WAYS TO MAKE A LIVING AS INDIE GAME DEVELOPER
According to the research done by Mike Rose, an indie game developer and a creator of a bike downhill game Descenders, in February 2018 about 850 games were released on Steam, and about 82% of their developers didn’t make a minimum wage. That’s quite a lot. And yes, as you might have noticed on this very example, being an indie game developer and moneymaking doesn’t necessarily go well together.
Often, students in our game development course ask us about game dev job prospects and earning potential. However, the truth is, If you’re an indie game developer you have to accept the fact that your revenues won’t come easy and if they do, they won’t be stable all the time. You are not granted with a 100% of safety that the money will be there because the game market is fluid and the people’s demands change over time. But there is also a pretty straightforward answer to why do rich people get richer and why poor people don’t make money. It is because some people learnt how to generate money better than others.
Of course, we can all complain about how cruel the gamedev industry is and how publishers, merciless deadlines and thresholds suck out our creativity, but in the end, it’s all about our own capability of getting a right exposure. If you want to make games and want to make money out of them, and if you can boast of certain skills that others don’t have, maybe it’s a high time to push your game into the public arena because nobody will do that for you. But it’s not always about skills. It’s also about capability of making use of an opportunity.
Without further ado, here’s a list of several ideas of how you can promote your video game, give your game exposure and make a living by creating indie video games.
RELEASE YOUR PROJECT
If you’re running an indie gamedev studio, you have to be prepared that not everything will go as planned. The graphics of your game may be too rudimentary for your liking, you decided to cut your content because you’re running out of resources and a leading voice actor suddenly went on holidays right before the recording session. Things may go bad and things will go bad. You just have to deal with it. Get ready for the worst because in gamedev you won’t tread on a soft path. Despite all these setbacks, people tend to release their games even if they appear to be far from their original concept. But why they do so?
Releasing your project doesn’t have to be a planned idea, but rather a necessity. Of course, you may want to polish your game over and over… and OVER again, but in the end you will never release it. Prolonging your release date is not a great way to get noticed, because people will eventually lose their hype. After all, there are not many people that want to wait years for an indie game to get released. Engines are getting older, people lose their interest and the game market is fluid. Many budding indie game developers usually publish their games even if they are not fully happy of the outcome, because they want to get noticed and make people hear about them as soon as possible.
The moment you decide to release your game is the moment you’re making other people hear about you and that opens you a way for a lot of possibilities. You’re given a chance to connect with other indie game developers, learn from them and share your knowledge and remarks. And who knows, perhaps bigger corporations will eventually notice your passion and skills and invite you to the table for a little chat?
Apart from that, remember that releasing your game helps you get acquainted with all the challenges that every budding indie game developer has to cope with. Not only you have a chance to learn about particular gamedev tools, plugins, licences and engines, but also you learn how to work under a time pressure, and if you have a gamedev studio, you hone your interpersonal and team management skills. The more often you will release your games, the more acquainted you will be with the industry and the chance that you will get noticed by the publishers, bigger companies and most of all players will be adequately higher.
SPEAK WITH THE PUBLISHERS
Despite of what people tend to think of publishers as vultures who merely seek to rip you from your opportunities, vision and creativity, they may be very helpful on your road of a budding indie game developer. To make a game of your dreams, or at least a game you will be proud of, it will require from you a certain money backup to supply you with all the necessary tools, including software, assets and even paying the voice actors. However, let’s assume that the things did not go too well for you and you’re not crowdfunding your project. Where will you get your money from then? The answer is of course publishers.
At the beginning of your journey, you can expect an average amount ranging from $20.000 to $40.000 of money backup from your publishers for your first game. It’s not much if you consider all of your needs, but it’s definitely enough to help you lift off your game and make you break into public, and after all this is what you should do in the first place.
The publishers will of course take a major share of your earnings, which is usually from 20 to 50%. It’s not bad, but it’s not a great result either. That’s the reality of indie game developers, especially if they are making their first project. Instead, think about the whole endeavour as of a springboard that in time will help you lift yourself in the industry. Remember that the more you will be recognised in the industry, the bigger chance you will be able to dictate business terms that will be more appealing to you.
KEEP YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY SAFE
There may be a moment in which you will think whether selling your assets, ideas or the general intellectual property to third parties is a good idea or not. Well, it’s not and here’s the reason why. Your publishers and investors will still reap a major benefit of shipping your game on a variety of platforms, including Steam and GOG, and that already will be a lot of money. The moment you get rid of any side avenues of how to make money on your game is the moment when you may end up in a gridlock that will slowly become your moneymaking downfall.
