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Thread: The State of the Indie Business

  1. #1

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    Default The State of the Indie Business

    Well, I have been lurking here for a very long time, and I think it's finally time: I'm going to be jumping into indie development full time in the next two months.

    I was wondering, what do people who have been doing it for a while think of the current state of indie development?

    It seems there are more resources, products and support in the indie space than ever before. At the same time, the traffic on this site seems to have become pretty thin.

    Mobile seems to have been a game changer, but the glut of product makes it difficult to get noticed (aka make any money). Unity is reducing the barrier to entry, and Valve (and others) are making "indie" a genre of its own.

    I would appreciate any insights into where things are, and where you see them going. Is this a good time to be jumping in, and what are the current challenges?

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    No, not a great time to mortgage the house and go all in.

    If you have a passion for making games (and presumably a skill set) then start as a hobby, make a game or two and learn the ropes.

    Unless of course you have a very large bag of money. In that case figure out what would be really cool and then hire a great team to make it happen while you sit back and OK each build before releasing more cash. Ultimately I think scenario B is probably a lot more fun.

  3. #3

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    >then start as a hobby, make a game or two and learn the ropes.
    Definitely.

    My advice is go multi-platform from the start. So, you better pick a great multi-platform engine.

    JC

  4. #4

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    if you have not made a game before, you need to start with a very basic game, then after making maybe 2-3 games, go full-time, just keep in mind:

    - depending on your knowledge, be ready to spend lot of hours coding, debugging, etc.
    - get an engine multi-platform from the start, if you do it yourself you can lose lot of time.
    - make games with good polish, even if they are simple, bug free, standard features, good artwork, effects, etc.
    - try to connect with the media & gamers, do some marketing, see trends, what sells and what not, etc.

    if you are willing to do all that and be ready to failure several times (low/zero sales), then welcome to indie

  5. #5

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    He guys,
    Even though similar questions pop up from time to time, I think it would be great to hear some insights on whether and how the market for your niche has changed and whether you would still do the leap into indie development (with your products) today... Can you live of PC-downloads only? Where does the gross of your income stem from (if you don't mind to share), etc.
    Is the model which focused on building your own customer base using a newsletter etc. still viable? While early members like cliffsky seemed to have great success with that model, this may not be a viable path for new indies any more? Or is it? Most likely not for short time success...
    Would be great to hear some opinions!
    Regards,
    Sebastian

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    I guess I should introduce myself a bit:

    I started making games as a hobby in... I don't know, 1986? Commodore 64 days. I had a couple of jobs programming at small game startups through the 90s while getting my computer science degree, with not much to show. I finished an indie contract game in 1998 and then joined a large publisher. In 2005 I helped launch what has become a successful company, but I've been longing for a more "intimate" development process with much smaller teams, so here I am.

    So, I think it's fair to say my dev experience is solid. My monetary situation is stable, I can afford to contract out to fill in the gaps in my skill set. I'm mostly curious about the business side of things.

    Quote Originally Posted by buto View Post
    Even though similar questions pop up from time to time, I think it would be great to hear some insights on whether and how the market for your niche has changed and whether you would still do the leap into indie development (with your products) today...
    This is more what I was asking - how relevant are strategies from 1 or 2 years ago? How is the PC market (outside Steam)? Does the Windows 8 app store look promising? What about Intel's AppUp?

    @lennard: Do you really live in Terrace? That's... just kind of unexpected I guess.

    @vbovio: Yes, all I really want from my first game is to get some base technology in place and get some experience in the business side. Any cash flow is good though. So, I'm going to try to put a lot of thought and effort into the marketing side.

  7. #7




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    My advice du jour is to make a freemium game with virtual currency. This tends to polarise opinion and I don't want to get into debates about the pros and cons, but the massive thing that surprisingly never comes up in those debates is that with virtual currency you have one thing that indies need above all else. The ability to reward a player in game cash for referring your game to someone else.
    Regards,
    Paul Johnson

    [Great BIG War Game: iOS | Android] [Great Little War Game: iOS | Android] [Fruit Blitz: iOS | Android] [Yachty Deluxe: iOS | Android]

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    Quote Originally Posted by Applewood View Post
    My advice du jour is to make a freemium game with virtual currency. This tends to polarise opinion and I don't want to get into debates about the pros and cons, but the massive thing that surprisingly never comes up in those debates is that with virtual currency you have one thing that indies need above all else. The ability to reward a player in game cash for referring your game to someone else.
    Hey Paul, that's interesting... I wonder what other ways you can reward players for referring your game. Once-per-day bonus for posting their score to Facebook? A currency makes it easy, it sounds like something you could apply to games where currency doesn't make sense.

