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7 Cardinal Sins of Indie Game Promo

by Albert Banda on 04/08/19 11:07:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


According to GameAnalytics, 95% of indie games are not profitable, and 80% of indie games operate at a loss. That’s pretty simple math. Your indie game has a 5% chance of success.

Long gone are the days when an indie game on a popular platform was a promise of rockstardom. These days, you can thank your lucky stars if your title just manages to break even. Why?

I actually have a list of 33 reasons why your indie game will fail. Let me just share my top 7 with you.

1. Your game sucks

Plain and simple. No offense.

If the reviews for your game are mostly negative, or overwhelmingly negative, you should question the output. Has anyone external actually told you that they absolutely love your game? Do you really love your game?

You may think this is extremely obvious, but you'd be surprised. Several indie devs choose a VR "success simulation" over reality. They refuse to look the ugly truth in the face.

Your game may suck because it was poorly crafted or because it’s artistically nondescript. Either way, marketing a crappy game can be a surefire sin that sends your indie title to the failure underworld.

AdviceTry again.

2. You didn’t create a community around your game

Or, rather, you didn't create your game around a community.

One thing that all successful games have in common is a community. A community that will test, play, critique, support, and promote your game. Your hype squad. It might sound hard, but success won’t happen without it.

Some indie teams try to take on the world in one fell swoop. What you really ought to do is build your community, one member at a time, with respect and gratefulness. They’ll conquer the world for you.

No community = no indie game success. Period.

AdviceBuild a solid community, one supporter at a time.

3. You bundled too early

With the right tactical ingredients, you may be able to pleasantly surprise customers (and your pocketbook) by bundling your game early. Actually, you could even launch your game in a bundle!

But be warned. Unless you have some rounded experience and a few tricks up your sleeve, stay away from early bundling. As a rule of thumb, wait out at least the better part of a full year before placing your game in a bundle. The right timing is everything.

While bundling can get your indie game in front of thousands of new players, it also comes with the irreversible drawback of a steep early discount. Never bundle out of desperation. Always bundle with reason and purpose.

AdviceBundling may devalue your game. Approach with caution.

4. Your discounts are too frequent

Aesop wrote a timeless fable called 'The Indie Dev Who Cried Discount'. Ever heard of it? Message me, I’ll send you a link. Anyways, the moral of the story is brilliant.

Offer a discount every two weeks and in less than two months no-one will pay attention. No-one. What were you thinking? How desperate were you trying to look?

Indie studios should approach sales and marketing like they’re one wavelength. A promotion is the crest of the wavelength. This is when you do everything to get your game in players’ hands. As the wavelength dives into a trough, create activities to get players playing your game. This will create word-of-mouth, drive conversation, and set up the next promotion.

Monitor your sales and marketing pulse like a physician or risk ending up totally out of rhythm with your target audience.

AdviceRead 'The Indie Dev Who Cried Discount' by Aesop .

5. Your game doesn’t have achievements

Now isn’t this a load of BS; achievements are just pointless gimmicks, right? True. There was even a time when Steam cracked down on achievement spam games. But in reality, that’s more like when they try to battle the onslaught of asset-flips. Clone doctors hate it, but quality and gamers favor it.

Achievements done well can add flavor and replayability to games with even the most basic mechanics. Your indie game may have missed the mark on commercial appeal, but there’s a tribe of achievement hunters who would love to play it anyways—provided it has decent achievements.

Ship a lovable but average experience that lacks achievements and you might be cutting a huge chunk out of your indie game’s saleability.

AdviceUse achievements creatively to improve saleability.

6. You put too much into too little

The easiest way to illustrate this point is with numbers. The following is a cursory, hypothetical scenario.

You raise $100,000 to develop your indie game.

Your goal is to develop a game that sells at $8.This means you need to push 12,500 units to break even. That’s a little over 1000 units per month in a fiscal year. Tough in today’s indie market, but doable.

Shortly after release, critics and the game community find your game to be worth $5. They say "it just doesn’t have enough content."

Your sales begin to reflect this and you drop prices to match demand. You succeed in selling 12,500 units.

Only, you sold most of them at $5 which means you’ve made roughly $62,500. You have to sell another 7,500 units just to break even.

What happened (in this slapdash tale)? You put too much into too little.

Your indie game might have cutting-edge everything but with no depth, it could still tank. If warmth and comfort is what you seek, choose fire over fireworks.

AdviceChoose content over embellishment.

7. You underestimated the bad, and overestimated the good

You may be one of the few who actually considered everything on this list up until this point. The problem is that your considerations may have had the wrong proportions.

Before the fact, it’s especially easy to shrug off doubts and concerns. You figure you’ll cross those bridges when you get there, and some heroic energy will carry you through. Deep down, you know you’re more talented than that other indie studio...

These sentiments are familiar. They’re usually what you feel right before a shoulda-woulda-coulda moment. Do you know why? You’re savoring victory before you claim it.

AdviceDon’t build castles in the sky. Unless you can make them float, of course.

Like I said, I actually have a longer list of thirty-three reasons why indie games fail. But if you're too busy with your day, keep in mind these seven. They're the ones you don't hear about so often, since the wounds they inflict are mostly internal.

Oh, and make sure you read 'The Indie Dev Who Cried Discount' by Aesop.

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