Five Tips to Succeeding as an Indie Developer

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Posted October 12, 2011 - By Rob Manuel

Five Tips to Succeeding as an Indie Developer

Manuel’s Note: I met Matt Gilgenbach of 24 Caret Games last year right year right before IndieCade when he showed off Retro/Grade. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to keep in touch with him and even write about his engagement last year. When I’m bogged down with IndieCade articles, Matt jumps in to save the day.

Indie development is a lot of fun, but if you talk to any indie developer, they will all tell you the same thing: it’s tough! I’ve been indie for three years now, so I’ve picked up some tips on how to succeed. Read on for five tips to succeed as an indie developer. These gems of wisdom come to you straight from the horse's mouth. Er, fingers.

  • Choose an appropriate scope for your team - If you are making an indie game, most likely your team size is small. Be sure to choose a game idea that you are confident you can do well with your team or by yourself. Too often indie developers deliver an overly ambitious game that is rough around the edges. If you look at the best indie games, they are all relatively small in scope but extremely polished.
  • Figure out a way you can compete in the marketplace – Most gamers don’t know or care the difference between an indie game and a team that is well funded. Since your game’s scope will most likely be limited, you have to come up with new and different ideas that will entice players to buy your game rather than just trying to emulate the success of popular mainstream titles with large budgets.

Five Tips to Succeeding as an Indie Developer

  • Hope for the best, plan for the worst – A publisher swooping in and giving you $10 million to finish your game is most likely not going to happen. You need to create a game idea that your team can do well given the resources that you have without relying on any sort of lucky break. In addition, games are always MUCH more difficult to make than they seem. If you are an experienced developer, you should probably assume it’ll take twice as long as you’d guess. If you are new to game development, make sure you get a good idea of what it will take to deliver on your game before you spend a ton of time developing it because you may not be able to pull it off.
  • Don't work in a vacuum – Creating the game you’ve always wanted to play is a good goal for indie development, but if you expect to sell your game, you need to make sure that other people want to play it as well. Just watch your friends play, and you’ll be amazed at the things you learn. Oftentimes minor changes can have a huge difference for other players, so be sure to get fresh eyes to look at your game.
  • Embrace your indie-ness - Being "indie" gives you great opportunities that you wouldn't otherwise have. Innovate and push boundaries! Indie developers have an amazing network and always are willing to help each other out, so be sure to take advantage of that.

Time for you to do something for a change…

Five Tips to Succeeding as an Indie Developer

What You Should Anticipate: Retro/Grade

I can’t just have Matt write up an article without pimping out his game. Also, it’s pretty easy to talk up an already awesome game. Imagine playing through a side-scrolling shooter backwards. You dodge bullets as enemies appear out of every explosion. Now try it with a guitar. Retro/Grade takes such a fresh approach at music-based titles that you’ll want to dust off those little plastic guitars. Their new trailer gives you a taste of the music and pure insanity that comes from such a creative title.

What You Should Support: Lifeless Planet

For fans of sci-fi adventure gaming like The Dig, let me introduce you to your next obsession. Lifeless Planet puts you into the weighted boots of an astronaut stranded on a seemingly barren wasteland only to find that you are not alone on this world. It’s got a great look and a great sense of isolation about it. Better yet, it’s already reached it funding. Throw a couple of extra dollars their way and pick up some great stuff.

What You Should Play: Rebuild 2

Okay, it looks a lot like the first Rebuild and you’re still clearing out areas to build a non-infected city. Now each of the people you save can acquire new skills or level up the skills they already have. You can even equip them with items you find to increase everything from building to zombie killing. Random events will keep you on your toes as mad scientists and a zombie cult rise to make life a little more interesting. Give it a try. You only have time and zombies to kill.

Five Tips to Succeeding as an Indie Developer