So You Want to Be an Indie Developer?

I get now and then questions where people ask me to “help them to become a game producer or developer”. These who have asked might have studied some subject like math and started to take programming courses and are interested to do games, but don’t know where to start.

What to do to be an indie game producer
The simplest – and perhaps the most efficient – answer I can give for those who want to be indie game developers is: Start making a game. That’s extremely simple answer, but you cannot be a game maker unless you make games. I’ve seen people dreaming about making games, planning about making games, talking about making games – but sometimes these guys don’t get any further than that. They have big plans and dreams, but for some reason they don’t like to get their hands dirty – and actually start writing code. We everybody have ideas, but unless one starts to put them in action ideas are worth nothing.

Alright, so let’s suppose you agree at least about the part that you need to start doing something to get anything finished. Then the next questions pops up: But how?

How you become an indie game producer
Luckily there’s plenty of resources available. When I first asked “How can I get 3D head moving on the screen?” I got guided that “you should pick C++ and then create a rendering engine, that shouldn’t take too long” and I thought “oh dear, that will take ages…”. Luckily there are alternatives for starting your game development. You can pick a ready made engines and use them. You don’t need to do everything by yourself. If full games seems difficult, you can always mod games.

Couple of quick recommendations for engines (at least to check out) are: Garage Games and Blitz. Torque game engine by GG is recommended by many developers, and so is Blitz3D/BlitzMax.

Who can help you become an indie game producer
Being “indie” doesn’t mean doing everything by yourself or talking to nobody. One of the best (and free) sites for indie (and especially casual game development) is Indiegamer.com which has a huge collection of threads and an established community to help you out. Besides Indiegamer, you should also check out GameDev.net. Association of Shareware Professionals has a good reputation and is a valuable source for all indies to consider – and their newsgroups and ASPect newsletter is filled with valuable information. They have yearly membership fee. GameProducer.net Insiders – set up by me – is a new community of game producer who want to succeed together. There’s a fee for those who want to join the Insiders.

There are plenty of other forums available as well and I recommend googling for more information. Engine specific forums are good places to learn and get help.

How much indies make money?
Most of the indies make nothing. Many indies are just doing games for fun, without ever profiting from them. There’s a big list of games and sales statistics available which can help you how much some indie games can sell, but you have to remember that these are games by other developers. Whatever others make doesn’t guarantee that you could make as much as they do, but it also doesn’t mean you couldn’t do better. If you want to find out how much indie games can sell, I don’t recommend taking debt and quitting your day job. I recommend (for most people – especially for those who are asking “How much indies make money”) making a small game part time and start selling it.

Was that all? Anything else I need to know?
I don’t think there’s a single indie who would know everything. The indies I’ve met seem to keep their eyes and mind open for opportunities and are learning something new every day. I recommend watching television, playing games, reading books. Books about programming are okay, but I recommend reading also books from different areas outside game development and programming like psychology, fiction (Terry Pratchett is naturally a must read), religions, philosophy, marketing, sales, business, project management, productivity, customer service, ecommerce and so on. There’s also audio tapes, blogs and – of course – actual game development that will help indies to learn new things.

Where to go next?
If you want to get more insight on being an indie game developer, check out these entries. These posts are all part of the ‘So you want to be an Indie Developer?’ blog project.

Enjoy.

Ask Game Producer: Is Bad Support Better Than No Support at All?

Question:

Is buggy support of a feature or even an entire application better than no support at all?

I’d argue that the minute you release your software to anyone other than the developers that actually have a hand in it’s development, you have an obligation to your target audience to provide bug-free functionality. Barring only perhaps, an Open source project that anyone could bugfix.

Answer:
If I understood correctly, this was a question whether little (or poor) support is better than no support at all.

I think one of the key strengths of indies is the fact that we are “close to players”. That’s why I think the application should be provided bug free, and the customer support should be handled properly, rather than “doing something sometimes”. If you give an image about yourself as a game producer who listens to customers, fixes bugs and deals with problem it shows.

