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Discussion Tips for navigating a gloomy indie market.

Neptune

Member
I want to help our community - It has given a lot to me, and I'd like to give back.
Everything from here begins with IMO and from my experience. If you are NOT planning or currently making a game with intentions to sell it and have as many people play as possible, then this is not for you.

Main bads:

- 8000+ games released on Steam 2019 (20 a day)
- "Indie" isn't cool anymore
- More and more people flood gamedev social media
- Publishers are picky
- Yoyo games likely wont publish our games
- Indie devs are many times solo, and dont wear many hats
- Most of us probably have little to no marketing experience
- Small budget
- Not full time
- Genres are bloated
- Steam algorithms are against low-player count per time

Nearly every day on Twitter I see "spent X years making this, it's on Steam now!" as a FIRST post... Or coming from a 27 Follower old necro account. And then there and crickets and the game fails, and it's a sad story.
Skipping all the obvious reasons this happens, I'd like to present some things that I've learned that can be done BEFORE... ideally long before we release our games to give us our best chances.


Overcome the bads:
- Get familiar with making GIFs / MP4 https://licecap.en.softonic.com/
- Make twitter, imgur, reddit and share news and cool stuff about your project regularly.
- Encourage wishlists on Steam.
- Make a Discord for your game that fans can join.
- Make a demo (this is time sensitive, if you're very early on a demo can be good, but a late in development demo is likely going to harm sales)
- Sometimes making a big game is better than a niche tiny game... Players love content, and it gives you a lot more time to raise awareness.
- Early Access can be a great way to build a community and raise awareness before final release.
- Adding controller support and professional language localizations
- When you have enough exciting content to make a trailer - launch a Kickstarter (even if funding isnt a major issue), a successful Kickstarter can be huge for awareness and says to Publishers "People will pay money for my shizz."
- Publisher is a deal breaker, unless your game on it's own takes social media by storm and dwarfs its genre rivals, then this is of utmost importance.
Working with a publisher is great for learning about marketing (why when and how to do things such as Early Access, free weekends, demo release, advertising, extra funding). And they have a much better chance to contact big influencers (streamers / youtubers) and arrange for your game to be played, or your demo entered in competitions... etc. They will also get your game on other store fronts (my game is on 4 stores), though the reality is, Steam is the most important.
Publishers take a, sometimes large, cut of sales, but do you want to sell 10 copies and get 60% or 10,000 and get 30%? They have invaluable connections.

Finding good publishers (they do exist):
- Check how long in business
- Talk to other games they're publishing
- Ask for an advance on royalties (will they take a financial stake in your game?)
- Do they appear at conventions?
- If the publisher is one person, thats a BIG red flag (should be an established company / team)
- If the publisher is taking IP or controlling development - red flag
- Ask about future merchandise & external development costs (will they pitch in for a dope soundtrack or fancy sprite extras?)
- Ask for a detailed list of what a relationship with them entails (they should provide this straight from the beginning)
- A developer / publisher relationship should be a win - win for both sides. They make money, by making you money and getting your game in the spotlight.
- Know the difference
If this sounds like your publisher: "we'll boost your social media presence or increase sales and engagement with a very customized strategy based on our in-depth research about your company and target audience"

They are a scam and will steal your money and product :eek:

Misc about Steam:
- Steam will devour 30% of your sales revenue AFTER taxes 💀
- Steam has two critical points of advertising where your store presence is "boosted" the optional Early Access and Final Release (for no namers like us, skipping Early Access cuts our visibility in half)
- You can enable 3 other minor "boosts" if Steam is not doing a major sale (in which case you can run your own little mini sale with boosted presence)


Hope this helps someone... Share some tips of your own?
 
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Yal

🐧 *penguin noises*
GMC Elder
- Publisher is a deal breaker, unless your game on it's own takes social media by storm and dwarfs its genre rivals, then this is of utmost importance.
There are publishers out there that just let you do all the promotional work, upload the thing to Steam and then call it a day without ever doing anything to directly help you, and then take a 50% cut for their "efforts". (Guess how I know). Make sure to do your research before signing a contract so you don't get one of the bad apples.
 

Neptune

Member
@Yal Ah man, sorry to hear that :L
Undeniably there are some devils out there.

