Indies, how do you make a living?
Mike Acton (@mike_acton) threw down a challenge in the discussion group – to openly show ignorance about a subject. The idea of working on something small where I would have large amounts of creative input and would actually own (at least a piece) is seductive. I know people personally and by reputation who manage to make a living making independent games for a living. However being reliant on that success to put food in my mouth is quite frankly scary.
Here's a challenge. (For those of you that haven't already written your next posts.)
A very human problem and one that censors many of us all too often, is the fear of looking stupid.
I challenge everyone to confront that fear head on. Think of that something that you wish you knew more about. That you feel slightly insecure about. And rush in head on. Talk about your fear. Admit it. And share your thoughts. Share what you do know. And what you wish you knew. Invite people to help you grow.
Shine some light into those dark areas of yourself. ;)
I'll do the same.
What I know
I know that just because something is scary does not mean you should not give it a go. Failure is not something to be afraid of, but to learn from and grow. Obviously you want to try and stack the odds in your favor though. Making a living from products that you have created, sell and own sounds great to me. Though it does sound... dangerous.
I have gathered requirements for business products, specified, programmed, deployed and supported them in the field. In the games industry I’ve worked on development tasks centered around tools and deployed them across the studio. I helped out with the odd game bug here and there. Although credited on excellent AAA titles, I have not shipped and sold a game independently.
I had a great conversation with Tak Fung (@mrfungfung) at Winter World of Love 2 about his transition from being a coder working on AAA titles at Lionhead Studios to living solely from his own creations MiniSquadron, EpicWin and Fox vs. Duck. He swapped full time work for contracting which helped him make contacts and wean himself off a monthly wage – a self-bootstrapping slow transition. Tak works from home and contracts out things to make his games as necessary. I hope a video of his talk appears online at some point, I think many people would be interested in it.
I met up for pizza with Byron Atkinson-Jones (@xiotex), Jeffrey Sheen (@stargazystudios), Matthew Hanlon (@thebag1981) and Cliff Harris (@cliffski) after Winter World of Love. Some design and money talk was had over pizza and beer. To get an idea of some of the conversation (guidelines about how much money you need to make etc.), watch Cliff’s talk from 2010 at a Winter World of Love 2010.
Matthew Wiggins (@wiggo) co-founded Wonderland Software who have released GodFinger – I do not have many details there but I believe they managed to get some outside investment. They (twitter list) have a decent game on the market, a nice office and have been making a living from their creation.
Sean Murray of Hello Games spoke at Winter World of Love 2010 (video) about Joe Danger and doing it yourself. Sean started off talking about how he got started programming young, ended up at EA then founded Hello Games. He goes on to talking about the passion behind Joe Danger and how risk adverse publishers are. The money a publisher would have put in came from themselves.
Keith Judge (@KeefJudge) is leaving Lionhead this week to be an independent developer. He has a wife and child to support, but has enough confidence to try the lifestyle out. I hear people all the time saying they want to try, but have too much responsibility to try and work for themselves. Take a look at his first blog post on #AltDevBlogADay.
What I don’t know
Business plans. I can recall bits and pieces of some business modules during my Computer Studies degree, and a GCSE in Business Studies more years ago then I would like to think about right now. I am able to handle my personal finances pretty well with a steady income – though I can only believe it gets much harder when your personal finances are linked with the successes and failures of your products and services.
Real numbers. What can someone expect, how do they budget? How do you manage the risks, set the price point? How on earth do people make money from the free Flash games you see on websites? Or from free games at all? Is “free” really just “shareware” under a new name? How do you combat piracy – is DRM even worth it anymore?
Art. If I were to program my own independent game I really do not know what a fair price for art and music is. A revenue share? A fixed price upfront? I feel there is a tension there between getting eye catching art that generates sales against art that is good enough to sell a game and still profit. How do you decide how much to spend on a games assets and not end up losing money?
Publicity. I find blogging and tweeting quite natural, though I have never had to professionally market anything apart from myself. I am very proud of the projects I have been involved with at Lionhead and tweet links etc about that… but press packs, getting interviews and press coverage? People *want* to talk to Peter Molyneux; game journalists contact the studio all the time to talk to the man. I am pretty sure restricting press access for games is not how it usually works - especially for an independents!
What do you know?
Here are some more links to related articles I have found interesting in no particular order.
- Analysis: World of Goo’s iPad Launch
- SteamBirds: Survival - By The Numbers
- 12 business tips for indie game developers
- Can you make money on XBLIG?
- Making money in Xbox 360 indie game development: Is it possible?
- Getting your game on Big Fish Games
- Everything I ever learned about marketing I learned from Dungeons and Dragons
- More Tender By The (Redacted) Numbers
- Bootstrappers’ Kickstarter Kit – No Investment Required
- 31 Days to Start Freelancing
- Free is good
- Kill yr ads… the don’ts of iPhone app marketing
- Cliff Harris Business Blogs
In the comments please share insights and links about the business of creating independent games. I am sure there is no one right answer, but many. I am certain that many reading this blog may have written some things themselves… please link to them here.
Update: Links from feedback
- Celsius Game Studios (@celsiusgs) Indie Gamedevs: You’re (Probably) Doing it Wrong
- Four Dour Lemon (@barog)- Indie Studio Considerations Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
- Ed Bartley ( @FishFPG ) - What's your Indie Strategy?
- Noel Llopis (@noel_llopis) - http://gamesfromwithin.com/
- Paul Firth (@paul_m_firth) - The reality of being a new developer on Facebook
- Christopher Waite (@chrismwaite) - 10 don'ts of iphone game development, World of Love 2 – an indie games conference
- Bob Koon (@Bob_at_BH) - Your New Life As An Indie/Contractor