I'm the founder of Hovgaard Games and developer of Startup Company: The Game.

Currently busy with the crowd translation platform: Localizor.

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Making a successful indie game is not that hard!

PUBLISHED 10 September, 2019 ()

I know what you’re thinking: how dare he…

First, let me elaborate on the title. I believe making a successful indie game is not as hard as the gamedev communities want you to believe.

“Indiepocalypse” and Steam Direct are both popular go-to excuses when the dream of becoming a full-time game developer fails. It’s not hard to find threads and blog posts from devastated developers warning hopeful beginners to quit their dream and get a job as a Wordpress developer.

While the excuses above are comforting (it’s not you, it’s the industry), I don’t believe these are ever the reason for failure. Below is a list of what I believe are the most common reasons for shattered gamedev dreams:

You don’t understand how special it is

Let’s look at what it really means to become a successful (and full-time) game developer:

With this in mind, try to understand what you’re trying to achieve. This isn’t your average dream. So to the average person, it will require extreme persistence and consistency and a lot of hard work. Motivation will help you with the first 10%, the remaining 90% is up to you. Ask yourself if this is really for you. If it is, give it all you have and make sure it’s your #1 priority until you’re done. No turning back, full commitment.

You’re competing with the big boys

A pixel-art platform with a twist? Another first-person zombie survival? Don’t do it. I’m not saying there’s no room for more games in popular genres. What I’m saying is that you should target niche genres as a beginner that have less competition and therefore higher chances of success.

Your logo sucks and your assets are awful

This one is incredibly important! Your logo, trailer, assets and UI should be made by a person who has experience and talent in these areas. If that’s not you, it’s time to find a contractor. Jump over to /r/gameDevClassifieds or similar and find someone with experience in the type of work you need.

If you don’t think your game looks exciting, no one else will.

“But I don’t have the budget for that”

Of course you do. It will probably cost you no more than $2000. If that sounds like a lot, remember that incredible goal you’ve set for yourself. I sold my car to pay for assets for Startup Company. You’ll find a way if you take your project seriously.

You released a game no one has heard about

This is a classic. A lot of developers are afraid of showing their incomplete game, so they wait until everything is perfect and then release the game out of thin air, believing that Steam will do the promoting.

Unfortunately, Steam won’t. They don’t give a crap about your game if the wishlist count is not in the 10,000s. Get that Store Page up and running as fast as possible and start collecting wishlisters! Do devlogs, twitch streams, Youtube vlogs, Steam announcements, interviews, anything. It’s all about showing players that something cool is on its way.

You only speak English

While this isn’t a top priority before your release, it’s definitely a low-hanging fruit. Remember, there are a lot of people in the world who like to play games, but who don’t necessarily understand English.

A lot of non-English users have configured Steam to simply filter out games which aren’t translated into their native language. Your game might be amazing, but they will never see it.

Steam is all about algorithms. Adding localization will increase your “score”, make you more visible and ultimately result in more sales.

Try visiting Steam Stats and look at the “language” variable. At the time of writing, only 37% of users are native English speakers. I would never release a game without support for Simplified Chinese, Russian, Spanish, German and French as a minimum.

You didn’t prepare your release in time

This is another missed opportunity for a lot of developers. You get too obsessed at perfecting the game and may even be battling to meet a release date deadline, leaving no time to prepare the party. I recommend spending at least 2 months before your release doing nothing but marketing. 0% development, 100% marketing.

Use the time to:

That’s all

In my opinion, these are the 6 most common reasons why game developers fail to create a successful indie game. Obviously every release and game is unique. No matter how correct your “execution” is, you’ll never get any success unless you have a game that’s worth playing.

Want my advice?

I remember when I was about to release Startup Company. I had thousands of questions and no one that could answer them. So if you’re stuck with something, you can always reach me on Twitter or Discord and I’ll try to answer as well as I can :-)

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