The options we’re talking about are majorly the copyrights for your game that you own. These copyrights allow you to do with your brand whatever you desire. With them you can design and sell your T-shirts, gadgets, mugs and a whole variety of stuff with your game’s or company’s logo, characteristic objects and features. These may not be high revenues and it won’t be any number remotely close to a regular salary, but it will definitely be a good additional income that you can establish.
Remember that the capabilities of exploiting your intellectual property come with a number of games you have created and which you own. The more games you have on your own, the more intellectual property possibilities you have at hand. The advice here is to work hard and release games as many as possible, even if you’re not sure of their success. After all, you’re still learning and you have little to lose at this point, so keep working and keep your assets safe.
…OR SELL IT?
Apart from having a passion for games, if have a particular set of skills when it comes to game making, including creating artwork, moulding 3D models or programming, you may want to think of selling your work on a specially designed platform for this purpose, including Unity Asset Store, or Foundat.io/n asset store. It is a place where game developers can buy and sell assets, including music they composed, 3D models and scripts. But it can also be a place where you can make additional funds to support your revenues.
Unity Asset Store provides you with a lot of freedom of employing your own working on the stock as well as buying yourself different assets if needs be. There are, however, tons of stuff that you can find across many Unity-based games what, in the end, creates a risk that your game will be somewhat similar to other titles on the market. This is why, if don’t want your game share certain similarities to the majority of other games based on a given engine, you have to be careful when buying premade assets.
Game assets that you can buy on multiple online stores certainly are good looking, but the looks is not always the case with indie games. Being a minimalist is in fashion, not only when it comes to the lifestyle, but the trend applies to games as well. As long as you have skills to do things on your own or means to get original assets, don’t rely on premades. The fundamental rule of indie games is that they are meant to evoke more profound emotions by showing less on the screen and the more often you will stick with that trend, the higher chance that your game will be able to compete with triple-A titles on multiple levels.
More and more employers decide to rely on freelancers rather than hire people on the regular 7-8 hour long basis. Not only it is because freelancers are generally cheaper to maintain, but also because they are more flexible and better reachable. As long as they have stable Internet connection, flexibility allows them to work freely from every corner of the world, and that fact positively impacts their creativity.
With the constantly growing need for freelancers across the world, it may be a good idea to try your hand at establishing a freelance business as a budding indie game developer. You can do that easily on one of the leading sites made for the purpose of working remotely, including Upwork and Fiverr.
Just like in any other artistic niche, as a budding freelance game developer, it’s best to choose a field of expertise in which you want to hone your competence. It can be any sort of artwork, including dialogue writing, concept art making and creating 3D models. And if you don’t have artistic skills in your grasp, don’t worry, because freelancing also favours scientific minds, such as programmers.
As you improve your skills in a given field, it’s a good idea to take your passion into the public and further into conferences where you will meet people from the industry, including other indie game developers who also work as freelancers, share thoughts with them and exchange ideas. Perhaps, one day, you might give it a shot at joining forces with them and establishing your own, first gamedev company?
CONSIDER MAKING YOUR GAME PREMIUM
Once you manage to actually create your game, it’s time to think through an appealing, yet super risky option of increasing your revenues by introducing a premium option to your game. It is appealing because you are provided with a regular income based on in-game microtransactions. It is risky, however, because during the last decade, many game developers who employed a premium model to their games, pretty much regretted their decision. Generally speaking, people don’t like a premium model and prefer to have a full access to the content without the need of paying additionally for particular DLCs.
Many game creators, including Android and iOS app developers rely on a so-called “freemium” model, which allows the players to have an access to the game for free, but mainly to its standard version. In order to get the full version of the product, people usually have to pay with the real money or collect a tremendously high amount of particular in-game goods to unlock the content.
When it comes to premium or freemium models there is not a single good answer whether to employ them or not in a game. If you desperately need money or you simply don’t want to wait for your brand to develop, you may take your chances by introducing one of these models. You have to remember, however, that both of them are not too popular amongst the players, so your positive expectations may quickly backfire at you with a full strength.
MAKE A PROPER “HYPE”
Before you will actually think of making serious money on your game, you have to build a certain credibility of your endeavour. Whether it is crowdfunding, getting attention from publishers and making contacts with other game developers, none of these will be successful if you didn’t make a proper hype for you game. In simple words, people won’t buy your game if they won’t know who you are. So, if you’re new to the industry, don’t be afraid of testing the ground. Go to the public and see if you like it and if other like your product and only then, you will have to worry about the state of your revenues.