate this into Korean and post it to my stream? I must credit you, for sure.
 
As an indie working on a game that ticks out all your check boxes, I certainly understand the value in what you are saying.
However I agree with Ron Carmel: I don't believe indies that can't make a living out of their games have failed. Quite the contrary: I'm happy that commercial necessities are not driving all game design. The world is rich of so much beauty that would never have come to light if their creators only worried about how to feed themselves. Aren't you glad Vincent Van Gogh kept doing his thing rather than work as a commercial illustrator?
 
"No trial or freeminum version" -- This is an area which needs more study. A trial is likely not good for every game; people who were on the fence about buying the paid version may stop at trying the trial version. Freemium as a business model can change the nature of the game, taking a game that was fun to play and turning it into a grind (unless the player pays and pays).
 
+Mark Johns "Unity doesn't make sense as an engine base for games like Spelunky, Snapshot, or Closure." Uh, ... why not? Unity does 2D very well, and is a hell of a lot faster than writing your own 2D engine from scratch, let alone having to port it everywhere yourself.

One of the biggest problems is that indie devs don't actually know what so many available tools can actually do efficiently. They just keep doing what they know, year after year after year.
 
But, just because it can, doesn't make it the best - or quickest, or most portable. Not advocating too much on the counter argument, just saying.
 
+Eric Heimburg As far as I'm aware Unity's 2D 'support' is pretty much absent - there's nothing explicit in the reference docs, there's no tutorial (one is labelled '2D', but with a 3D screenshot!), etc. Are you talking about something in their app store? Either way, Unity appears a much inferior choice to Game Maker or XNA for Spelunky because they have explicit and clear 2D support whereas Unity does not.
 
+Daniel Cook The "years spent building expensive consumable content" comment is interesting. Sure, if you want to make a living on your games, expensive consumable content seems a bad idea. But what if that is mandatory for the type of game you want to make? I'd hate to see such games excluded from the indie world if the content truly is compelling. Hopefully this is a problem that can be solved with better tools and awareness of them.
 
"But what if that is mandatory for the type of game you want to make?" === "But what if you only want to make games that won't support a business?"
 
Sure. My point was that not everything in life has to support a business. In fact many of the most worthwhile things do not.
 
+Eric Heimburg 12 months ago, Unity appeared to be much less productive for me than rolling my own engine for the game I wanted to write - do they have real documentation yet? (It was admittedly very productive for writing a 'me too' toy app on the Android, except where they were layered over a buggy Mono.)
 
I too agree with the point that you're not a failure if your goal is simply to complete your own game. These kinds of indie developers are the pure hobbyists. A hobby is something you invest time and money into without expecting anything back in return other than the satisfaction of having enjoyed the time you spent and the work you created. Dan isn't trying to squash on the importance of passion and value in the indie game development scene- he's trying to instill a business sense in the dreamers who follow the misdirected philosophy of "if you build it, they will come".

I suspect from my own experience that many indies start off as pure hobbyists, developing their games for nothing more than the satisfaction of bringing their vision to life. Then, after realizing the mass amount of work, time, money, and sacrifice required to successfully complete a project (a lot of which doesn’t fall into the "enjoyment as hobby" category), it occurs that "I'm putting a lot of effort into this and I've created a great product. I'd love to complete more projects like this to share with the community, but in order to do so, I need to get paid so I can afford to keep doing it."

Several of Dan's past articles discuss the distinction of hobbyist vs. professional developer and the slippery slope that inevitably leads one to seek becoming the other. No one thinks they're going to need to care about money or business in the beginning, because that isn't the motivation. The trouble is, by the time many developers realize this, it's already too late: The project has consumed all of their resources and the potential sales that would replenish their stock simply won't cut if for the next run. I think Dan says it best: "There is something quite heroic and deeply tragic about the blind journey."
 
Updated the post to read 'learn through failure' which is far closer to how I use the word 'fail'. Running out of money and going bankrupt can have a serious emotional and economic cost that haunts you for years. But if it teaches you important lessons about what you want out of life, then the failure may still have been worth while.

