It’s hard to make a living making games.
It was early 2012. I had my first commercial game, Closure, coming out soon on PS3. We had followed all the common knowledge indie advice of the time, get on a console, get on steam, win an igf award, go to conventions, get press, make a good game, win awards, all that fun stuff. All the advice was “do this, and you’ll sell great and become millionaires.” So we did that. And then we released. And we didn’t become millionaires, not even close. It didn’t even sell enough to pay off the debts we accrued during development! We struggled for a while trying to figure out where we went wrong, but we didn’t just give up. After the steam release and humble bundle in the following year, the game had managed to pay for itself, and my next game (Bombernauts, which hasn’t broken even yet, but will eventually), and probably at least some part of the next game after.
See, the problem was, all that advice was coming from people who launched their game in 2010 (or earlier), and importantly had their success in 2010. Back when XBLA was the required platform (cause of all the 2008 successes), get on xbla and you’re set! Or a few years later, get on Steam and you’re set! So you listen to all the success stories and start following in their footsteps, but so do 1000 other people who heard the same success stories. So by 2012 it was all outdated. Platformers weren’t “in” anymore. XBLA wasn’t a powerhouse platform. Steam was getting crowded (you couldn’t even get a day to yourself for your launch anymore!). Pretty soon the narrative was “oh man Youtube is huge now, just get youtube coverage and you’re set!”.
But the truth is always, by the time you hear about a success story in the game industry, whatever they did to achieve that success is outdated. If you want to emulate that you needed to start 2 years earlier. The industry changes faster than it takes to make a good game. So it always seems like it's more difficult now than it was 2 years ago, because WE KNOW WHAT IT TOOK 2 years ago. We have all the successes and failures to look back on. In 2011 who could have predicted that Let’s Plays would be the next big thing? Well a couple games did and they reaped the benefits of it.
There’s another point people keep bringing up and it’s “the flood”. Oh there’s so many people making games now it’s hard. There have always been tons of people making games, and there have always been a giant amount of people making nothing doing it. In 2004, Newgrounds was getting like 300 new games a day. Breaking out of that into making full games for money was super difficult because the dev tools just weren’t there, and being able to physically print discs just wasn’t possible for indies. In 2010, it was getting easier to make “real” games, but the platform holders were super strict about who they would allow on their platform. Getting on XBLA didn’t MAKE your game successful, microsoft just only accepted games they knew would be successful! Its 2015 now. The tools are great. It’s extremely easy to just “make a game” now. Platforms are open. It’s extremely easy to get on a platform. Now the challenge is getting an audience.
It’s a different challenge every few years. It’s never easy. It never will be easy. By the time someone figures out what works now, it’ll be outdated advice. If you’re not interested in a challenge, don’t enter the games industry. I’m here cause I love it.