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As the director ofÂ Kitfox Games, I have read dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of articles claiming they will assistÂ my 4-person team in makingÂ "a successful indie game." New articles come out every day, all with helpful advice for me and my team.Â Some were linked to me by personal friends, family, colleagues, or industry mentors.
I like to think these people were well-intentioned.Â
So, having read all of this, what's my plan to succeed?Â Follow my lead:
- Okay. Obviously the best thing you can do is FINISH YOUR GAME.Â
- But wait, donât ACTUALLY finish it! I hope your game isn't done yet! Youâre supposed to start marketing first!Â
- So how do you market? You need a hook. I hope you weren't planning on just making a good game!Â Don't be ridiculous! You'll need a unique tagline that's more interesting than the other 1000 emails in a stranger's inbox.
- Now that you have a hook,Â the best way to get your hook out there? Presskit(). No, this part isnât a joke. Do it.Â
- Then contact the press! Hereâs someÂ checklistsÂ on who to contact and how.Â Youâll probably need âat least 6 months worth of one person working full timeâÂ
- And aside from actual journalists,Â "take social networking sites very seriously."Â
- Even reddit.Â Or maybeÂ especially reddit.
- But advertisements? Definitely "don't spend money on traditional marketing and customer acquisition."Â
- But you donât want to disappoint anyone. âBe realistic about what you can do.âÂ So, mobile games are easier to make, right? Right. Letâs be realistic.Â
- Except âa lot of people never pay anything on the App StoreâÂ
- And âmost apps fail commerciallyâ. Probably because the mobile scene is "completely commoditised".
- But don't go console.Â âChances are you wonât be able to quit your day job by releasing a game on XBLIG.âÂ âThe vast majority of games on [Xbox 360] make âŚ less than $1000â.
- And putting your game on Ouya might just be worth it ... but maybe not.
- So, PC! Just make sure you're on Steam, or else. You'll need press firstÂ if you go traditional, and going Greenlight meansÂ community management.
- Plus, if youâre on PC you can maybe get hundreds of thousands of sales through bundles!Â But even bundle salespeople say to use bundles only âduring the long-tail period of your gameâs lifespanâ.Â
- Does your game design have multiplayer? Incorporate multiplayer âto create long term value for playersâ.Â
- Try to speak "to a wider audience".
- No, wait, find a "small niche long-abandoned".
- But did you want to make money? Free to play is âthe only way to make money in video gamesâ. In fact, "freemium will dominate. You can't beat free."
- No, wait, thatâs Evil Game Design.Â Almost as evil as those coercive, greedy pay-2-play techniques.Â
- But whatever you do, donât make money your number 1 priority. It's, like, ironic.
- In fact, indie heroes tryÂ theirÂ âutmost hardest to ignore any commercial pressures that may ariseâ.Â
- Besides, when failure can be âone of the happiest and mostÂ satisfying times of [your] lifeâ, why not do away with the word failure entirely and âredefine successâ?Â Â
- And if you DO make money, feel bad about it! Youâre probably âafter weak people in vulnerable states.âÂ
- In fact, âNot all games can be free-to-play.âÂ SoâŚ figure it out yourself. You're probably doing it wrong anyway.
- And remember those journalists you talked to? They'reÂ not interested in free to play.Â
- Just remember, âthereâs nothing wrong with people wanting to play your game for years.â No need to get defensive or anything.
- Besides, premium games get pirated like crazy. Might even turn your most successful game into your "least profitable."
- But hey, pirating can "make an indie game into a success"!Â
- In fact, if itâs premium, maybe start selling your game as soon as itâs in alpha.Â Â
- Wait, isnât this the same as a Minimum Viable Product from business? No, that canât be the same thing. Never mind.Â
- No wait, in games, it's calledÂ a demo. âThere is simply no excuse for failing to have a demo at an early stage.âÂ
- Or you can just give away some for free, as a gift.Â
- No, wait, game demos halve your sales.Â
- And if your demo'sÂ good, someone might clone it faster than you finish it.Â
- You still need money? You could do a Kickstarter. Everyone loves crowdfunding.
- But donât ask for high numbers. You shouldn'tÂ actually need money.Â
- And be careful about usingÂ stretch goals. Never stretch goals.
- Unless youâre famous already. Then stretch the goals. Â Â
- Just remember if you get too much money, the internet will turn against you.
- And maybe âthe Kickstarter bubble is strained to breaking pointâ...
- But you can avoid crowdfunding nonsense altogether if you build in metrics to track your monetisation and get those DARPUs sky-high! They say âyour game has to fit a âmillion dollar+ formulaââÂ
- Actually, "there is no single right answer or standard model" in business intelligence, so just get used to flailing about with your metrics.Â After all, Ultima Online used metrics. Are you better than Ultima Online?Â
- But metrics alone canât save your monetisation.
- So, I hope you haven't been specialising too narrowly, becauseÂ youâll have to be a master ofÂ everything. Programming, business development, marketing, art, design, production.Â
- And not just game stuff. Youâll need cinematography too. âThe worst thing you can do is make a bad trailer and deliver something thatâs not the same level of quality as your game.âÂ
- Well, maybe you donât need to track your schedule and budget. You might as well take your time and deliver when youâre done, since quality is what matters.Â
- So just make an awesome game! Get really good review scores!Â
- But reviews wonât matter.Â In fact, âmakingÂ a good gameÂ doesnât guarantee you anythingâÂ Youâll still flop. And thatâs okay!Â
- On second thought, donât worry too much about the design. You probably suck at it anyway.Â Â
So! Have you made a million dollars and won IGF yet? Ha! No, me neither.
Of course, the real lesson to take from this is what we all knew already:Â every game is different.
Advice is often given by genuine experts in their field, and yet it still might not apply to what you're doing when taken literally.Â Unless thisÂ guru is specifically playingÂ yourÂ game,Â andÂ has a telepathic connection to every niche of your platform,Â andÂ can look into the future to see what will happen when your game releases, any insight naturally comes with caveats. Some advice hasÂ timeless common sense behind the words. Most doesn't.
My team and I will make mistakes, but we'll learn from them, and if asked, we'llÂ give others advice based on what succeeded and what failed. Hopefully they won't take that advice at face value andÂ will interpret it carefully for their own game, team, goals, and situation.
As long as weÂ keepÂ creating, you and me, we'll be all right.