    Do you actually worry about someone gaming the referral system, or does it on the whole not really matter that much?

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    We've not finalised how we're doing it yet but the basic idea is to (with the players permission) scan through the contacts list - phone games here, present the mail addresses for selection and then let the player type something personal in. We add a link at the bottom and explain that if you click it after making an account both you and the referrer get some extra coins.

    That even sounds clunky and there's some finesse to add, but that's basically it. That should be bulletproof. Liking on facebook etc can be done, as long as you check with the server that they can only do this once.
    Regards,
    Paul Johnson

    [Great BIG War Game: iOS | Android] [Great Little War Game: iOS | Android] [Fruit Blitz: iOS | Android] [Yachty Deluxe: iOS | Android]

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    Ah, right - if it's just a one time thing, that sounds pretty reasonable. It will be interesting to see how it goes!

  11. #11

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    I think indie game development is undergoing a big revival.
    I like the fact that one-man garage shops are back, and create blockbuster hits like they used to in the home computer era.

    The best time for going indie was probably a few years ago, when app stores did not have a million titles yet.
    But still, plenty of opportunity.

    Make a niche game, and do one specific thing, really really well. Better than all other titles out there.
    Once you do that, you should have an audience, that hopefully manages to find you.

    Bram

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    @Bram:

    Yes, it seems to be an interesting time. You know though, through the years I've thought several times, "OK, the market is saturated now, it's too late to get in," and then new opportunities keep opening up. And even if it is slow right now, by the time I release anything, hopefully it will be on an upswing.

    The Little Crane That Could looks like such a novel game - sorry, I haven't tried it out yet. I guess it has done OK for you?

    That is kind of the advice I've been trying to follow in my planning - don't just make Yet Another Copy Of Hit Title, make something unique and polish the crap out of it. We'll see how that goes...

  13. #13

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    @Inverse:

    Yeah, Little Crane did exceptionally well.
    Android and iOS combined it is now at 5M downloads or so.
    And the money is a lot more than I could ever make at a AAA studio as an employee.

    In my experience, you do not necessarily need a fully polished game with all your bases covered.
    I released Little Crane as an unfinished project: few levels, no sounds, no options, ugly UI, and yet it was a hit from the get go.
    But it did have the best physics in any iOS game ever, period.
    Combined with the fact that the gameplay was unique, it was enough to become a hit just by word of mouth.

    My advice would be to really polish a unique aspect of your game.
    No need to make it AAA quality across the board.
    Your unique selling point is what matters.

    I never went the steam route: but if you want to get greenlighted as indie it will be hard:
    I think most steam and kickstarter successes are sold on mind blowing visuals.
    If it does not look super sexy, it will be hard to get support on steam or kickstarter.

    Also, you will find that one of the hardest things is getting exposure.
    If your game is really addictive, your players will spread the word.

    Final advice: release your first game as a side project, while you are still employed. Do the whole cycle of conception, design, implementation, marketing under the safety of employment. It can give you the confidence to make the jump with a solid title under your belt.

    Bram

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    @Bram: OK, I finally had a chance to play Little Crane. That is really well done, congratulations. The physics sim is really good, what are you using for it?

    How do you find the $3.99 price point? That seems a bit higher than average, how did you come to that number?

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Applewood View Post
    My advice du jour is to make a freemium game with virtual currency. This tends to polarise opinion and I don't want to get into debates about the pros and cons, but the massive thing that surprisingly never comes up in those debates is that with virtual currency you have one thing that indies need above all else. The ability to reward a player in game cash for referring your game to someone else.
    That depends on the kind of game he wants to make. There are many horror stories of people trying free-to-play and failing miserably

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    True enough on both counts. But there's no shortage of fail stories in the more traditional model either.

    I do think the ability to actually, literally, pay people to spread recommendations is a powerful one. I'm sure I didn't invent that, but I've not seen anyone actually doing it yet either. (Although I'm sure there must be some.)