When we were launching Geom I remember one delighted customer who told us (after receiving an email reply from us) how impressed he was about how fast he got the reply. He actually was amazed that he even got a reply. Big companies never bothered answering him.

Naturally answering emails can take time, so some form of automatic replies, FAQ lists and such are recommended. I’ve chosen to reply “ask game producer emails” using the blog. I read every email I get, and handle every single one in some way and found this blog to be quite efficient way to deal with emails. Rather than dealing with just one person at time, I can write my answers here on the blog where several people can see them.

Bottom line: I think bad support and no support at all are both poor options and I really think support is one key areas that need to be taken care of. It’s great feeling to heard good words from satisfied players, and that alone is a reason to provide not just good but great customer and software support. From marketing point-of-view, good support gets people to recommend your product to other people.

Efficient RSS Usage

Reading blogs and RSS feeds (GameProducer.net RSS feed can be found here – just to remind you) can take a lot of time, and I’m going to share my way on how to read RSS feeds efficiently. This tip is really just for those who subscribe to several RSS feeds and need to figure out the best way to read them. Naturally one can continue reading feeds or visiting sites, but I think there are fast way to find out what needs to be read or not.

These tips are for Mozilla Firefox, but I suppose other Internet browsers and RSS readers can do similar things. The steps are quite simple. I’ve tried to find a fast and easy way to read RSS feeds – and tried numerous RSS readers – and this is so far the nicest solution for me (and it works in browser so I don’t need to install anything new, or launch any new programs when I want to read RSS – I can simply use the browser.)

  • The first step is quite simple: pick the RSS feeds you really are interested in. This is quite basic step – and really doesn’t require much. Those who are new to RSS feeds: basically it means that you click an image (that might look something like this: ) and you can subscribe to the feed. Subscribing to a feed means that you can read the site content using some RSS reader.
  • The second step is: put the RSS feed / live bookmark in a folder. You can create folder in Firefox from “Bookmarks” > “Organize bookmarks” and then by choosing “File” > “New Folder”. You can name the new folder like “RSS” and you should put it under the “toolbar bookmarks”. You should always add new feeds to this RSS folder.
  • After you’ve completed the second step you can quite easily browse the interesting feeds and read the topics you are interested in. If you did it properly, you should have a folder that’s easy to check out for latest news and articles.

Here’s a picture to show you how it should look like:

I’ve found this type of RSS reading to be quite efficient – and easy to use.

Feel free to recommend and tell your tips – if you’ve found an efficient way to handle several RSS feeds.

Best Medicine For Lack of Motivation

Every game producer faces the situation where you don’t “feel like working”. It might be that you are simply too tired, or had a bad conversation with someone or the project feels overwhelming. There might be unanswered emails, there might be phone calls that you *should* do. Maybe there are project management issues that need to be taken care of – and it feels like you don’t have time to finish all the tasks, so you (perhaps unconsciously) decide finish none of the tasks.

It’s often common to think about browsing some forums, blogs or maybe play one or two rounds for some nice game. Basically you don’t feel like working, so you spend your time on something else. Sometimes this type of feeling can be simply because you might be spending too much time in front of your computer – and good solution for that is simply turn off the computer and do something completely different.

If the lack of motivation is not because of staring the computer screen, then I’ve found the greatest solution – at least for me – is to simply start working on something. That’s the best medicine, and the best part is that you can take this medicine as often as you want – there’s no restrictions on this.

If you lack motivation, do the following:

  • Pick the ugly project. Maybe the ugly project is simply to “work on your game” or “go through all the unanswered emails”. You know what your ugly goal is by answering the question: “What *should* I do now?” or “What is the project/objective that would have greatest impact on me after I’ve finished it?”
  • List specific tasks or actions – some things that are very small items. “Finish gameplay” is not acceptable action as it might take weeks or months to do that. “Make player movement smooth” is better example: it might require only few hours. Another good example could be “Make unit system read CSV file”.
  • Most important step: start working on the first task in the list. Don’t care that you aren’t motivated. Just start doing the job – and when you start making progress, you’ll see that “hey, this wasn’t that bad after all”. The key is to start taking baby steps towards the completion of the task. As you start see that you are progressing, you start to feel more motivated.