What if there was a slightly easier way of learning these lessons without having to go through a multi-year, multi-game meatgrinder? Cut out just some of the divorces, the resentful kids, the broken friendships, burned up years and the wasted money. I honestly don't think I'll change that many minds with essays like this. Talking about engines alone is a nigh holy war. :-) But my heart always goes out when I hear of the human costs of our beloved profession. The worst that could happen by talking about emotional rollercoaster we go through is that someone might skip ahead a few steps on their personal journey and have one or two few scars at the end.
 
@danc Time and money can often be let go as acceptable losses, but you strike a chord when you mention human losses – the missed family moments and relationship sacrifices that creating a game demands.

I think a great approach to further instill the values you have presented here would be to compliment them with real-word examples. Describe the details of specific games and tell us how you or a team you know became a financially successful venture without sacrificing your creative motivation.
 
I'm curious about your "expensive consumable content" comment. Are you saying that single-player content-driven games are a bad idea for indies? That the focus should be on tiny popcorn puzzle games? Because... there's quite a few successes out there that suggest otherwise.

Guessing you mean something more than that, though. Probably a few specific examples from browsing the games on display?
 
He's talking, I believe, about games where the content is procedurally generated. The difference is between Steambirds, which has a series of pre-planned missions, and Steambirds Survival, which throws randomly generated missions at you and lets you shoot for a high-score. While you can certainly point to a great deal of content-heavy games that are successes, the expense of creating a content-driven game is RADICALLY higher than the expense of creating a more procedurally driven game, and as such your chances of failure (and the RISK of failure) are both much higher.
 
I just want to underline that I think your advice is sound Dan, it could just do with some expansion. You can be a professional indie developer with your games as your only source of income and without all the "businessy" stuff if you scale your lifestyle accordingly - it doesn't have to be your games that are compromised.

Ultimately, that's what it's all about - scale and balance. If you stand to lose everything (financially and personally) if your game isn't a commercial success, I think your scale is off somewhere.
 
Yes Unity doesn't support 2D right out of the box. But it takes very little to get 2D going in Unity, and then an indie developer can take advantage of the easy cross-platform portability and the lovely development environment. For my 2D Unity game (http://www.sinorwin.com) I only needed to write a simply poly class and a texture atlas import tool. There are also several off-the-shelf tools available for Unity that add 2D support. It seems an odd argument to not roll your own 2D support in Unity, and then to roll your own entire engine - which likely isn't going to be cross-platform or have any of the other Unity advantages. If anyone is interested in 2D in Unity, but has questions, please just ask. :)
 
I think that for many people it's easier to make something yourself than to try and work out how to get a complex system to do what you want, and Unity is a complex system as soon as you get past the drag and drop interface. And many 2D developers don't know or want to know about texture atlases and polys, but they can throw together a tile-based engine in a day based on any trivial sprite-blitting routine. Compared to Flash with Flixel or Flashpunk etc, Unity is an order of magnitude more complex for 2D and that is a serious hurdle.
 
I think our definitions of complex systems may differ - to me coding a tile-based engine is more complex than using Unity. :) Indie developers who really want to ship a title shouldn't spend time reinventing wheels. Sure, there isn't an engine which is a panacea for all. But indie's should definitely evaluate what Unity/Flixel/Flashpunk/UDK/etc... can give them before rolling their own solution.
 
Getting Unity to produce 2D graphics is harder than getting a low level C++ package to produce 2D graphics because the latter has been well-documented a hundred times over the last 20 years and the former has virtually nothing except a few forum posts and assets you have to pay extra cash to use. Why would anyone starting out even consider using Unity for 2D when not one of the roughly 30 pages at unity3d.com explaining Unity 3 mention 2D or even have a 2D screenshot? And what if you came across the feature request that pretty much says that Unity does not really do 2D and that you must 'roll your own' (aka 'reinvent the wheel')? (http://feedback.unity3d.com/forums/15792-unity/suggestions/399060-editor-graphics-fully-featured-2d-system) Right now Unity is not an obvious choice for 2D: hopefully that will change.
 
