Top Indie Game Developer Blogs

For the past year or so I’ve been organically growing my RSS feed collection with a focus towards what other indie game developers have to say. My collection has grown to a pretty good size including game industry veterans and stalwarts to first-time designers and rookies.

There is a lot to read, and many to learn from. Here is a list my favorite writers from my current feed collection and why I regularly follow them (not in any particular order).

  1. A Shareware Life – Thomas Warfield, developer of “Pretty Good Solitaire” and “Pretty Good MahJongg” is one of those successful super hero indie developers. He’s been at it for a long time and has some very valuable insights on how others can succeed at the independent games business. If you like cats, you’ll enjoy his “Friday CatBlogging”.
  2. Phil Steinmeyer – Phil recently broke away from his old company, PopTop Software, after having success with games such as Railroad Tycoon and Tropico. He left for the freedom and the green fields of the indie game world. In May, 2005 he started his new company Crayon Games and recently released his first product, the casual game “Bonnie’s Bookstore”. I like Phil’s writing because he brings the experience of working for a successful game studio to the world of indie game development.
  3. GBGames – Gianfranco Berardi has a comfortable writing style and is not afraid to talk about his failures along with his successes. He’s new to business and the game industry, but he brings a ton of enthusiasm and a surprisingly mature point of view. He has frequent updates with very little of it off topic. GB provides great inspiration for me since he’s struggling through many of the same issues that I am as he tries to make his way into the game industry.
  4. GameProducer.NET – A recent addition to my feed collection, but has quickly become one of my favorites. Juuso Hietalahti of Polycount Productions shares some great insights into the job of a game producer. But the most interesting stuff comes from his Sales Stats articles from around the indie game industry where he reveals the sales numbers behind recently released games. GameProducer.NET is updated regularly and usually worth the time spent visiting.
  5. Joe Indie – David Michael, author of The Indie Game Developers Survival Guide and developer of Paintball NET, writes about the business side of indie game development. He has a pragmatic view of the indie game industry and shares some great advice.
  6. Casual Game Design – William Willing covers, you guessed it, casual game design. There’s some good stuff on William’s site covering all kinds of topics related to getting the best out of your game designs.
  7. Tales of the Rampant Coyote – Jay Barnson is another game industry veteran turned indie. His site has a good mix of industry commentary and shared wisdom from his experiences.

There are a bunch more that I subscribe to, but these are the ones that consistently have the best signal to noise ratio and that seem to provide information that directly speaks to me.

If you know of any other indie game developers out there that are sharing their experiences and wisdom, I’d love to hear about them.

Jeff Vogel on the View From the Bottom

Spiderweb Software’s Jeff Vogel (Avernum, Geneforge) describes his
View From the Bottom of the game industry over on RPG Vault. Or what Joe Indie calls the “anti-Pavlina” view of game development.

What is the moral of this? The game industry is a highly competitive, scary place. It’s not hopeless, but it’s a tough road. And that’s a good place to start to describe the view from the bottom.

Also check out part two of Jeff’s series View From the Bottom #2:

Indie developers have a real purpose in this world. They make little niche products for markets too small for Activision. They make many new puzzle games for the casual audience. Or, at least, the same old puzzle game again and again. They rewrite Asteroids… because someone has to.

Looks like a series that is well worth following. Vogel has a long successful history in the indie game industry and probably knows what he’s talking about.

Psychochild responds to Vogel’s article with The Indie Problem…again:

So, let’s talk about the real problems with indie game development and why you don’t see innovation from them.

Let’s be honest here, there are some serious issues you have to deal with as an independent game developer. It would be wonderful if that old myth about “if you build it, they will come” were true. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

2005 OMG Cup – 36 Free Mac Games

2005 OMG Cup

The 2005 Original Mac Games Cup has now officially opened for public voting. The submission phase has closed and there are 36 entries.

36 Free Original Mac Games to download and play. All we ask is that you take the time to vote and rate the games you play.

Related Links:

Update: It looks like iDevGames (host of OMG) is getting hammered with traffic. Please be patient, I’m sure they will be back up soon.

Play it Safe vs Play it Risky

Thomas Warfield of “Pretty Good Solitaire” fame says that playing it safe is risky ala Seth Godin’s adivce in Purple Cow.

So many newcomers seem to believe that the key to success is to make a game just like some other successful game.

But the reason the original game was successful was probably because it was original. You won’t be nearly as successful with a copy.

Phil Steinmeyer says that Thomas Warfield is wrong and that casual game developers should stick to established genres and styles or risk failure.

However, I think he’s wrong for the games sub-sector, and that far more first-time game developers fail by being too different from the market leaders rather than too similar.

To throw in my humble two cents, I think developers should work on projects that excite them but are also within reach.

Instead of worrying about finding a game that will sell as well as Bejeweled or a game that will define a new genre; a beginning game programmer should worry about finding an idea that will be inspiring enough to keep them motivated to complete the game project.

I think more beginning developers fail because they never complete a project than any other reason.

Game Developers’ Bill of Rights

The IGDA (International Game Developers Association) has posted a Game Developers’ Bill of Rights on their site.

Some interesting rights are listed. Though I agree with the thoughts behind them. I would think these are all contingent on the contract you sign with your publisher.

For example:

1. The right to full ownership of what we fully create.

While this is certainly a desirable outcome. If you sign this right away in your contract, who’s fault is it? Certainly not the publishers. If you don’t like the deal don’t sign the contract.

Now, I realize that this is a very simplified take on the issue. But is it really? If you don’t like the deal, walk away. Find another publisher, bootstrap the project, or don’t do it.

I face this sort of decision all the time for my day job when doing consulting for clients. 99 times out of 100 they own the work. For the type of work I do, it only makes sense. They aren’t selling the work, they are using it for their internal business process.

But if the project were for sale, you better believe that I would rethink giving away my rights to anything I produce. At the very least I’d want my fair portion of sales.

I understand the frustration that game developers are feeling. The publishers have the upper hand. But, this is the world of the internet. How about self publishing? How about not spending 200 billion dollars on writing that next flop and try self funding?

Turn the market upside down. Get rid of the middle man. Eliminate the publisher, the gatekeeper between you and your customer.

Will you sell as many copies? Maybe not. But you’ll keep more of the profits. My guess is if you do your marketing, you can at least make enough to profit and fund your next project.

Best of all: you get to keep full ownership of what you create.

Advertising in Games

Wired has a write up on the subject.

On Monday, online game provider will begin offering advertisers a way to insert ads within the games themselves. While it’s believed to be the first such invasion in web-based games, it’s only one of a growing number of venues advertisers are using to reach its shifting and fleeting audiences.

It’ll be interesting to see how this affects their customers. Will they keep coming back? Will their numbers continue to grow? Will there be a backlash?

How to Succeed as an Indie Game Developer

Joe Indie has a bullet point list of what to do in order to succeed and survive as an indie game developer.

The points that jumped out at me, were the first two:

  • Run your business like an indie, not a retail publisher
  • Choose your projects like an indie, not a retail publisher.

It surprises me how many indie game developers rely exclusively on the game portals to sell their products. Aren’t the game portals the internet’s equivalent of the retail distributor? Isn’t that what indie’s are trying to move away from?

When I decided to try my hand at this, I instantly imagined myself selling games from my own website, handling all the e-commerce stuff, the marketing, etc.

It’s tempting to farm this out, but how can you expect someone else to market and sell your game(s) with the kind of passion and dedication that you’re capable of? I think every avenue for selling your product should be explored and used, but relying on someone else exclusively sounds like risky business to me.