So You Want to be an Indie Game Developer?


So you want to be an indie game developer? You probably have an idea of what indie game development is like. My job is to assure you that you are wrong. I'm going to talk about misconceptions around indie game development and all you need to know before getting into it.


Hi, welcome to my talk called So You Want to Be an Indie Game Developer, where I'm going to talk about a bunch of useful things and my experience from what I learned as an indie game developer and it'll be useful for those of you who are thinking about being indie game devs or who just started and could use some advice. So first of all, who am I? My name is Tamta Satyani, but people call me Tam, and I started learning game development five years ago. I've been an indie game developer sort of, I've only took it seriously three years ago and I've had a YouTube channel called Space Nomad about indie game development for a little over two years now. And back then, all those years ago, when I was just starting, I had a lot of assumptions about what game development was like, as I'm sure a lot of you that are starting out or just started out do. So what were those assumptions? First one was that game design isn't even. So you don't even think that game design is a skill until you get into game development. You just think that sort of the genre of the game and the rules of the game come by themselves or you just like, there are genres that are already made up. You don't have to make up anything new. And you just think that all the skills you will need are coding, art, SFX, music, all those stuff. But the realization that something is off takes a while to set in because when you make your first game, you're in this sort of honeymoon phase, like, wow, I made something that works. And then when the honeymoon phase passes, you're like, wow, this is actually very boring to play. So assumption number two is that the indie game dev space is very polar. So there are those who became successful overnight for no reason. And like extremely successful, we all know those games and those developers, things like Undertale, Stardew Valley, Hollow Knight, there's more, there's Five Nights at Freddy's. All those games. But there are those who nobody has ever heard about. And I can't give you examples because I've never heard of them. So yeah. And that also, you can't really do anything to become one or the other. It's dependent solely on chance, which one of those you'll be. But perhaps the worst of them all is the assumption that you will be in the first category. That your game will, that it's just so amazing that it will magically gain success overnight without you doing anything aside from just making a great game. And that you'll make a lot of money with it. I hate to break it to you, but you won't. First of all, your first game is probably not even going to be good. And second of all, you're not special and neither is your game and neither is, neither am I. None of us are special. All right. So now that I crushed all of your hopes and dreams, let's get back to reality. So what's reality like? First of all, there's a lot of space in between the extremely successful and the nobody has seen my video game ever. A couple examples of these are Dashing Fire by Blackthorn Prod and Will You Snail by Jonas Tyroler. They're not quite Stardew Valley level of success. And even those are more on the upper side. There's also a lot of things in between this level of people hearing about your game and also the completely lower part. There's a lot of games that the developers are able to, there's a lot of indie game devs that are able to sustain themselves, even though not that many people have heard of them. Developers like indie game dev YouTubers with like 50K subscribers, 10K subscribers that are able to live off of indie game development. Getting back to game design now, just so we're all on the same page, I'm going to talk a little bit about what it is. It's the design of, the functional design of video games. So how the game plays out, the genre of the game, for example, I want to make a roguelike or I want to make a first person shooter. That's all game design decisions. The finer details of your game are also game design decisions. For example, okay, I have a first person shooter, but what kind of weapons do I have? How do they fire? Do the bullets ricochet? Do I have a double jump? If I have a double jump, how high is each jump, etc. Those are also game design decisions. And game design is such a big field that it has different branches. For example, there's level design, which corresponds to just the placement of things in a level, which you might be thinking, why would I need to learn that? It's not hard to just plop some trees and a couple of rocks. But as somebody who constantly gets confused and lost in video games and doesn't know what to do or where to go, I'm begging you, please study level design. Okay. And another thing very interesting about game design and very counterintuitive is that game design is the only mandatory part. You can go the list of things that I talked about, art, coding, SFX, etc. You can be bad at them all and still make a good game. So for example, Thomas Was Alone is an example I really like for the art part. The art is extremely simplistic. It doesn't require you to know how to draw well. But the game is still loved by many. And I really like it myself. And yeah, it's a lot of fun. So yeah, being good at art isn't mandatory when making a video game. As for coding, so what I like to call the big four, the four biggest public game engines, all of them support visual scripting. So like visual scripting, for those of you who don't know, it's just you don't have to write any code, you just move a couple notches around and then the functionality of the game creates itself, so to say. So yeah, visual and coding games making the functionality of the games is only going to become easier and easier as technology advances. So yeah, being good at coding is also not mandatory. But imagine a game that is confusing and frustrating and is just not fun to play at all. That's what a game with bad game design is. And if you're not good at game design, if you don't study game design, that's what your game is going to be like. So let's say you release your absolutely amazing game. You've figured out game design, but you're going to be in, you publish your game and then you let the existential crisis set in with the cricket noises as your game receives two views. This is because you, a lot of people and starting indie game devs assume that a good game will sell itself or that my game will magically be known and that, you know, like we said, we're going to be in the first category, the extremely successful game developers category and it's all up to