Before I wrote this entry, I felt unmotivated to do pretty much anything at all. I decided to start programming, and felt immediately much better. And not only I finished the task – but I also wrote this blog entry. I feel I took quite a leap from unmotivated to motivated and even finished something.

Quality Over Time And Money

I wish this would be this simple – as usually we need to cut corners to get the game finished (I have this feeling every day when I’m thinking about adding features or doing something that is meant to increase the quality). Basically there’s a production triangle which has three corners: time, money and quality. We can measure what type of project was in terms of quality, time and money.

Here are some examples:

  • Adding quality (for example: making better gameplay) might mean that game production requires more time (and could mean need for more money).
  • Adding time means that we have more time to increase quality, but it also might require more money (for salaries or similar).
  • Adding money could mean that we can increase quality (as some developers could use better tools or use more time to make something). Adding money can reduce or increase the overall time of the project depending how money is spent. If money is spent to hire 2 artists instead of 1 then the overall time can be reduced, but if money is spent simply to let programmer finish some feature properly, then the overall time might increase.

After the project is completed we can see if some of the corners “leaked” (like perhaps time was spent more than initially thought, or perhaps quality level was not what we wanted or maybe we spent less money than budgeted). While it’s sometimes very hard, I like to focus on quality over time and money as the rule of thumb. Sometimes it’s darn hard, but that’s my suggestion. I think it’s okay to take shortcuts and get rid of useless features, but the overall quality is number one corner in my books. If the game is not a quality game – then it won’t be worth publishing.

Use Capital Letters In Links: GameProducer.net Rather Than gameproducer.net

A small and practical marketing tip: if your website URL uses two words, it’s easier for people to remember if you use capital letters in the between. The longer the words, the harder it is to remember the URLs.

For example:

Type your links in forum signatures and similar places to make your site easier to remember.

How to Get Your Game to Retail Stores (With List of Retailers)

Retail stores like WalMart or Toys’R’us can sell your game, and it’s not impossible to get your game in sale through retail stores. There is a risk of getting ripped off (I personally haven’t dealt with retail stores, so I cannot give any personal recommendations in any direction) so that you actually don’t see any money after the first advance payment. I’m not saying that retail stores are out of question – just wanted to remind that they carry a risk.

Nevertheless, if you want to get your game to retail stores, I’ve compiled bunch of resources here. These companies can help you get your game to retail stores.

Big list of retailers:
http://www.trisynergy.com/services/retailers.shtml

List of companies / publishers that can help you to get your game to retailers (in alphabetical order):
http://www.cylon.com.sg/
http://www.dreamcatchergames.com/
http://www.merscom.com/
http://www.meridian4.com/
http://www.mumbojumbo.com/retail/
http://www.mrwconnected.com/
http://www.trisynergy.com/

Browse and see what could work for you. I’ve heard some good stories about Mumbo Jumbo and Meridian 4, but for further info – feel free to contact these publishers and ask yourself.

Why People Buy Games

Why people buy games is the question, and here’s one reason: because of insane need to buy.

I’m a big fan of Tolkien & Lord of The Rings stuff: I own 2 out of 3 movie extended editions, I have the 3 books, I have the Middle Earth Role Playing game *somewhere*, I enjoy playing PC game Battle for Middle Earth, I own the board game Confrontation and so on. I’m not totally crazy fan (like I didn’t wear elven cloak when the movie was shown…) – but nevertheless I’m a fan. Last week I started thinking that I really need to get the first movie’s extended edition, but it wasn’t in stores. I decided to buy the shorter version, but day after the purchase my friends told me one online shop that still sells the edition (with Finnish subtitles). I faced a terribly strong urge to buy the DVD box and I did. I mean – I had to get that edition, and I had to get it right away. Waiting for Christmas was out of question – I wanted it now.

Next we just need to figure out how to get people to feel that strong urge to buy indie games…