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July 19, 2019
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Treat Your Indie GameDev Career as a Business

by Tim Beaudet on 02/25/19 10:05:00 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.


As an indie game developer, it is important to understand where you are investing time and money. Knowing how to make a game is one thing, but it won’t help you reach financial freedom. Most distribution platforms tell you how much revenue you’ve made from each project, but what did it cost to develop?

A developer I was talking to recently claimed that time-cost is hard to track, and initially had the impression it was pointless to do so. A lot of people compare their time-cost to what they would have made as employed, which is the wrong way of looking at it. By taking a year to make a project, you do not necessarily need the entire $80k salary from the job you left. It is not okay to compare your indie business to making that amount of money.

Instead you should know and compare your time-cost against your sustainable cost-of-living requirements, which differs for everyone. This is how much money is spent each year, month or week to live your life and run your business; rent, food, bills, insurances, development tools, enjoyment, etc. This becomes the minimum amount of money you spend during development, meaning your project(s) need to cover¹ this to sustain yourself long-term.

For me at present I have estimated (on the very low side) a sustainable cost-of-living of $21,000 a year, after taxes and any other cuts have been taken. After breaking this down to hourly figure, $16.15/hr winds up as my time-cost figure before taxes.

\($16.15hr = {{$21,000yr \; \cdot \; 1.538} \over 40hr/wk \; \cdot \; 50wk/yr}\)

When computing the time-cost/hour, use the number of hours per week you strive to achieve. One may argue that typical hours is reflective too, and this lowers the time cost significantly; $8.08 for 80 hour weeks in my case, but it devalues your sustainability goals. While it is likely that more hours will be used for development than desired, overtime the target becomes more attainable. Tracking the desired target hours remains important for this.

It is important to know the time-cost down to an hourly rate because when considering whether to hire-out for a task or do-it-yourself, comparing cost of the contract to your own time-cost will help determine if it saves money over doing it yourself. It will always free up your own time for a different task.

I share more information of my indie adventure at if you would like to support me further.

 ¹ Technically you’ll need to make more than this for retirement considerations.

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