chance, etc, etc. So the good news here is that you can actually do things in order to tilt the scales in your favor. You can do a lot of things to market your video game and you can afford it because a lot of it is free. So here's some things that you can do. First of all, think about what you give to the community instead of what you're just taking stuff. So for example, you can give knowledge, you can make video tutorials, perhaps about game design if you studied it, perhaps, or not necessarily video, you can make, I don't know, text tutorials, I guess too. Perhaps about art if you're good at art, perhaps about programming, etc. Also interact with the community a lot, interact with other indie game devs, you know, be out there. And speaking of be out there, also be everywhere but not in an annoying way. An example of this I really like is that, so there's on Twitter, there's this hashtag called screenshot Saturday and people host it. So for example, somebody will make a post, tag it screenshot Saturday and say, show me your video games, and then there was this one game that I kept seeing on every screenshot Saturday post and because brain likes things that it recognizes, I just sort of, I thought, wow, I've seen this thing so many times, I wonder what it is, and I checked it out. At the same time, this person wasn't annoying because they didn't do it in an inappropriate place. They, yes, they put the link to their game everywhere, but where people asked for links to their game. Definitely don't do the annoying stuff. Don't put your video game link under random tweets. I've seen people do that. That only annoys people and makes them not want to do anything with you. Experiment. Try different stuff. Try different platforms. Try different genres. Not genres. Try different places and things like that. And another very important thing is you have to be convenient and easily accessible. So if somebody gets interested in your game, just like a little bit, they saw a screenshot, they liked it, make sure there's a very easy way for them to check out the game. A good way of doing this is starting out with browser games. And let me just show you some personal statistics. So here's the statistics of watch to rate, watch to play rate of my video games. So this is like a percentage of how many people that have seen my game page on GameJolt went to check it out and play well, they did check it out if they watched it, but went to actually play the game. And this is one for my browser games. So the last one here, the last graph is the average. So my average percentage of people from just seeing my game page to actually wanting to play my game is over 50%, which is great. As for my desktop games, things aren't nearly as good because downloading a game takes effort and your audience doesn't trust you enough to think that the effort is worth it. Because how do they know if your game is great if they've never played any of your games? So yeah, definitely I advise you to start out with desktop games, no, start out with browser games, make a lot of browser games. And then when people are familiar with your content, you're sort of giving them a demo, a taste of what your games are like, then they'll be, if they like it, that is, they will be more willing to put more effort into trying your content out. Another thing is find your best way of standing out, which you absolutely have to stand out to survive in the indie game dev space. Think about what are you good at and what do you want to do? What type of games do you want to make? And what do you want your workflow to be like? And think about this a lot because your decisions are going to matter. So let's be a little more specific with that. I would say choose one main platform to focus on. You can have, try out other platforms, of course, but just have one main space where most of your work goes. For example, if you're good at art and making your video game look pretty, you can try Twitter or TikTok. These three aren't the only options, by the way. They're just ones that I've tried out and I can talk about. There's definitely way more options. But yeah, if you're good at making short, pretty gifs, then you can try Twitter or TikTok. I myself went with YouTube because a lot of people like my sense of humor. A lot of people like my sarcasm. They thought it was fun to watch. So I decided, and in real life, a lot of people told me it was funny, so I decided to try it YouTube. And also keep in mind that this will affect your workflow and the type of content you make. So for example, you can't make a lot of videos about one single game, but you can make a lot of gifs about it, a lot of small, tiny snippets about a big game to keep it fresh. So for example, if you go with YouTube, you will generally have a harder time making bigger games because you can only make so many videos about a single game and you need to keep pushing content and making content. So I, for example, can't afford making big games a lot of the time. But if you're okay with making smaller games, then of course, go with it. It's not one thing isn't better than the other. It's just different kinds of work. So yeah, that's something to keep in mind. Another thing, like I said, experiment. So trying to register on startups is a good idea. So for example, if somebody makes a startup of a platform for indie game developers, definitely try it, jump onto it. Because it's easier to be more well known in a startup. It's easier to grow your platform on a startup. The downside is you don't really know if that startup is going to succeed or fail. A good example of that is Amino. I tried Amino when it first came out, though. That was a while ago. So like, yeah. And we all know how that one went. Nobody really talks about Amino anymore. Even though it seemed like Amino was going to be successful back then, it seemed like Amino was going to be a big thing. But it wasn't. So don't be afraid of that kind of fail and don't be afraid to make those sorts of experiments. Because eventually, you're going to hit the spot. Most importantly, do what you want to. And not in the sense that do whatever you want to do, but more like don't do something you really don't want to. For example, like I said before, if you don't want to make mostly small games that don't go with YouTube and stuff like that, because it's really easy to burn out when making indie games. And it's really easy to hate yourself and your work. You don't want any of that. Because when especially when starting as an indie game developer, you will be running mostly on your motivation for the first couple years at least, or at the very, very least first half a year, if you're lucky. In conclusion, you're not special, but nobody is. You don't need to be. Game design is important. People are more willing to give web games a shot