How Jon Blow Inspired and Shaped the Indie Game Development Industry – and Made Millions with Braid
Are you an aspiring game developer who dreams of making it big in the indie gaming space someday? If you do, you have a lot to learn from Jon Blow – the man whose platform puzzler Braid’s success inspired and shaped the indie game industry into what it is today.
American video game designer and programmer Jonathan (Jon) Blow revolutionised the independent or indie gaming space with his first game Braid, a platform and puzzle video game.
Released in 2008, Braid is a time-manipulating, Mario-inspired platform video game that marked a watershed moment in the history of indie gaming. Garnering millions in revenue, the game’s success was disarming, even for its maker himself.
$40,000 in debt and having spent $200,000 from his own pocket on developing the game in a span of about three and a half years, Blow’s meteoric rise to success and a whole lot of millions was sudden and enormous.
He probably had no idea of how big this was going to be when he conceived the idea for Braid on a trip to Thailand in 2004. Even the version before his final Braid prototype won the Independent Games Festival games design award at the Games Developers Conference in 2006.
Indie game development was gradually becoming a part and parcel of mainstream game development space in the late 2000s but Blow’s Braid set an unprecedented precedent for upcoming indie games. Never before had a game from this space amassed such success and popularity.
So how did Jon Blow manage to start this unthinkable revolution in the indie gaming space?
The Story Of Indie Game Development
The latter half of the 2000s witnessed the rise of indie development. This was particularly fuelled by the availability of:
- Online distribution methods
- New and cheaper game development tools
- New online game storefronts
No longer did game developers have to suffer from limitations of retail distribution. They had the vast, expansive and easily accessible world of the world wide web to publish their games for the world to see. They could sell their games directly to players.
Software for developing games was available at affordable prices to developers. Developers of game engines contributed to the rising popularity of the indie wave by offering products at lower rates.
Added to this was the arrival of online game storefronts such as Steam. These platforms let developers publish and market their games and allowed players to download and play them pretty much from anywhere around the world. Developers could even update their games on these platforms to shape better experiences for their audiences.
Such storefronts played a pivotal role in generating awareness about indie games and were a boon to many nascent developers.
Crowdfunding was another means that added to the rise and popularity of indie games during the latter 2000s. It helped developers gauge support for a game idea and gather funds to produce one without taking huge risks.
All these factors combined worked wonders for an indie game like Braid. But was that all?
What Worked For Blow? What Did Blow Do Differently With Braid To Make Millions?
“Fun is a very amorphous word…Braid is designed to be interesting and provide the player with difficult mental challenges,” Jon Blow remarks in an interview.
Jon Blow’s Braid isn’t just another platformer. Sure, it looked like an artistic rendition of Nintendo’s ridiculously famous platform game Mario Bros. The story had a castle to reach, a princess to rescue and enemies to jump on and kill or knock out.
But that’s mostly where the similarities end.
Blow’s remark about Braid being designed to present the player with tough mental challenges couldn’t be truer. Because that’s where Braid’s ingenuity lies.
The game’s way more cerebral than its many AAA competitors. Its uniqueness lies in its ability to profoundly challenge players at every level. To lure them with its wonderful music and captivating design and then make them work a lot for making the best out of the game.
Playing Braid is almost a race against time with your brain to figure out what to do. It’s intensive that way.
Everything in the game serves a purpose. Everything is instilled with meaning and emotion. And everything has to be figured out by the players themselves.
Blow studied Computer Science and creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley. His skills as a developer obviously play one of the most important roles in determining Braid’s success. The game’s design and gameplay, after all, were unprecedented.
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So what is Braid actually about?
Braid is the story of Tim, a young man who made a terrible mistake that cost him a beautiful princess. Now the princess has been kidnapped by an evil monster and has to be rescued.
As Tim, the player sets out on a journey encompassing different worlds, solving puzzles that tell Tim the story of his life. And bring him closer to help rescue the princess.
Each world is instilled with different time manipulation mechanics. In one world you can slow time by creating bubbles. In another, you can reverse time by walking backwards. There’s a world where you can be at two places at the same time by creating a doppelganger.
Each world is different. Each world feels fresh and new. And the story is distinct from the usual dichotomy of good and evil that’s commonly found in video games. Its immense focus on regret makes it unique and cherishable in quite a peculiar manner.
Braid’s haunting in its story and appeal. And that does wonders for its unique place in the history of indie games.
Its puzzle-teasers are infuriating at times, but the game’s worth checking out.
How To Become A Successful Indie Developer?
Many times, becoming a successful indie developer can be a matter of luck. But with the right training, skills, knowledge and tools you can venture into this highly creative space.
Broadly, you’d need:
- A passionate and skilled team. Having a passionate and reliable team can go a long way in determining the success or failure of your game.
- The right development tools and software. Tools for getting features in your game matter too. You’ve to spend a good amount of time to make the right decision about software and tools depending on your needs.
- Proper management. You have to determine the scope of your game right from the start and stick to it in order to avoid unnecessary delays or issues. Mostly, it’s recommended to begin with simple ideas.
- Marketing plans. This is not just for when you’ve finished working on your game. You can market it at different stages of development. If you don’t market what you’ve made, you won’t be able to reach out to players.
But most importantly, you need to have a vision and see that vision through to the end. If you don’t know what you want to make or how to make, or if you find yourself starting projects and always abandoning them, you won’t be able to reach your goals.
Once you decide on a REALISTIC idea that you want to see to completion, you have to work on it consistently. It won’t be perfect immediately – you have to keep improving and even reworking it as you learn and get better. With enough hard work, you’ll have a polished game that provides the experience you imagined to players. By formally learning game design in Unity, you increase your effectiveness in this endeavour tenfold.
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What made Braid tick? What factors paved way for its unprecedented success, popularity and the millions it made its creator, Jon Blow, in a short span of time?
- The availability of internet, accessible software and game storefronts that increased the reach of indie games and developers.
- The fact that it was inspired by a highly successful and extremely popular platformer game everyone was familiar with – Mario.
- And most importantly, its unique story and gameplay that set it apart from what most AAA companies were trying to do at the time.
Ready to embark on your indie development journey? Blow’s story is a testament to how anyone with the right amount of passion and skill can make it big in the indie gaming space.
The tools and software are readily available now. And there’s streamlined guidance for you at places like MAGES.
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