    It's not an immoral thing to push either. If the player doesn't like the game, he'll not want the free game coins he would get for a "false" referral.
    Regards,
    Paul Johnson

    [Great BIG War Game: iOS | Android] [Great Little War Game: iOS | Android] [Fruit Blitz: iOS | Android] [Yachty Deluxe: iOS | Android]

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    Yes for sure is a good idea, was just saying that it can't be applied to all games, and that in some cases can be risky or is not easy - I've seen some games so obsessed by the free to play system that they completely screwed up the gameplay, with the result that they would have probably made better money just using the old model. So in other words gameplay needs to be carefully crafted around the free to play model otherwise doesn't work

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    Yes, I agree you need to think this one through a lot more. It's a fine line between "allowing me to customise my spend on what's important to me" and "the dev is a greedy bastard"
    Regards,
    Paul Johnson

    [Great BIG War Game: iOS | Android] [Great Little War Game: iOS | Android] [Fruit Blitz: iOS | Android] [Yachty Deluxe: iOS | Android]

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    [QUOTE=inverse;272455
    @lennard: Do you really live in Terrace? That's... just kind of unexpected I guess.
    [/QUOTE]

    Yes. Started here in 1982, moved to California for a job in 1986 - made lots of games for lots of companies - went indie. in 2002, moved back home in 2004. Look me up if you are ever in the neighborhood.

  20. #20

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    @Applewood: Yes, there can sometimes be a fine line between "marketing" and "spam" - I think making it a one-time thing keeps it on the side of good.

    @lennard: I've been wondering about how well things work in the indie community as far as "collaborating with a loose collection of talented individuals scattered across the globe." How do you find working with others from there, or are you doing it pretty much all yourself? I'm not too likely to get up to Terrace in the foreseeable future, but let me know if you're ever coming down to Vancouver!

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    I've been happy working with artists remotely. My style tends to be to work out most of my programming/design kinks w/artwork I cobble together myself and then I get a contract price based upon a fairly fixed set of needs.

    Marketing, as an indie., is really the big one. I think that starts with making really great games which is what I'm continuing to strive to do.

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    Quote Originally Posted by inverse View Post
    I was wondering, what do people who have been doing it for a while think of the current state of indie development?
    Great time to be indie. Terrible time to go all in. Lesson one about the biz is everything you think before you have a product to sell is wrong. Seriously. Everything. You need to release something and watch it fail to begin to grasp the real problems.

    It seems there are more resources, products and support in the indie space than ever before. At the same time, the traffic on this site seems to have become pretty thin.
    Most communities have a relevance lifetime. This one became heavy casual, driving many folks away. Now casual has dried up (the boom anyway), and it's poorly maintained (spam). I only visited because I hit the forum link on my iPad by accident. I'm sure my signature is years out of date.

    Mobile seems to have been a game changer, but the glut of product makes it difficult to get noticed (aka make any money). Unity is reducing the barrier to entry, and Valve (and others) are making "indie" a genre of its own.
    Mobile is a big deal. It was a big deal before phones had GPUs and Touch screens (more of a big shitty deal then, but still big and a deal). A lower barrier to entry means a higher barrier to $$$.
    Mike Kasprzak | sykhronics entertainment | Blog | twitter | Ludum Dare
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  23. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by PoV View Post
    Great time to be indie. Terrible time to go all in. Lesson one about the biz is everything you think before you have a product to sell is wrong. Seriously. Everything. You need to release something and watch it fail to begin to grasp the real problems.
    Would you have any concrete examples to share? Personally I'm thinking about just going "full time" (as opposed to "all in" - as in, I'm not mortgaging the house, taking on debt, etc.) And the plan is to try and "fail as quickly as possible" with the first release.

    Most communities have a relevance lifetime. This one became heavy casual, driving many folks away. Now casual has dried up (the boom anyway), and it's poorly maintained (spam). I only visited because I hit the forum link on my iPad by accident. I'm sure my signature is years out of date.
    Well I hope you come back to reply. Where is the indie community now? TIGSource is very active, but the signal to noise (pro to amateur) ratio seems pretty low.

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    I have one for you. In case your internets been down, I managed to upset a lot of people recently by ranting away at MS about Windows RT. It went viral to the point that googling for "rubicon rt" should be enough to find some heat.

    Much of my message got lost or misinterpreted and it rapidly degenerated into personal attacks from knobheads and the usual shit, but the reason I bring it up is as a clear example of even someone with 25+ years of experience, 8 of which running a 4-7 man indie studio, making a complete and abject **** up of everything.