No, but as +Jamie McCarter mentions - Flashpunk/Flixel IS absolutely an obvious choice for 2D. Especially considering that Flixel has portability to iOS and XNA/XBox Indie now, it's a dead-obvious choice. There's very little reason to do a 2D game from scratch.

Still, there will always be people with a bubble of familiarity, that want to stick within that. It's fine - not every indie is going to pick the absolute optimal path, for many reasons. But, it is important to at least think about all of this before settling on your chosen engine / language / etc.
 
+Ben Sizer, to answer your question, it's all about accessibility and personal abilities. As someone starting out in game development I chose Unity because I had to create very few 2D classes and I gained a good physics engine, smooth asset pipeline and cross platform support. I also didn't have to learn C++. It was the right solution to kickstart my production.

For other people with different skill-sets and backgrounds there may be other solutions that will provide a better fit. It will obviously depend on your background and coding abilities. I think it's about finding what solution is best for your particular team to save time in development.
 
Added some further links at the bottom if anyone wanted additional info about where I'm coming from.
 
Gotcha. Then yeah, I'd just have to say we disagree on design ethos wrt. content. Procedural content is great for certain things, but terrible for others. There is clear evidence out there that non-procedural content can be great for indies (Limbo, Super Meat Boy, Basion, Amnesia, Aquaria, And Yet It Moves, Braid, Hammerfight, Lugaru, Magicka... I could keep listing for ages, and that's even avoiding all the successful Flash games out there), so all that can really be said is:

- yes, procedural content lets you make more content cheaper (but)
- no, procedural content doesn't necessarily let you develop faster

That kind of thinking has us just plugging a map generator into the "out" port of an RPG and thinking it's done. Nope. The amount of balancing that has to go into procedural content is tremendous, and all you're doing is shifting that art-side work onto the programmer's shoulders. If you're a programmer indie with no art support or savings, maybe this is good, but if you're an indie programmer that can afford art? Or an indie duo with a great artist? That becomes a less enticing choice.

It makes sense for some games, but not all games. It depends entirely on what sort of indie they are. Two freshly graduated programmers have very different strengths than a small team of AAA industry expatriots, or a single programmer moonlighting, etc, but they're all still very much indie.
 
The term procedural is perhaps an emotional trigger word for some. It shouldn't be. Consider:
- Option A: You can hand animate 100+ characters. You get a 1% boost in sales and retention and your project is delayed by 12 months.
- Option B: You can animate 10 for a much lower cost, but the players perceive the game has limited variety
- Option C: You can create a paper doll system for the equivalent cost of doing 10 that gives you 300 characters. The number of characters becomes a complete non-issue for the players since they feel that there is tons of interesting variety.

A paper doll is a procedural technique. As is using tiles instead of hand drawing entire levels. These systems are used because they give small teams increased efficiency. More awesome gameplay for less time away from your kids is often a good thing.
 
Very true, but you're ignoring the connotation of the word ;) "Paper dolling" is not a Procedural Big-P technique. It is a procedural technique, but when you say "content is worthless," or "go procedural (wrt. content)" you are absolutely not sending the message that you should use paperdolling.

Suggesting paperdolling, or tile-based rendering over fully hand-drawn, or other time saving techniques is excellent - and if that's the full extent of your argument, I absolutely agree. Half the titles I listed up there use techniques like that, and yep, as an indie, you need to think cheap. (... just, not necessarily Big-P Procedural)
 
In the end, Big-P procedural is just a bunch of small p techniques. It is a phrase like 'AI' that in practice is a set of relatively simple sub-techniques that has been given a mystical connotation. It is when devs use a buzz word and then say 'and then silver bullet magic occurs' that the real trouble starts. :-)
 
I'm one of those indies who has spent way too much time writing my own tech instead of using an existing engine. But as I run Linux and intend to support Linux, Unity isn't an option. Even engines that are ported to Linux-based systems, like Torque2D, aren't options unless my goal is to pay for a license to a piece of software while agreeing to waive the support that I'd get if I was using Windows or Mac. Luckily I don't fail all of the items in your list, but it's hard to listen to someone tell you that you're not being indie the right way. B-)
 
+Gianfranco Berardi I don't think there is a "right way" or a "wrong way" to being indie. But there are going to be ways that indie's can be more or less financially successful. Different tools allow different people to come to market sooner (or later), just as different target platforms have differently sized markets. Getting to market involves an investment and the ability to invest less while recovering that investment is a key to any indie wanting to extend game development beyond a hobby
 
Outstanding post. An out and out manifesto. And as a side note, to justify my own existence -- a lot of what I'm building out these days will be precisely to help indies deal with these very points. Hope to be able to share soon...
 
