After observing and participating in the indie games market for some time, I've formulated a few strategies for indie developers to succeed.
Before we begin, here are some assumptions for indies:
With these assumptions in mind, let's move to the general guidelines for an indie developer.
Not all games are equal. Not all launches are equal. Accept the reality. Have a firm belief on Day 1 of development, that the odds are stacked against you to create something great. If we don't succeed, that's okay. If we do, take it as a bonus.
Statistically speaking, the odds of achieving great success on the App Stores are miniscule. The odds will decrease even more, as thousands of apps get published within the app economy per day. For each game launch, your chances of being discovered diminishes every day. However, your skill at lauching games will improve, and you're counting on that experience to help.
The only motivation for shipping the first few games, is the data that you get back from your users. Who's playing them? How many people are playing them? How old are they? What other games might they be interested in? Use ready-made tools to obtain this data, to zero in on your niche audience. Back in my Playtomic days, I wrote a popular blog post about analytics for games.
The indie road is long and arduous. Your first game will likely be a flop. Your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th could also flop. Every new launch's odds of success will not be any better than the previous. Your only advantage as an indie, is that you can pour as much heart and soul into the project. You can control the game experience. To do this requires a lot of meticulous work : meaning time is essential.
How do you buy time? By making sure you have enough to survive within your means in the real-world. Save up that money, do that side consulting gig to bring in some bacon, but spend the majority of your efforts on the game polish. More importantly, stay healthy. Surviving for more than 1 year, will give you the ability to build 3-5 medium sized games.
I got the above quote from Mark Cuban's interview. This means: don't aim to build the next generation Clash of Clans, or Candy Crush. Instead, find your inner voice, and build around that. Everyone has a purpose in this world. Everyone is quirky in a way, and it's okay to express that into an art form via games.
Being good on iOS alone will not make you successful. Be on Android, Windows, Desktop, Console. Technologies such as HTML5 have matured in a way that it's possible to build a game, and launch it to 3-4 different mediums within days. Do you research online, compare different solutions and decide on a viable one.
At MarketJS, we work on a bunch of interesting things with HTML5, ranging from development to distribution solutions. We managed to port HTML5 code bases into native iOS and Android games within a day. This allows us to easily cover web, mobile web, and native platforms. It's an awesome feat, and wasn't technically possible a year ago.
If HTML5 is not your cup of tea, try other solutions such Haxe, or Unity. There's plenty of room to experiment as an indie. Get your hands on the latest tools.
I hope this blog post will shed more light onto the everyday struggles of the indie developer, and how to plan around them. There is no magical pill that cures all this. Have lots of fun developing, but keep the reality check on standby.