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April 9, 2020
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How to Make a Successful Indie Game: Part 1

by Andrei Klubnikin on 10/05/17 09:36:00 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.


How to Make a Successful Indie GameGame market is absolutely booming and will top $ 108 billion this year. Growing at a CAGR of 19%, mobile games remain its most lucrative segment and now account for 42% (or $ 46.1 billion) of the total revenue generated by app publishers. Want to grab a share of the pie? Here’s how to create an indie mobile game that will overwhelm users.


How to create an indie game: step-by-step guide to success

Market research

It all starts with an idea – and your idea has to be validated.

Here’s what you should do:

  • Study the App Store and Google Play download/top grossing game charts to see what game genres tend to perform better in terms of revenue and user engagement. As of October, 2017, the upper regions of the US top-performing iOS app charts are occupied by popular Match 3 games like Candy Crush, Puzzledom and Homescapes, the omnipresent Minecraft and occasional “edutainment” titles like Word Connect. According to Statista, however, it is strategy and role playing games that generate most revenue (in July 2016, for instance, such iOS games made $ 194 million and $ 162 million, respectively). Platform games (or endless runners) usually get tons of downloads (like Temple Run which was downloaded over 170 million times) but fail to make significant revenue;

How to Make a Successful Indie Game

  • Choose the right genre. As an indie developer, you’re probably operating on a shoestring and therefore won’t be able to create a fully-fledged city-building game capable of evaluating the aftermaths of various in-game events and modelling appropriate scenarios, so say goodbye to your Minecraft and the Tribez clone ideas. Want to launch a match 3 franchise? A custom mobile application company with a solid game dev portfolio would spend around 3000 hours (man-hours, to be precise) to create an app like Candy Crush. How long is it going to take YOU? What’s more important, will you be able to compete with publishers like Playrix and King?

Your success largely depends on your ability to see beyond stereotypes. You surely remember Alto’s Adventure, the endless runner game created by an indie studio from Canada? Although the game made use of simple mechanics and went paidmium on the App Store (it’s currently priced at $ 4.99!), Alto got featured by Apple and created enough buzz to attract and engage players.

And that’s why you should think of a flexible monetization strategy early on. Since only 0.19% of mobile users spend money on games, you’d better go freemium or employ different monetization strategies on Google Play and the App Store like Snowman (the vendor behind Alto’s Adventure) did. Going free-to-play (and pay-to-win) is the middle ground for most indie developers, although it remains to be seen whether you’ll manage to provide enough content to engage users in the long run.

How to Make a Successful Indie Game

Concept development

Ok, once you decided on the game genre, it’s time to develop game concept.

How to make a successful mobile indie game? According to Michail Katkoff, Product Manager at Supercell, it’s all about choosing the right theme. Put yourself in your potential users’ shoes. If you browse the App Store and come across a post-apocalyptic game, you already know what it’s all about (trying to escape from zombies, stopping the spread of a deadly virus, etc.). If that’s your cup of tea, you’ll download the app straight away – and you don’t even need to watch explainer videos to understand what you have to do to kick that zombie in the face.

However, you should pick something neutral: Pavel Shylenok, CTO at R-Style Lab (you can check his profile here), believes the casual games market changes every two or three years. In early 2010s, it’s farm simulation and epic fantasy games that gained most traction; today we see more space war and steampunk apps released to the market. Targeting a specific niche – for example, players who love Harry Potter and therefore might spend a few dollars on a game taking place in a bewitched castle – might be an option.

What’s next? You should hire several game script writers to develop different concepts taking into account the game mechanics and mobile platforms (it’s either iOS or Android or both) and select the best one. A couple of settings and game levels would do for a start; don’t go into much detail since the concept will evolve over time.

How to Make a Successful Indie GamePlanning

  • Choose several post-apocalyptic (or whatever theme you’ve settled on) games that made it big and use their visuals as a reference for UI designers. Meanwhile, UX designers and developers will create a game level with default objects (graphic primitives) instead of characters and objects. Does it work and look OK? Fine, go ahead;
  • Write a comprehensive spec covering the functional and performance requirements of the final product, monetization strategy and further development;
  • Break the project into several stages (with each iteration having an achievable milestone). As Attilio Carotenuto, the author of the incredible “Postmortem of My First Indie Game” put it, being an indie developer is “really 10% game dev, and 90% everything else”. That’s why you have to learn to prioritize tasks, manage your team and make changes to the scope based on user feedback. Unless you have 10+ developers on your team, you don’t really have to use fancy project management software like Jira and Redmine (Google Sheets will do).

In the second part of the article we’ll discuss the actual game dev and testing process, as well as tricks that help indie developers market a game on a limited budget.

Stay tuned!

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