This is such a great post, I'd like to apply it to a personal example, my game 'Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!'


No understanding how to put their game on multiple platforms.
Using Python and Pygame, DHSGiT drops quickly into Mac, Windows, Unix. Probably bad: I never shipped a Unix version. Most of my time, after shipping on Mac and Win, was spent dealing with making deals with portals, and other promotional efforts. Unix didn't seem like an important market, as it soon became clear that the audience was women in college. If we ever make it into the Indie Bundle, I'll be sure to make a Unix build.

No understanding of the logistics of multiplayer
N/A (I don't do multiplayer games. ...at least until I revisit Flagship:Champion)


No trial or freeminum version
All my games ship as a demo that can be instantly unlocked with in-game purchase. Play continues immediately thereafter. No extra download required. This works great, but I've had to deal with occasional problems that customers had with the DRM.


Over reliance on PR
We had good press, over all. Metacritic is a solid 81 (five reviews between 80 and 82). Winning game contests and GotY awards and IndieCade finalist was only topped by WGA nomination. But the game press savaged the WGA awards. So we got lost in unfounded hate. However Steam heard the good things and opened the iron gate for it.


No monetization strategy
At the start of production, casual portals were still selling games for $20, and 35% of that would have been fine. Price wars, and being banned from BFG, eviscerated our income, until Valve stepped in and saved the day. 70% of $10... well, you do the math. :-) However, from our own site, the game sells for $20. No one's ever complained about the price, interestingly. Some months we make as much money from our site as we do from Steam. (but that's rare)


Years spent building expensive consumable content
Three years in development, nine months devoted to engineering, and the bulk was spent writing. The game's physical assets are minimal: four game boards, 60 NPC images, 20 different 'dangerous' girls, splash screen, a few props for the mini-games. The music is public domain from early 20s, wax cylinders. The download is less than 30MB. So the writing, which earned the WGA nomination, made the game. Procedural production could not help DHSGiT.


No long term vision for a game

We still have a plan for a kind of sequel that cannot harm the initial IP. But development costs outweighed the returns. Re: previous.

Limited metrics or playtesting
The last year of development saw regular play-testing. Earlier playtesting was sporadic but targeted to what was then being worked on. <3 playtesting!


Focus on engines
HLLs rule, baby!


Complete ignorance of running an online game
N/A

What we learned: Our target market skewed differently than playtesting had shown. I mis-interpreted their results. Expect the unexpected (pricing structures nosedived during development). PR definitely helps. We need to bring more eyeballs to our site, which IS F'ing HARD! We still love working on indie games, ('we' includes my contracted help) 2&1/2 years into development of our next game: www [dot] 7grandsteps [dot] com.

Daniel, "A shift here. A tweak there." just ain't so. Doing anything takes a day, a week, or more. As a lone dev, who contracts for stuff he can't do himself, every distraction away from development is a hurdle. I leap as many as I can until I begin to wonder, for the hassle, is it better to just go back to work for industry?

So, a challenge to you. Put your company behind your conviction. Choose an indie game. Shepherd it past all the developer's failings. Take 50% from extra versions created by your people and from new markets exposed. Don't take the IP. You'll either learn just how hard little tweaks can be, or invent a new business model.
 
+Jamie McCarter So basically what's being lamented is what's been lamented for many decades: people get bit with the entrepreneurial bug, but they have no idea how to run a business. The E-Myth Revisited covers this topic in a general way, and +Daniel Cook covers it for indie game developers specifically.
 
Wow, incredible food for thought! Thanks Danc! I might get in touch with you when we're ready to publish. You've obviously navigated the treacherous waters of indie publishing many times before. Thanks for the insight!
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