Are you considering joining the indie game development industry? If so, you might wonder what to expect and how to best prepare for your journey.
According to VG Insights, nearly 6000 indie games were released on Steam in the first half of 2022. But only 20% of those titles made over $5,000 in revenue.
So how do we ensure out project is successful and that we beat these odds? In this article, we bring you the biggest challenges indie game developers face today. We will cover everything from funding and time management to getting the game published.
Having Too Many Choices
While having choices is usually considered a good thing, sometimes it can be overwhelming and greatly slow down your projects. With all the libraries, tools, publishers, platforms, and engines available to indie game developers today, it’s no wonder this is the case.
That’s why it’s important to pick one engine and platform and get to work. If necessary, you can change direction with time. This might not be easy, but it’s still better than having paralysis by analysis. Remember, we learn best by making choices and sticking to them.
Wearing Multiple Hats
Many roles and skills are required during each game’s creation process. Some of these include sound, animation, programming, visuals, writing, and marketing. But depending on the complexity of the project, there could be much more.
In most cases, indie game companies can’t afford a specialist for every area. So they make up for this by becoming proficient in multiple areas. Sometimes programmers learn 3D modeling, designers learn sound production, and writers cover marketing or public relations. This strategy isn’t good for long term work, because it’s easy to lose motivation when you aren’t doing what you’re passionate about. It also takes you much more time that it would take a skilled expert.
Funding the Game
Building and releasing a game takes time. Meanwhile, people need to be compensated for their efforts. So we need to take a look at this from a return on investment point of view.
Crowdfunding is one of the best available options. As long as you can get people’s attention, you can use websites like Indigegogo and Kickstarter to make this possible. The most common way of funding a project is through personal savings, working a second job, or taking a loan from your family. This way, you can immediately get to work and pay your team before the game is even announced.
Most indie games take at least a couple of months to be fully built and published. During this process, many deadlines will need to be met.
Some deadlines are short and only include a single teammate. For example, a 3d designer might need to deliver five new models before a level designer can proceed with his work.
Other deadlines might be longer, like the one you negotiated with your publisher, to finish the game. Either way, time management can be very demanding. But as long as we use the proper collaboration tools and have a good productivity system set in place, we can make it work.
Since indie game developers are looking to cut down production costs, they often hire teammates which are spread out worldwide.
But managing such a team and keeping everyone aligned with the same vision is not as easy as if they all shared a physical office. No to mention the time zone differences and preferred working hours of each teammate.
That’s why it’s important to organize regular online meetings and to try and socialize the team through hangouts and fun events. With meetings, you are making sure everyone is on the same page and the goals are being met. But having more casual events is equally important as it builds team spirit, increases creativity, and boosts cooperation.
Marketing and Publishing
Releasing a game can be very challenging, and this process is as important and complex as game development itself.
This realization usually comes late for beginners, after their first game is already in the alpha or beta phase of development. That’s because most indie game developers start their work out of passion, and their primary skills are technical, not soft.
There are multiple paths one can take here. Outsourcing it to publishers, hiring your own marketing experts, or building your community organically trough social media, blogs, and forums.
Completing the Game
Finally, deciding when the game is good enough for release can be a challenge in its own right. This is because, as development moves forward, plenty of new options and ideas will come up.
So you might ask yourself: “Should we implement this new feature before release?” or “Should we add more skins to these characters?”. The list goes on.
That’s why it’s important that we don’t let perfectionism ruin a good project. Especially since we can always add more features after the game is published. If we are unsure of the level of quality the game currently delivers, why not offer it at an alpha state of development? That way instead of doing all the guesswork yourself, the community will provide objective and measurable feedback on what’s ready and what needs to be further improved.
As you can see, there are some very significant challenges that indie developers need to face in order to go from an idea to a profitable project. In fact, we only covered the most obvious ones.
But as time goes by and your team gains more experience, overcoming these challenges will become second nature and even enjoyable.
We hope that this article will bring some clarity and encourage you to plan your development and release process strategically. With good execution, nothing can stop you from achieving your goals.