Business Tips to make your Indie Game a Success
Game developers live for ideas. But ideas aren’t enough to make every game a success.
If you can’t market, sell, publish, or update your game effectively, the world will not get to see it. A careful business strategy will allow you creative freedom, while increasing your chances of getting people to enjoy your game.
Creative workers often struggle with the business side of their projects. Yet if you have the skill and passion to create a brilliant game, you are capable of mastering the business techniques necessary for success.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to four important areas of the business side of game development: monetisation, marketing, publication, and updates.
Consider your monetisation strategy
Right now, the idea of making money from your gaming passion might feel very distant. But your monetisation strategy has an impact on the whole design of your game.
Some developers are still inspired by the success of Fortnite, who made billions of dollars in revenue from a free-to-play product. If you want to fuel your game with micro-transactions – you’ll need to think of this at the start, and insert the relevant gameplay as you go along. You’ll find it much harder to make these arrangements retrospectively.
However, most serious gamers are exhausted by micro-transactions. Indeed, the reputation of Loot Boxes is now so bad that many countries are trying to ban this ‘exploitative’ practice.
So for indie developers today, the best method is simple: make people pay for your game up front. If you’ve created a great product, gamers will be prepared to pay for the privilege of playing it.
The price you charge may have an impact on your design – how much time do you have? And how much gameplay will consumers get? Having a plan when you start developing will help you when you finish.
Crowdfunding is an alternative way of raising money for the development process. It does not guarantee success, as many failed projects show, but may work for you if you have a fantastic marketing strategy.
Get started with marketing
A good marketing strategy can begin with the gaming communities you are already a part of. You already know what your community on reddit, twitter, or discord will respond well to. So, design your first content showcase with them in mind.
Do you want to provide a short GIF showcasing the outstanding visuals in your game? A vertical slice, to demonstrate the potential for engaging gameplay? Or a horizontal slice, showing the depth of engagement each one of your levels can offer?
Your first preview will give a hook to bring people in. It’s ok for games to end up being extremely complex. But before release, you must help your audience to instantly understand your unique offer.
When you engage with communities and media outlets, you’ll eventually find one or two platforms that provide the most conversions. Initially spread your effort over numerous platforms, and see what sticks.
A couple of hours a week, spent consistently promoting your message, can be enough to understand what your audience wants.
Weigh up your publication options
You may already have a preferred publication platform in mind – whether it’s Steam, Gog, itch.io, or others. Whatever your gut feeling, make sure you’ve considered this decision from a business point of view.
Your choice of platform could change your marketing and monetisation strategies. Each venue has distinct revenue models, with different marketing options built-in; so you don’t want to lose out on important features. Jon Blow (the creator/developer of Braid) has a captivating story of the choices he made throughout development.
Alternatively, some developers enjoy working with publishers.
Larger indie companies like Tiny Build, Revolver, and Adult Swim will not accept every game that’s offered to them. But if they like your pitch, they can help you with every stage of development and publication.
Perhaps you need help connecting with a great art director, working out your best social media strategy, or knowing how to produce top-notch merchandise. Publishers already have this knowledge, leaving you to keep on with core development tasks.
You’ll need to make a convincing pitch to a company. If you can, make a personal connection with publishers at gaming events, or on social media. But any good indie publisher will be interested to receive your email – whether or they know your personally.
Ensure your plan for updates is sustainable
Once upon a time, games didn’t get updated.
You bought the game, and that was it. Developers had to work hard to sort out any bugs before anything was released. Any bonus gameplay had to be included in the release.
As an independent developer, you should try to learn from the past.
You just won’t have the budget to continuously maintain a game for eight years after release. Even after release, you’ll probably find that you and your team are exhausted from the big push of release.
Having said that, you can still benefit from the flexibility of online distribution. People that love your game will let you know of glitches, bugs, and other shortcomings – and you can fix them.
And we should remember that some indie developers used beta-testing periods to create huge successes: just look at Hades or Darkest Dungeon. Their work may be unsustainable for a solo developer – but if you’ve got a small team, you may have just enough infrastructure to work.
Make your passion work for you
In most of this post, we’ve assumed something: that you’ve got a brilliant concept, and a great plan for development.
Yet for all the great ideas out there, very few can become polished games. And even a fantastic game could be ignored, if the marketing strategy is bad.
But before we finish, let’s just remind ourselves that your game must be as good as it can be.
The gameplay loop works well. The narrative arc is convincing. Your visuals draw your audience in and complement the gameplay – whether that’s through retro-style pixel art of Star Renegades, or the elegant hand-drawn worlds of Gris.
Your development decisions are at the core of what you do. They always will be.
But if you haven’t taken the time to investigate the most effective business model, you’re not going to get your unique idea noticed by the Guerilla Collective or Wholesome Direct.
Your talent deserves the biggest audience: so take the steps you need to make it happen.