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.

The Escapist on The Games Industry

The Escapist has two great articles on the state of games in 2005.

The first, Death to the Games Industry, Part I covers game development and publishing for the big guys, the AAA titles. It covers topics like the problems of dealing with publishers, the technology arms race, and cautions us about games looking and playing the same since everyone started licensing the same engines and technology (I wrote something similar in my Common Component Syndrome post).

The second covers the Indie game developer: Casual Fortunes, Getting Rich Slowly witch Casual Games. The article covers many interesting points, drops plenty of indie developer names, and mentions some game developer web sites. But, the most interesting item to me were the market numbers.

The 125-page IGDA 2005 Casual Games White Paper pegs the American casual market at $600 million in 2004 and projects growth to $2 billion by 2008. (Source: “US Online PC Gaming Forecast & Analysis, 2004-2008: Growth Continues,” December 2004, by business think-tank IDC.)

The piece goes on to quote some developers and estimates that some of these guys are making a very comfortable living — some even millions.

These are encouraging numbers; they certainly help support my previous post on the Mac Gaming Market.

Company Name Update

Today, I decided on a company name, acquired the domain, and filed a “Doing Business As” or DBA.

I filed for the DBA through the internet firm Legal Zoom. It only cost $124 and they file everything, publish the announcement in a local paper and do a name search. Much cheaper than when I filed through a local attorney for my original corporation. Hopefully, the paperwork will go through okay.

Once everything is compeleted and I receive the paperwork in the mail, I’ll announce the new company name and URL. At that point I also intend to hunt down a graphic designer to put together a logo and possibly some other graphics for the website.

Company Name Decisions

I’ve been struggling with a seemingly important decision recently: the name of my company. The problem isn’t quite as simple as just what to name a new company.

Currently, I operate my software consulting and web hosting business through a Schedule-S corporation. This works much like an LLC type of company. My company has been in business for over five years and I’ve been reasonably successful. But, the target audience of the company up to this point has been primarily larger companies.

The issue becomes, do I use my current company and mix business focus or do I create a new one? If I keep the current one, do I keep the name? It’s not a bad name, its just not a strong memorable and image evoking type of name. It was chosen as a safe name with an available domain. Since choosing the name, I’ve realized how important the name is in establishing an image and brand.

Mixing the market focus for a company seems dangerous as well. Having a corporate looking website offering .NET development services and Linux web hosting probably won’t sell very many Mac games. Additionally, a Mac game focussed site isn’t going to instill my seriousness in providing .NET services to large financial companies. Now, I’d prefer to give up the consulting and other parts of my business, but realistically, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

The thought about creating a brand new company to concentrate on shareware games and software development is very attractive. The thought of managing the paperwork, the taxes, the fees, and the headaches of two companies does not sound appealing.

Unfortunately, I feel as though this is one of those decisions that is important enough that I need to make it very soon. I don’t want to announce product or start marketing campaigns and then need to change names and consequently domains.

Thankfully, the majority of the consulting work I do comes by word of mouth or through third party agents. Most of the time the actual client will not visit my website. So if it was selling games and not consulting, it probably would not be the end of the world. But, on the other hand I do get the occasional new client by way of the web site.

Another approach I’ve been thinking about is filing a “Doing Business As” for my corporation. From what I understand, this would allow me to operate the company under two or more names. The actual company name and a fictitious name that could be more game oriented. I need to do more research on the legal and accounting aspects of this approach.

Now, I realize that I should talk to my accountant about this, but unfortunately I’m looking for a new one.

Update: Since posting this I’ve done a bit more research. Once again, Google is my friend. I found the following articles that describe and define the whole “Doing Business As” concept.

Doing Business As (DBA) a Fictitious Business Name

Google Answers: Legal Alias?

City of Boston: City Clerk Business Certificate

The Mac Gaming Market

Thanks to radioact1ve for passing on a link to this article over on Next Generation in the comments section of my recent Fruitful Weekend post:

The Evolution of Mac Gaming
by Christian Svensson

Aspyr director of development, Glenda Adams, sheds light on the challenges and opportunities facing game developers and publishers on the Mac.

The article covers some interesting economics on porting PC games to the MacIntosh gaming market. Glenda Adams throws out some intriguing figures about how many copies they need to sell in order to make a profit and how they select which titles they think will reach these numbers.

Glenda Adams estimates that they will sell only 3 – 5 percent of what a title will sell on the PC side of the world. She goes on to say the following:

“This is one of the reasons Aspyr has focused on the really AAA titles like Sims 2 and Doom 3, since it is difficult to make money on a game that might only sell 5-10K units on the Mac.”

5-10K units? This may be peanuts to Aspyr, but this sounds to me like there is an enormous market opportunity for small game developers and publishers for the Mac. If a game sells for $20 through internet only sales and sells even 5000 units over it’s lifetime, that’s still $100,000. Maybe, I’m missing something… but if targeting games that aren’t in the AAA classification keeps me from directly competing with Aspyr and the like and still leaves room for $100k per title… this sounds okay to me.

How many times have we heard the same complaint, “there aren’t enough games for the Mac”? Well, fellow aspiring Mac game developers… maybe it’s time we stand up to the challenge and more importantly, the opportunity.

[Update: added a link to radioact1ve’s web site]

Power of Passion

I’m amazed at what I can get done when I’m passionate about something.

I’m an independent software contract developer during the day. The majority of work I perform for clients is firmly planted in the corporate financial world. It pays pretty well, but I find it extremely boring and unfulfilling. I spend many hours a week developing software that will make or save other people and corporations a ton of money, but these projects rarely inspire me. Infact many days I wish I could leave the industry all together. Maybe it’s the mystical burn-out that I’ve heard so much about, but I believe it’s just the lack of interest, inspiration and passion.

Since I decided to take on this game development project and to write about it here, I’ve found an incredible amount of energy, inspiration, and enjoyment. In a word, passion.

I routinely jump out of bed in the middle of the night to jot down game design ideas. I can’t wait to wake up in the morning to work on my design documents, event though I hate writing them for my clients’ projects. Every Friday, I can’t bear to sit and look at C# code on a Windows PC another minute, but as soon as I get home, hug my wife hello, I attack my Mac keyboard to either record game ideas I had during the day or to tackle another Objective-C programming tutorial. I used to have nightmares about corporate code, now I dream about solutions to how I’m going tackle my projects. At work I hate my incredibly uncomfortable Aeron chair, at home I love my Aeron chair that has been set just perfectly for my body shape.

There’s an amazing abundance of power and energy coming from me that is all generated from the passion and excitement of working on my own software projects. Every day I feel my momentum get stronger. All this makes me feel like I can’t fail. The steps to success feel like they are all laid out right in front of me, I just need to pick them up and put them in the right order.

Obviously, I have not succeed yet — far from it. But when “experts” say follow your passion, do what you love; I believe they are right.

Indie Game Developer: Net War

I just recently found another indie game developer toiling away at his project and blogging about it.

Carpe Delirium is working on an online game called Net War built entirely with JavaScript to run in a browser. His graphics are simple, but nicely stylized and he has put together a very cool range indicator when a soldier is selected for movement or battle.

I hope he sticks with his project because he has a great start so far.