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Indie-viduals: overcoming three obstacles when making games on your own

Indie Developers should overcome three obstacles when creating a successful game.

Pieter Smal, Blogger

October 21, 2014

5 Min Read

When reading through online indie games forums, the common cycle of scapegoatal self-pity pops up all too frequently: “I make games for my own enjoyment” followed by “No-one wants to play my game!” Of course, there are two sides of the indie coin: some developers make games for their own pleasure whilst others earn their income from the profit generated by their creations. In my support of the indie community, this post shall explore three obstacles that every successful indie game must overcome.


1. A difficult market

According to research [1], only 27% of gamers in the United States are under the age of 18. Thus, a two-third majority of gamers in America judge the games they play from a mature point of view. We may assume that the average gamer has played games before, and therefore have an expectancy of the game based on prior experience. Due to marketing campaigns and media exposure through reviews, larger gaming companies will get preference above indie games. As with domestic products, gamers will be loyal to a developer or publisher that they support.


2. Competing with established developers

Major gaming studios have the resources to create the games they want. Employees of these companies have to manifest the vision of the lead designer or creative director, the person who determines most features of the game. With the culminated experience of 100 or more people, the final product will be of high quality meeting the demands of the audience. The lone indie developer is thus expected to be more talented (and skilled) than an entire team to create a successful game.


3. Limited resources and experience

Often in their 20s, indie developers compete with industry veterans that have 20 years worth experience. Besides programming, graphic design, audio engineering and music composition, the indie developer should also have administrative skills, marketing skills and other productive qualities. With a lack of resources, many indie developers resort to archaic (and nostalgic) game designs that suit their capabilities. The final product is a game that, at best, will be reviewed as mediocre.


What will set your game apart from the mass of other indie games? Compared to major studios, indie developers have one key advantage: the freedom to create creative games. Talking about originality in the film industry, George Lucas laments how big studios undermine the creativity of young film-makers with a preference for popular taste. [2] When we compare the film and gaming industry, it would seem that major companies control their products discarding creative thinking. Most AAA games created today are based on foolproof formulas that gamers are familiar with: cash-cow games familiar to the player’s frame of reference. Because indie developers do not have the pressure to sustain 150+ employees, the opportunity for gaming invention is endless. Despite the opportunity for originality, most indie developers fall back on “tried and tested” recipes for video games. There are thousands of arcade, platformer and side-scrolling games available, recycled from depleted popular games.


True originality does not exist as an autonomous entity: all “new” ideas are an exploration that developed from available material. Commenting on the origin of original ideas, Steve Johnson suggests that connections with other people stimulate creativity: “Chance favours the connected mind.” [3] The indie developer should thus be motivated to synthesize novel ideas with the combined knowledge of other field experts, such as graphic artists, designers and composers. With the necessary input in campaigning and marketing [4], a novel game could elevate the indie developer to financial prosperity.


Successful indie games combine established gaming genres with inventive approaches to material: games like Braid, Fez, Gesundheid! and Journey are not original autonomously, but the combination of creative ideas appeals to the adventurous gamer. Gesundheid! is a prime example, where a pig sneezes snot to move and manipulate various monsters – an experience compared to playing chess by yourself. With hand-drawn animations and thematic music, indie developer Matt Hammill created a game that appeals to a broad audience.

A screenshot from Gesundheit!


The romantic ideal of independent success rings in the hearts of all indie developers, yet there are few who achieve it. Because you do not labour under a deadline or under the iron fist of popular taste, you have complete creative carte blanche. Ponder this: what is your creative contribution to the gaming world?



1.Entertainment Software Association. 2014. 2014 Sales, demographics and sales data: essential

facts about the computer and video game industry. [Online] Available at:

http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/esa_ef_2014.pdf [Accessed 10 October 2014].


2. CBS News. 2014. George Lucas on what's wrong with the movie business. [Online] Available at:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/star-wars-director-george-lucas-on-changing-movie-industry-and-studios/ [Accessed 21 October 2014].


3. RiverheadBooks. 2010. Where good ideas come from by Steven Johnson. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NugRZGDbPFU [Accessed 21 October 2014].


4. Taylor, P. 2009. Building Buzz for Indie Games. [Online] Available at: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132506/building_buzz_for_indie_games.php [Accessed 21 October 2014].

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