Ichiro Lambe has learned a lot of hard lessons since he founded independent studio Dejobaan (AaaAAAAAaaaaA: A Reckless Disregard For Gravity) over twelve years ago.
At a talk at the Indie Game Summit this week at GDC China, Lambe whittled these down to the nine common pitfalls that most indie studios are in danger of facing.
1. Starting too largeLambe notes, dryly, admitting that he's fallen into some of the same traps with his indie titles: "People see games like World Of Warcraft or Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare… and [believe] they can create an MMO in 9 months." Being overambitious with scoping is a classic indie failing. So why not pick a smaller game?
2. Creating that one perfect gameLambe suggests that when you have a game in your heart that you simply must make, you can sometimes over-reach technically or conceptually, because the idea isn't scoped correctly.
His advice: "Step back and consider all the other games you might create" - but don't necessarily go for a grand slam first.
3. Manufacturing your game just to sellLambe cautioned that after he had success with a Palm Pilot title, he ended up making a large amount of other simple casual titles, and he believes his lack of passion rubbed off and ended up with lackluster results. It's only when you inject a certain amount of passion into the process that you may find a middle ground.
4. Thinking tactically vs. strategicallyA lot of developers think of things tactically and individually - switching between game design, PR, and customer service in a very monolithic fashion. But if you think of your overall developer brand, you might want to do each task in a strategic brand-specific way - maybe by using videos to reply to text-based comments on a Rock Paper Shotgun article, as Dejobaan joyously did.
5. Failing to planIt's easy, as an indie, to muddle along in a variety of inefficient ways. But when you get it together -- as Dejobaan hopes they have with its upcoming Drunken Robot Pornography, where they talked to Steam early and got extensive Steam Workshop integration for item construction into the title -- you'll save yourself a lot of headache down the road.
6. Going it soloAlthough you certainly can go at it alone, you'll have nobody to bounce ideas off of. Even as a small studio, if you don't speak to other small independent game studios, Lambe cautioned: "You're missing out."
It turns out that your fellow indies do actually care about you, and they aren't competitive - they are happy to counsel and help and suggest.
7. Imaginary constraintsLambe joked that many developers think, "'This is how we're supposed to make a game.'
"But let's do something different. There really are no constraints in the game industry, and you shouldn't be afraid of wacky concepts," something Dejobaan often shows with its odd game titles.
8. Ignoring relevant focus areasA lot of developers simply say "I am creating a game to create a game". They don't worry about interfacing with journalists, they don't worry about PR, and as a result, things don't go well.
You can be creative on your own, but do have to think - at least a little bit - about what the outside world will be interested in, Lambe concludes.
9. Falling in love with your workAn important final rule is relatively simple: "Don't fall in love with it so deeply that you are ignorant about its faults."
Lambe gives the example of a game trailer that might have a 10 second animated 3D logo at the beginning, rather than actual gameplay. You can tell the person who made it was delighted by it, but they are, perhaps, lacking perspective. You need to ask your peers, and you need to show the game to the public through development, Lambe concludes. Only through this will you love your work, but not fall in love with it.