8 min read

To be an Indie Developer

An "indie" term is very popular in the game industry. I have some thoughts about it, and I'd like to share them with the public.

To be, or not to be… an Indie Developer?

You probably would like to know what this post is about? A terminology, a definition or just some rough thoughts about indie(s)? I’d like to share with you what comes to my mind in term of developers who are working alone on their titles (like me) ;)
Indie Developer

Two major items, as a “foreword” for this article:

  • I’m writing this article from iOS development perspective – I can assume that some elements can fit to other platforms (e.g. PC or Android) but I don’t have any experience with them.
  • Everything below are my “thoughts” and I don’t want to offend anyone ;)

Let’s begin with THE definition from WIKI:

Independent video game development is the process of creating video games without the financial support of a video game publisher.

I thought exactly the same when I’ve started developing my game! Is this a perfect definition? I guess… no! Not anymore! So what was changed or where is a difference between the right and the real definition of indie developer? But give me a second before I’ll try to answer for this question…

More or less two years ago I talked to my friend (who was a programmer) about iPhone’s phenomenon. The final conclusion for me was: everybody can develop a game on iPhone and … earn some money! I always wanted to “create” a game but I thought that this industry is far-far-away, out of my range, but after this two-hours-dicsussion I realized that I was wrong!
I bought and read two books “App Savvy” and “iPhone App Entrepreneur” - WOW! This is it – I’ll try! No! I’ll do it!
I didn’t even know there is something like an indie development (indie developer/indie games/or just “indie” term)! I started browsing Internet deeply and my knowledge was growing day by day. I discovered tons of sites where everyone was using a single term… indie! I kept smiling – I’m not alone! I’ll be part of this industry – indie development!

As I mentioned earlier, something has changed… I’m still an indie (in a pure/original definition) but right now when I read or hear information about new game developed by an indie developer I’m asking myself: is this still an indie?

The thing is: lots of developers singed an agreement with… a publisher!

It doesn’t matter if this is the biggest or a small one, but this is still a publisher. So what about developers’ independency? Did they lose it by “an accident” or “on purpose” or… they just don’t care about it anymore? If yes, why?

Only one thing comes to my mind – sales. Right now to be succeeded, indie developers have to put a lot of effort into marketing, to build a proper and reasonable PR to increase a chance for large sales (/incomes). They have to spend their valuable time on promotion instead of development. So the biggest advantage of heaving a publisher (behind developer’s back) is a time-saving! Developer can be focused on the game and in the most cases he/she can “forget” about mess around marketing – because someone else takes care of this. What can be a price for this? Do developers have to “listen” a publisher and implement/change game’s features according to its suggestions or they keep the independency in this area, but they have to “only” pay a fee (or share incomes)? As I know, it depends on publisher and of course an agreement.

So even if there isn’t something like a financial support of a game publisher directly, they support a developer indirectly – time is money, but of course this is not for free. Is this worth it? I can imagine that hiring (only) PR company can cost a lot of money and potentially marketing’s impact can be smaller than cooperating with a publisher, but… On the other hand, there are games published by “abc” or “xyz” company without a success – so having a publisher doesn’t mean “win-win” strategy.

Probably some people can argue with this but this is not a point of my conclusion…

What about some big gamedev companies that don’t have to sing any agreement with a publisher and they are big ”enough” to release and publish their games by themselves?

Take a look at Epic Games and ChAIR Entertainment Group (which is a part of Epic’s family) – they have never used any publisher because they didn’t have to! Are they an indie developer? Or should we consider Epic’s finances as an investor in their project(s)? Ok, we can assume that Epic is a publisher for Chair’s game(s), but what if Epic releases an iOS game by themselves? They will publish it by themselves, so according to WIKI’s definition (and my thoughts) they ARE a part of indie development! Why not? They are independent in 100%! Surprised? ;)

I haven’t done deep research in this area yet, but I can assume that some gamedev companies (that worked with publishers on AAA titles in the past) are participating in iOS development right now. So in this “area” of game industry they can be completely independent. They have a brand, they already now how to go through PR strategy, they have resources and enough money to ship a game without a publisher – easy win!

To be clear – I’m not against publishers, I only want to clarify which part of the indie development is… independent.

Maybe everyone is independent in an early stage of development, when most important ideas change into a real game / gameplay, but if we are thinking about a marketing crescendo we have to redefine the “indie” term.
I assume that still there is a passion in indie developers‘ hearts and I hope those who are cooperating with publisher don’t lose it till the end. Shipping one game with a publisher doesn’t mean that developer is obligated to go the same way with an another project! He/she can go back to the full independency – if this is not against signed agreement ;)

Whatever happens, I’m an indie developer, even if I’m a woman (from a small country – like Poland) who didn’t work in the game industry – till now.

I’m independent in xy-percentage. 90%, 75% or only 50%? I hired two contractors – 2D Artist and Audio Director (I paid them using private budget) and I “have” a programmer (my friend) who is doing everything by himself for free! I designed the game and I’m executing the development using my savings for this (to buy software, hardware and to pay for assets), but still… I’m independent developer! All decisions are mine. All mistakes are mine too, but I hope I will not make too many of them ;)

Do I need a publisher?

I’ve never thought about this… till now ;) I have enough money (and time!) to release the game, so in my opinion I don’t need any additional support (there is a chance that I’m wrong). Right now I’m focused on the game, which still is WIP but the first beta tests are coming soon. I’m splitting my time for “development” and of course for marketing – reading a lot about PR elements and of course about indie community (there are tons of sites and forums where I can find valuable information).

I must admit that I’m in a comfortable situation – I have a regular job, so there is no time pressure, but… I have to “sacrifice” my private time (very often I’m working till late night, like 2-3AM, energy drinks rocks!), but there are indie developers who are working ONLY on their indie projects. They live off the profit from their titles! So I can believe that they want to decrease a risk of EPIC fail and they use publishers (or investors) as a “support” – in this case this is completely reasonable.

If I feel that I need a support in marketing, I’ll look for a good PR company. Even if it costs, I’ll save time, so I think this can be the best solution during no-time-stage. I don’t believe in a miracle, that my game will be #1 on AppStore.

So where is a difference between me and other indies?

Only a publisher? YES, I think so. In this case, should we redefine WIKI’s definition of independent video game development? I don’t know, maybe it unnecessary – the community can have a private opinion about this. For me, the most important message is… I want to be an indie developer – a women who has own vision, own design and … own game!


Thank you for reading this and of course… feel free to comment!

Good luck with your indie projects!



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