Are indie games headed for the Apocalypse?

Plenty of people have been writing about the ‘Indiepocalypse’ - the alleged death of the indie game development market and the destruction of indie studios everwhere. Some are wringing their hands and foretelling utter doom, whilst others are wondering what all the fuss is about.

Here follows my take, as I embark on the final phase of the perilous four year journey of finishing my first indie game, with plenty of people on the internet telling me that I’ve wasted my time.

A market correction

I think we’re witnessing a market correction, brought about by an oversupply to the market of good games.

I believe that we do have to be lucky to succeed, but that we can make our own luck. After reading a lot and studying the market, I have come to believe that the main thing that separates successful indie devs from failed ones is sheer determination, stubbornness and persistence. We have to be in this for the long haul, and we have to enjoy the process.

I don’t think indie games are doomed, but some indie developers will have to quit the business. I’m also determined to do all I can not to be one of them. Here’s my approach.

I have another income stream

Firstly, I have an alternative career. I train and coach teams of developers, and work part time locally, which allows me time in the day to work on Sol Trader without worrying (too much) about whether my family will eat next month.

Sol Trader has been four years in development, but I’ve only worked on it significantly during the day in the last year. I’ve used savings from consultancy work to get me this far. This means development is sustainable and I can avoid crashing out financially.

There’s always something to do

I’ve been building the Sol Trader community from day one, as everyone is advised to do. However, I’ve come to believe that the important thing is to have something for people to do in response when we communicate with them. We need a great call to action.

For example, Sol Trader has been available purchase on Alpha Access since May 2012, and on Kickstarter for Alpha or Beta access since the beginning of the year. Even when we paused sales on the game this year, people could still sign up to our mailing list for news, updates and articles.

I’ve found that it’s very hard to get anyone excited about anything without something people can do or buy. Otherwise people get bored of constant tiny updates about progress and they lose interest.

This is why I think great content marketing is so important. I’ve learnt that game updates are best when the audience can learn something from what I’m saying (like how to add bloom to an engine, or how to implement an entity-component system). They stimulate great discussion, they give my audience value, and they slowly grow the community around the game.

I’m trying to build Sol Trader into a remarkable game

Sol Trader was a good game a year ago. It wasn’t enough. After feedback from the failed Kickstarter campaign at the beginning of the year, I’ve reworked the gameplay fundamentally from the ground up. I’ve focused the design on people and relationships, and it’s turning into something unique, original and truly interesting. I’m hoping that this means I’ll gather more press attention than I otherwise would.

History generation in Sol Trader

Making a simply “good” game isn’t going to cut it. There’s so much about games at the moment that is derivative, and the product lifecycle of existing popular indie games is increasing with slower moving minimum specs and DLC to keep existing audiences entertained. I plan to do all I can not to settle for “good”. I’ll delay the game’s release if it means turning it from a good game into a great game.

I’m not going to give up

This all might not be enough. Perhaps no one wants to buy this game and that would be sad: although comments like this one from YouTube fill me with encouragment! Part of the reason to do two Kickstarters was validation of the core concept to ensure there’s enough of a market. I believe I’ve had enough validation of the idea to continue pushing at it!

Comments from fans about Sol Trader

Perhaps it’s just brazen stubborness, but I just know that I’m not going to quit and I’m going to release Sol Trader no matter what. I am running this as a business, but it’s more than a business to me: I’d release it even if I knew now it was going to make no money. I’m sure that people will enjoy it (they are already) and I believe in the design: this game just needs to be made.

Am I wrong, or crazy stubborn, or both?