Recently, I was reading a couple of articles in GamesIndustry.biz in which two companies discussed certain aspects of their business. While two articles had different subjects, these was one aspect that was similar to both interviewed companies. Both Glitchsoft and Game Theory had to stop working on purely in-house projects and turn to external contracts in order to survive.
Most of us who jump into indie game development would perceive turning to contract work as failure. This initial reaction made me reflect on the objectives and identities we give ourselves as independent game developers.
The question is basically this: are you an artist or an entrepreneur?
Artist-type indie developers tend to be more interested in the game they are making, rather than by how they are going to sell it. They are more focused on crafting an excellent product and want to make the best game possible. Some may even build games simply to use the medium as a form of expression, like traditional artists do.
If you find yourself putting most of your work in the game and doing very little on the marketing and business side, then you probably fall in this category. If you write your own engine because it’s fun, knowing full well that the game is not moving forward, then you’re probably also an artist-type.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that your project won’t make money or that it’s doomed to fail. It’s just that the product is more important than the business. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it might be a problem if your objective is to live off your indie game revenues.
As an entrepreneur, what you are trying to do is start a business. If you find yourself thinking about which game is more likely to sell and what are the market trends, then you probably are more of the entrepreneur type.
This may actually be surprising, but pure entrepreneur types (not working in games) often don’t care directly about the product they are making. They are typically focused on building and growing a business. This doesn’t mean that entrepreneur types cannot make a good game, or that they are not indie. It just means that they see their endeavor as a business.
Can I be both?
Yes, you can be both! The truth is that most us are part-time indies looking for a success in order to live off the fruits of our loved labor. In fact, I believe that if you want to succeed as an indie game developer you need to be both an artist and an entrepreneur. It is a good balance between crafting a great product as an artist, but also thinking about business as an entrepreneur that will increase the chances of success.
The artist part of you may want to do something unique and interesting that you, as a player, will enjoy. This is a good way to think. If you like the game you are making, there are probably other people about that will like it too, and they will be willing to pay for such a product. However, your reasoning must not stop there. Here are a few questions that you should ask yourself.
– What can I do to get people to know about my game my game? How do I increase its visibility?
– What is the best way to make money off my game?
– If my game is premium, what price should it be?
– Should it be early access pays less and I increase the price as I add features? Should I sell episodic content? Etc.
– Can my game be easily deployed to other platforms (PC, sure, but what about Mac, Linux, iOS, etc.) on which I can also make money?
– Can I use an engine that will do the job without having to write my own stuff, thus increasing the chances of finishing my game?
Out of all these questions, the one about visibility, a.k.a. the marketing of your game, is probably the most important one.
It is often the entrepreneur stuff like marketing that is most difficult to think about as indies, because most of us aren’t interested in that stuff.
We often have a “romantic” perception of the indie developer making millions off a project they hand-crafted to success. The truth is that most people who do succeed did something right on the entrepreneur side of things, either through marketing or market approach.
In the end, while each success story is different, I believe it’s important to stay in touch with your artist side for the quality of game, but also to try to think like an entrepreneur to increase your chances of success.