and do what you're good at and what you like doing. Thank you for listening. So if you have any questions, feel free to ask them. If you like what I do, if you like this talk, I mean, check out my YouTube channel. I talk about game design there a bunch. And there's my business email in case you need it. So let's discuss the answers to your poll question. So you asked, which of the following skills do you think is most important for solo dev? And it's a tie between game design and programming. No? Game design just dropped. Yeah. So what do you think about that? About what I expected, game design and programming on the top. And game programming dominates game design a little. Because not a lot of people realize how much you can do with very little tech and how much pre-made things there is to make the technical part as easy as possible as long as you know how games are made and game design, et cetera. Yeah, I get it. Actually, I had the same kind of question before. I was struggling between should I learn everything else? So I'm stronger in programming, but I don't know much about drawing and animation and SFX and music and stuff like that. And I was drowning myself in learning more and more. And I saw a tweet from John Carmack, which he said that it was a discussion about, so should you learn everything? Or maybe you should focus on one thing. And he said that maybe it's best to focus on what's your strongest and find a community of some people that have the same thought as you and just ask them to join you to complete your game, other aspects of your game. And I'm trying to do that myself. So I'm focusing on programming myself because I'm stronger in that and trying to learn other things. But I'm trying to not handle everything together and get lost. So we have some questions for you. The first question is, do you only work as an indie game developer or do you have another day job or something like that? So yes and no. I do work as an indie developer, but I don't only work as a solo developer. So this thing I made, this talked about like my solo dev stuff, which I would like to switch completely to eventually. But I also have a day job in an indie team. Okay, that's awesome. I feel you. And another question is, you've talked about trying to be everywhere so people pay attention to your game. What are, what other ways are there to do this? Well, going to places, for example, meeting people, interacting with the community, going to summits and cons is a very good option, whether as a speaker or as like just interacting with others to like as a listener, so to say. That's meeting other people actually trying to give to the community is a very big thing that a lot of beginner indie devs underestimate. Yeah, exactly. I've recently been part of an indie game dev like chain inside the Twitter and it's amazing how much people support each other in the game dev, support each other and they share their games and they repost your games and ask about how you're doing. And we have like follow friends where we post like tag all the game devs and we have a screenshot Saturday and each day has a hashtag for itself and it's really supporting and awesome to see that. And please don't, I want to ask people so please don't underestimate this. Yeah, definitely. And don't be shy, that's hard, but don't just shy away from interactions. Don't think, oh well they probably don't like have time for me or something. As in like, don't barge into people's lives or people's games, but like also don't be afraid to reach out to someone. You could do it in a public place, for example, their Discord server or their Twitter comments or their YouTube comments, it doesn't have to be like a personal email or something. Yeah, exactly. They're very supportive. And another question is, Yusef, you've been doing this for around five years now. Was it hard to start making real progress in the industry and what was the best method that worked to boost your skills? Yes, it was very hard to make any progress at all. For a long while, I actually like, nobody was, like nobody knew about the stuff I did except for like my mom and my sister. So it's very hard to get past that threshold, but slowly or surely, you'll get there. And what was the second part of the question again? They asked what was the best method that worked to boost your skills? So if they're talking about technical skills, I mean, they've been going pretty steady just, I don't know, watching others, listening to others, listening to feedback, I guess, from people that are good at whatever you want to be better at, whether that be coding or game design or art or whatever. That's a very big one. Getting personal feedback is ideal, but just listening to tutorials in general is also good for marketing skills. So like watching marketing videos, I guess, and ideas for specifically game development marketing. Yeah, I get it. And also we have another question in regards to giving, not taking. How do you monetize your browser games and how do you protect your copyrights on the wild wild web? Well, monetization, personally, most of my monetization comes from my channel, but also I get a little bit of monetization from Game Jolt itself has a system for monetizing games. Game Jolt is like the website where I post my browser games and it has its own little system that has ads on the game page and it handles all the monetization. So 30% goes to me. As for handling copyrights, I sadly don't know the answer to that one myself. Yes, I haven't had any problems with my copyright, like my games being sold. Yeah, I get it. I've had the same problem with monetizing my games. So I looked into AdSense for HTML5 games, but it's in the beta version right now. And I also had a problem with that, but they are currently only showing ads on specific languages. So it's not available for my native languages, it's Persian right now. And that's another problem. So I was thinking like maybe moving to another engine, like not web games, maybe it would be best to monetize my games, but I'm not sure. I'm still figuring it out. And I also wanted to ask if you had any words on the current situation that you wanted to talk about in Ukraine. Yeah, thank you for giving me the floor. As many of our viewers probably know, the situation in Ukraine is very grim right now. And I just want to show support for our fellow Ukrainian game devs and encourage others to also show support in these trying times. And also other Ukrainians, and do whatever you can, donations are great, but just words of support are also great. Glory to Ukraine. Thank you, it was inspiring, and I agree with you. Glory to Ukraine. Thank you for the talk. It was amazing, and I personally learned a lot. So thank you. Thanks for having me.
30 min
07 Apr, 2022

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