For finding a publisher:
- Check how long in business
- Talk to other games they're publishing
- Ask for an advance on royalties (will they take a financial stake in your game?)
- Do they appear at conventions?
 

Sedgwick2K

Member
I'm a hobbyist at this point. But this is OVERPERFECTLY useful and important.
I released a few very tiny and unimportant concepts (DragStar, LabRat, Gran Trak 30) on itch.io, so I'm a part of the 8000 game problem as well. But I shifted up lately and working on a top-down Street Rod-esque game (with possible plans of a true Street Rod replica in future). From now I'll either release singular but (relatively) big projects or make X-in-1 compilations of small games. (At least for now) I'll play my card to NES-alike games more.
To be honest, I think this list misses shovelware and asset flipping as well. I don't know if there's a GM game with microtransactions to be honest, but shovelware and asset flipping are so big as problems it eventually flipped a game engine (RPG Maker MX if I remember correctly).
Actually, I have a lot of ideas outside Game Maker as well lately, like making actual Atari 2600 (and potentially NES) cartridges, thus penetrating into a niche market.
 
I....don't trust publishers to do enough work to be worth their cost in general. Even if Devolver Digital or Atlus or something showed up, I'd read their contracts hard and ask a lot of questions before making a decision. It feels like if you make something special, you'll sell a ton of copies with or without a publisher anyway, making a publisher a huge waste of money at that point.... :x

I'm sure publishers help some games, but it feels really iffy to me. I think I'm gonna take my chances going it alone when the time comes.

Anybody know who published Undertale?
 

Neptune

Member
Ultimately your call obviously, but I personally wouldnt use Unicorns (or anything grossing more than 250,000$ in its first year) as a benchmark 🤔

You make a good point about making something truely special (a unicorn?) that carries itself. But it would be a shame to make a good game and it flops, cause it's not quite a unicorn.
Bit of a gamble either way I suppose?
 
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@Neptune:

This is a unicorn:


This is a horse:


They are similar, but anybody with eyes should be able to tell the difference with enough effort. I said "this guy is going to be famous, lol" as soon as I saw Undertale's KS trailer. The trick for us developers is looking at our games with honest eyes, and not releasing our games until they're unicorns. =')

If we're looking to make unicorns, I mean. Nothing wrong with making a pretty horse and then moving onto the next one, hahah. Horses are worth some money, too.
 

Neptune

Member
Hmmm I'm inclined to agree with you IF funding/time is not an issue, and you are confident in your skills to make such a game.
But... If you don't pull it off, part of something is better than nothing ^^

lol and lovely imagery 😆
 

Padouk

Member
@Neptune It feels like you are planning the release of a game and you are looking for general advices as to how to do it.

Before I jump in this conversation, I would need to know a little bit more about your real needs to fine tunes my arguments.
- Is it a game you've been working on for a very long time (couple of years) or it's just an idea you were able to put in place in a few month. (Aka how emotionally attached are you to it)
- Is it a Mobile, Web, Desktop or Console game?
- You said earlier you want it to be a "success". What is a success for you? Is it to make money or is it to make something you like?
 

Neptune

Member
@Padouk Oh my game is already semi-released. I set out with gamedev because I loved it, and then I decided I wanted to do what I love and make a living at it.
So that's kind of my short term goal - make things I love and get paid!

It is doing well in Early Access, and things are looking up for final release. Most of what I wrote above was what I did... Bar a few missed opportunities I WISH I had done.
 
lol and lovely imagery 😆
Thanks, heheh :D
I wasn't trying to sound rude, but when you said "careful not to base your expectations on unicorns," my honest knee-jerk reaction was "well, we'd all know a unicorn if we saw one," hahah! X'D
We should all keep our expectations in check, but I think it's possible to get a pretty good idea of how any game is going to do before it releases, just based on looking at other games. I've said "this guy's gonna be rich!" so many times, and I haven't been wrong yet! =D

You're right that time is a factor too, of course. If you need to get a game out every year or two, you're going to have a lot less choice in how good your game ends up being....game dev has a lot of surprise pitfalls and setbacks, for sure.
 

Padouk

Member
Publishers know how to make money out of a game.
Developer know how to make good games.

