Indie Gaming success

So there you are, studying on being a games designer, developer or artist and animator – either through university, via the internet through courses like Train2Game or just sheer trial and error, and you’re nearing the end of your course.

During this time (or even before) you’ve asked yourself what’s the next step after all this. Most would aim to work for well known developers and publishers based in the UK such as EA, Bethesda Softworks, Codemasters, Rockstar and Sony. Others will want to join a company that is steadily growing, as if to ease themselves into the gaming industry and build up more experience.

But a number of those will want to make it on their own; not work for a big company but establish their own independent studios, make a game that takes the gaming industry by storm and say “this is what we were able to do on our own.”

Though it’s a pipe dream for some and others attempt to make it in the indie gaming world, only to fail, for some, it has become a reality and has justified their reason for “going alone” so to speak.
Castle Crashers, Braid, flow, Flower, Canabalt and I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 are all different types of games and yet they have two things in common; 1) they are all independent games 2) they have sold very well.

In fact, I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 is 2009’s best selling indie game on Xbox Live. The price of the game was $1 and it reportedly made a profit of $112,000.

So clearly, there is money to be made in the indie gaming market, a very stark contrast to even a couple of years ago, where independent gaming was seen as a niche genre (not even a market) that was a way to show your skills, thus increasing your portfolio and exposure.

Now thanks to Xbox Live Independent Gaming and the PlayStation Network, developers have a platform to not only showcase their games, but see them making money, perhaps even more than they could earn working for a major developing company. Also, with the rise in popularity of casual games such as Peggle, Farmville, Mafia Wars and Bejewelled have enable independent games more of a chance to grow big then ever before.

So how do these small-team (or even solo) developers make it?

An article in Edge Online discussed how to make it as an Indie gamer. The advice giving out included:

• Start small. Many would-be developers seem to think that making an epic RPG, MMO or FPS is the way forward. What many don’t realise until it’s too late is that even simple looking games that follow the 8-bit blueprint is complex and time-consuming itself. With that said, if you have experience developing games in 3D then that would be your best starting point. But whichever dimension you choose, keep the game design realistic and not too ambitious.

• Work with what you have. Don’t feel that just because you don’t have the latest or critically acclaimed. Maya, 3D Studio Max, Photoshop and Microsoft Visual Studio are useful starting blocks for game making. XNA Game Studio Express is great for those wishing to do console based indie games. For those choosing to focus on PC games, if you do feel the need to try and find some software that will help take your game to the next level, then you can check out forums dedicated to game designing (Train2Game’s forum is an example -

• Make sure to keep your game design simple. Even Real Time Strategies and RPG’s from the indie market don’t overcomplicate matters. A game can have depth without needlessly being complicated. There are exceptions to the rule such as Dwarf Fortress (a hybrid genre of rouge-like and RTS) but in general it’s usually better to be safe and keep it simple. As the creator Z0MB1ES!!!1, James Silva, sums it up best: “people hate pretentious, unfamiliar gameplay in a title that they’re not willing to invest a lot of effort into, and people love short, tightly-packed experiences that don’t repeat and don’t drag”

• Try and make them pretty, unless it’s part of the game design not too. As shallow as it sounds, an attractive looking game can woo in audiences who would otherwise give the game a miss, since there’s no way you can experience gameplay from screenshots or even a trailer. Some people might say Z0MB1ES!!!1 graphics are bare, but fans of the game would argue it’s part of the game’s simple game designing

• Don’t be afraid to do something different. Video game design in terms of independent does not have to conform to the conventions that commercial games follow. This is mainly because independent studios just can’t complete with the top developers. Jared Woods knows this better than anyone, having formally worked at 2K Games and leaving to become a solo game developer: “I can’t compete up at the top: the man-hours total that goes into a mainstream FPS is longer than my entire lifespan. Instead, we indies have to work where the larger studios don’t, back around the game design foundations. We have to invent new genres, revive the dying ones, or find new ways to meld old ideas together.”

There is likely more advice and guidelines, but what I've outlined should hopefully behelpful for starting developers.

Anybody have any other suggestions that you think will help indie developers and studios reach successful levels?