    Wasted time
    Wasted money
    Made bad predictions
    I even failed to get the PR ranting right, lol

    If my company relied on what still seemed a reasonable proposition to me, I'd be typing this from a public access terminal whilst fighting off the bailiffs.
    Regards,
    Paul Johnson

    [Great BIG War Game: iOS | Android] [Great Little War Game: iOS | Android] [Fruit Blitz: iOS | Android] [Yachty Deluxe: iOS | Android]

  25. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Applewood View Post
    I have one for you. In case your internets been down, I managed to upset a lot of people recently by ranting away at MS about Windows RT. It went viral to the point that googling for "rubicon rt" should be enough to find some heat.
    Heh, I did catch a glimpse of that a while back. It looks like you got a ton of coverage out of it at least. I guess RT sales never really picked up? For that matter, what is the install base of RT?

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    Not really, no. MS were good enough to feature it in the UK somehow and it peaked a little bit, but we've still not grossed a grand for the first month. You have to realise that an RT owner looking at the store still doesn't see that much either, so its not competition. With Windows 8 tablets coming now or soon I stand by my rant that MS launched this thing to die.
    Regards,
    Paul Johnson

    [Great BIG War Game: iOS | Android] [Great Little War Game: iOS | Android] [Fruit Blitz: iOS | Android] [Yachty Deluxe: iOS | Android]

  27. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by inverse View Post
    @Bram: OK, I finally had a chance to play Little Crane. That is really well done, congratulations. The physics sim is really good, what are you using for it?

    How do you find the $3.99 price point? That seems a bit higher than average, how did you come to that number?
    I use OpenDE, aka ODE. It is at http://opende.sf.net
    I use it mainly because I have 7 years of experience with it.
    If I had not had this extensive knowledge on OpenDE, I would probably have gone with Bullet.

    The price point was set by experiment.
    When I raised it from 0.99 to 1.99 the number of sales dropped somewhat, but revenue went up.
    Then I raised it again from 1.99 to 3.99 and the sale count dropped again, but revenue went up again.
    I could do another experiment with 7.99 but I do not want to push my luck.
    Many people give out 1 star reviews because "Free games that suddenly ask for money are scams!"
    Ugh..

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    Any tips for some black box magic to convert a "centre of gravity" into that tensor shite?

    We've found that ODE is the only one of these libraries that either "just works" or can be overidden for your own hellish corner cases (slivers, etc). Love it, but CoG is always a case of munge around until it looks right for me, which I'm never happy with.

    Regarding the one-stars, **** em. We get plenty and some of the reasons given just about make my head explode. 2-5 stars are usable reviews but anything with just the one star I just blatantly ignore. I just don't make 1-star games and nor do you.
    Regards,
    Paul Johnson

    [Great BIG War Game: iOS | Android] [Great Little War Game: iOS | Android] [Fruit Blitz: iOS | Android] [Yachty Deluxe: iOS | Android]

  29. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bram View Post
    If I had not had this extensive knowledge on OpenDE, I would probably have gone with Bullet.
    I've been playing around with Bullet recently. The API is pretty nice and generally it seems to work pretty well. Some of the content pipeline stuff is a bit lacking, but it looks like it will do the job.

    Many people give out 1 star reviews because "Free games that suddenly ask for money are scams!"
    Once upon a time, there was a beautiful vision that everyone online could review anything, and we would have a fully democratic way to learn how good products really were.

    Then we learned that people are ignorant, idiots, or only review things when they have a grievance (real or imagined).

    Quote Originally Posted by Applewood
    Any tips for some black box magic to convert a "centre of gravity" into that tensor shite?
    The inertia tensor basically describes how the mass is distributed around the center of mass.

    For simple shapes, you can probably get equations them from here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_moments_of_inertia Most of those are just setting values on the diagonal, since the mass distribution is symmetric. Bullet has code to compute them for its basic shapes (calculateLocalInertia) if you want to go poking around in there.

    I have considered (but haven't tried) methods for more complex objects using these equations: http://www.kwon3d.com/theory/moi/iten.html#ten If you can break your model up into a bunch of point masses, you should just need to sum up the masses at their particular position relative to the center of mass for each component of the matrix.

    One option that might work: You could probably voxelize your model (if it has a clear "inside" and "outside") and use each voxel as a point mass, distributing the total mass evenly over the voxels. The average of all voxel center positions should be your center of mass.

  30. #30




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    I think you're complicating this as much as the ODE docs guys did.

    When I worked at Stainless we had our own physics engine, and to set the centre of gravity you just gave it a vector offset from its graphics origin. Not sure what else is needed or why this other stuff exists at all tbh. (Nope, not a mathematician)
    Regards,
    Paul Johnson

    [Great BIG War Game: iOS | Android] [Great Little War Game: iOS | Android] [Fruit Blitz: iOS | Android] [Yachty Deluxe: iOS | Android]

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