In recent weeks I've been seeing different developers making business decisions that didn't make any sense to me. This post is mostly aimed at the starting developer. You might have released no games, or maybe you released your first five games? but you have yet to make any money from those games.
Stop being an indie game developer, start running a business! Just some tips I hope that might actually make some people wake up and think.
In case you wandered into this post by accident, you might wonder why I tell other people to do or don't do things. Fair enough. I have no huge hit-games, but I've been running Orangepixel since 2004 as a full-time game development business. Mostly thanks to business decisions made, and good planning.
I've made mistakes in those years, but I also learned a lot in those years.
So, you could be extremely lucky, and have your game released amongst 1000 other (weekly) releases and be that one game everybody talks about.. making millions.. so.. don't listen to me if you think that's the case!
For all others, please take some lessons out of these "tips".
Wake up! Releasing your game, the actual pressing the release-button? it's not going to make you any sales! Maybe, just maybe, 1 out of all the readers of this article will be creating a game that goes big.. but that would be asking for a lot.
I've seen developers pressing the Steam release button, some even make this a bit of a clumsy, live streaming event where they aren't really sure what the steps are to releasing the game on Steam, and that it then takes some time for the game to show up.
Pressing that button, is not magically gonna give you sales or even eyeballs on your game. It will be on the "new releases" list for MAYBE a few hours, if you're lucky, cause you'll be "promoted" to the second page in no time.
Same goes for releasing on iOS or Android. There is no big fanfare or huge event or cheerleaders clapping for you. The store entry for your game changes it's database field "released=no" to "released=yes" and that's it! There are no crowds lining up to buy the game that instant, nobody cares!
This is not a bitter representation of the process either, this is just really all it is. Funny thing is that I told a bunch of developers in the days/weeks leading up to their release: hey, the game won't sell much if you don't tell people about it (it might not even sell copies if you DO tell people about it). But most just ignored that, because "you never know".. .. nope, I do know.
So stop dreaming: releasing games isn't magical, and selling games isn't done by releasing it.
The next problem probably boils down to "scope". Everybody knows this, everybody reads about this, and nobody sticks with it. If you are a starting developer, and you haven't released any noticeable games, then don't dive into a big project. Keep making smaller games with a laser focus on a few specific gameplay elements and make it possible to complete the game development in, let's say, two months.
Please, please, please, don't read that as "make cheap small games", please don't do that! With every game you can strive to make the best game possible, and the simple rule I apply to my games is: does this measure up to other games I look up to, does it have a certain minimum amount of polish to it, and would I actually pay money for this myself. In all honesty!
So like REALLY keep your scope small, you can create some awesome fun little games in two months time, you're still not making any money from your games, so improve your skills and experiment with game styles and ways to release your games.
Another big problem I noticed, is developers dumping buckets of money into their first couple of releases. Now for the things I'm about to mention there are exceptions and there are times that you can look into those things.. but that's ONLY if you actually have "extra" money to be able to pay for these from your previous game releases.
Paying for translations? don't. Sure, I also read those blog posts from developers that translated their game to Chinese or Russian and suddenly saw an increase in sales. But those developers already made money on their game when it wasn't translated yet! Translations can always be added later if you really want to and once you actually make some profit.
Paying for advertising? don't. First of all, I'm still not convinced advertising works (I'm currently experimenting with some facebook ads on small scale, so I'll write about that soon), second of all, you don't have any money! There are a bunch of free alternatives to this: social media, blog posts, forums. It might all require a bit more work, and get you a smaller reach, but it's free!
Renting an office? BIG NO! That's really the weirdest thing ever, unless you don't have a home to live in? Because why would you pay twice for work space (you already pay for the space in your own home).
It might be different when you work with a team, I get that, but I'd still find the cheapest solution possible, most tech-companies start in basements and garages, so why would a game developer need a fancy office?
Besides these common ones there are things like game-conferences, or contests where you pay an entry-fee, etc, etc. Yes there are upsides to these things for some, very rare, developers.. of course! but it all costs money, and YOU still aren't making any money.
In the social circles we move around in, it often sounds and feels like being an indie-developer is this romantic way of living and creating awesome things to improve the world. Don't be that. There are enough starving artists in the world, from painters, to writers, to musicians, and now game-developers.
Don't quit your day-job to become an indie game developer.
Your interest shouldn't be in creating artistic games, it should be in running a business and being self-employed. I believe that creates some different driving forces behind your actions.
I never started Orangepixel because I wanted to be an indie game developer.. back in 2004 that wasn't even a thing. I started Orangepixel because I wanted to see if I could earn money with my own business, and I happen to have affinity with creating games and saw a possibility in creating games for mobile phones. That's why I started this! I didn't start this to be an artsy-pixelart-loving indie game developer.
Running a business means thinking about money and how to earn that. It means you'll go out and do hired work for other companies, you'll take silly decisions to sell your games in bulk for few cents per copy, make mistakes, and generally be driven by business decisions when starting a new game project: which platform, what engine, will they still exist in 6-12 months time?
Thanks for reading all that, I'm guessing you now either belong to the group that says "yeah, sounds smart" or the other group that says "well yeah, but what if..". So I added this chapter for that second group: don't think you're different.
It's hard making money from games, I can't mention this enough. For every success story, there are literally thousands of games that you don't read about.
The only way you can make money with game-development, is running a smart business with all the risks and decisions that come with that.
Did I forget anything? want to tell me I'm wrong? drop a comment below!