Navigating the minefield of indie development: An outsider’s perspective.

An exploration of the indie dev industry, the hurdles and success stories.


As an academic I’ve become accustomed to a bit of healthy competition, and the challenge of distinguishing myself from a wealth of equally well equipped and  skilled individuals is not one I shy away from. The minefield of indie games development however is an entirely different kettle of fish. Here I offer a personal experience and an outsider’s perspective of the indie games industry.

The Indie crowd

During my short service voluntarily promoting for a start-up indie dev company (Zyloware) , I’ve had the fortune of meeting many skilled and talented game devs.  Although versed in many different disciplines (artists, programmers, web designers, 3D animators) I’ve been surprised and humbled to note that all appear to share a common passion and willingness to offer help and advice. Given the increasingly competitive nature of indie development I find this level of altruism both inspiring and heart-warming. I’m confident that the tendency of indie devs to assist each other and offer advice will result in higher quality and more successful games making it onto the market; ultimately raising the profile of indie games to the consumer. Certainly this will be of benefit to the entire industry. Little known networking events such as Game Dev North facilitate this exchange of expertise and I very much hope it continues!  


Overcoming mount improbable and the success story myth:

Apart from the logistics of attempting to financially support yourself and at the same time spend every feasible minute creating the next game industry defining title, there’s the issue of acquiring the funds to develop your next masterpiece.
This is where the crowd funding initiatives such as Kickstarter sweep in to save the day. Games such as “super meat boy” set the bar high for many indie developers and the web is full of inspiring statistics and success stories of people “600%ing their Kickstarter targets in 4 days”. Our team have found the reality of Kickstarter success to be a very different picture. 


Our campaign is likely to face fierce competition not only from other start up indie devs but from already successful organisations riding on the trend.  The latter is a notion I have particular trouble with.


I think the idea of the public donating money in order to support new companies and products they want to see on the market is fantastic. This is the kind of stuff that helps realize deserving indie dev’s dreams. Don’t get me wrong;  It makes sense for established companies to reduce the financial risk of creating their next title by sourcing external funds rather than reinvesting profits from previous titles, but I am swayed by the notion that this isn’t really “kick-starting” at all; more “kick-capitalising” on trend that is already stretched. 
Added to the cauldron is the increasingly bad press Kickstarter, has received due to campaigns failing to deliver their products in a timely fashion, and also the issue of overcrowding: kick-starter success becomes less of a developers dream and more of a logistical nightmare. What’s undeniable is that a well thought through campaign with realistic goals and interesting rewards will aid your success, all you need now is masterful marketing strategy. Sorry? Marketing strategy? 


Marketing: the final hurdle

It’s no secret that a strong advertising campaign makes a world of difference to a Kickstarter campaign’s success, but with a limited budget, many start-up companies are priced out of gaining the reach that a game requires to really make it big. A study conducted by AppPromo shows that 52% of game developers set aside $0 for marketing despite 91% of them believing that it was crucial to their app’s success.  This might be more understandable when you consider that many indie devs have a budget of zero in the first place. This is one of the reasons I’m tempted to agree with Martin Pichlmair, who argues that long term funding platforms might be a better alternative for indie devs (The problem with Kickstarter. And a proposed solution).  Nia Wearn (senior lecturer on games development) comments on the teaching of games marketing: 
“Analysing what tactics games have used to sell copies and reach target markets, and what could be applicable to students games is easily my favourite module to teach the 3rd years – even if we could never hope to cover everything as it moves so quickly. It’s this speed of change that always makes me glad I’m stood at the front of the class reflecting on the exciting changes in the industry, and not in the trenches trying to keep up!”

So in conclusion…

Is it really possible for a start-up indie dev company to make it big in the industry, or are the hurdles I’ve discussed simply too big to overcome? I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see! Street Heroes launches on Kickstarter very soon, and I sincerely hope that the teams hard work and dedication leads to success!


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