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The Unsustainability of Starting in Independent Game Development

You know what gets me down? The fact that it’s hard or impossible to start from zero, make games, sell them and earn enough to cover your next one.

You know what gets me down? The fact that it’s hard or impossible to start from zero, make games, sell them and earn enough to cover your next one.

It all comes down to this graph from an interesting survey on iOS gamedev:

“What is really interesting to me is that developers do seem to generate more revenue over time (on average). This should be encouraging if you really want to make games, but your first game was a flop. Fear not! 50% of developers who have only released one game made under $500 on that game. However, the more games developers had released, the more per-game average revenue they seem to generate.”

Fear not? This looks motivating, but it really is scary as shit. What it means is that what I’ve always dreamed of — starting from zero, doing what I love and slowly making my way up — is impossible (unless you’re lucky and you hit a jackpot app right off the bat). Why so? Because it’s impossible to make a game on a $500 budget. It’s still hard to make a game with a $5,000 budget, which is as much as you can realistically expect for each of your first five games, but at least we’re getting somewhere. If you’re really frugal, you might be able to live on it for 4-5 months in an European capital. Or move to the third world and get twice as much time to make your game with that money. Or live with your parents.

It just doesn’t pay off enough. If you want to make games for a living, you have to start off with something else to get the initial savings up and have a big enough reserve, to get you through the first few releases that probably won’t cover your expenses. And that fucking sucks!

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