If you speak to enough Publishers, you will realise most of them think the game is irrelevant into money making. There are a lot of strategies to sell crappy game. All you need is a Spirderman logo over your yet-another match3 game. Throw it on the AppleStore or GooglePlay at Xmass time, the market is overcrowded with crappy releases but you have a 50% chance to make money in about 5-10 h of work.

If you speak to enough Game Developers, you will realise most of them think the publisher is irrelevant and only the game quality matters.

Truth is... You need the pair for succes.
It's a good pair and you definitivly need to find a good publisher (or have one in house to play that role).

--
In my early days. Game Development was only about 10% of the cost of the whole game. the rest was going into Publication Fees, Royalty Fees, General Marketing and such.
In my AAA days it wasn't rare to see more than 50% of the budget allocated to Marketing.
--

From your first post, you already know the best few hints to know
(When) Timing is key.... Finding the right time of years for release is important and will vary depending on your audience.
(Who) Finding your players is also key. Knowing who is the target player will help you reach them on the right media.
(What) Knowing what's the trends is key for you next game.
The publisher (or your game Studio owner or data analyst) will look at what is trendy and you can have a talk with them to orient you into your next game.
Back in 2008. The call I would receive from my publisher could be as stupid as "I want a game about Vampires and High school."
We had 3 months to present the game (racing against other developers) and the publisher would only pick 2 or 3.
Then again.. the publisher had to go through a National Distributer (or Carrier) which would only pick 1 or 2 game from all the publisher.

the (What) changes over time. The good of today will be the bad of tomorrow. So good publisher SHOULD be picky. They should be aware of the trends and know when you are presenting if things will work or not.
The academic example we often see is the Zombies vs Pirates. What theme should you use for your next game.


On the other hand, if you have a GOOD game. You can and SHOULD be picky as well. You need to build that trust with the publisher. Enough trust so he volounteer that information you can't reach.

--

Finally. if you carefully read your reviews, you can find the biggest hint: the pitfall most indie fall into
"The game is still in early access, but you can do so much in it, that it actually feels like a full game."
We typically try to put all of our ideas in a single game.

Once you have the "Awareness" phase. With a BIIIFFY game, you will have alot of awareness, which will bring some conversion, so some money.
What's next?
You need to move to the next phases of your Journey. The second most important one is "Loyalty".
How do you value your customers. What do you bring to them after. How to you make your game live up to their dreams.

If you put All your content into one game. It's hard to push a Sequel to drive your Loyal customer into repurchase.

We tend to see better succes with Organic games. (Games that get updated every once in a while with revised rules, new content, etc..)
The benefit of it is.. at every major Update, you can draw some more Awareness while still rewarding your loyal customer.
Those update should be small enough to not consume too much of your time, yet big enough to count as a feature release.

By keeping your community organic. You keep that awareness vibe around you, waiting for your next game to come up.
By keeping your Publisher involved, he has enough material at each releases to draw some more attention to your game.

--

There are a few other things. but Loyalty is the key if you want random people to start doing weird MeMe video on youtube.

I'm taking the image from https://sproutsocial.com/glossary/marketing-funnel/ here
1602723078114.png
When you are in the early stage of your Game Developer life. You need to build some awareness. It has a cost to acquire and cost to maintain. (Let the publisher deal with that . right)
Once you have a few conversion (purchases) You got some money. you are happy.
Now it's time to start thinking about what's next move.

For most indie. it's the end of the journey. They got their game out. Conversion was reached. Got some money. Game over.
If you want to make a living out of it. You need to push a little bit further done. And get some people really engaged.
Engaged enough to Brag about their score. to Share comments. to Dance naked on a youtube video wearing your hat.

You need to reward or feed their engagement with some (potentially free) content (through updates). Long enough for you to build your next game.


Hope you had a good read... (or not?! lol)
 
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Neptune

Member
That is some serious end-game on development and the developer / publisher relationship... Interesting!
My target with this post is for first-release people (like myself)... No foundation, no fans, no games (no money?), no experience with publisher.

I hate seeing released games to EA or even final release that just quickly become buried in the indie graveyard; I felt I've done (and continue to do) well enough to have some insight that might help others avoid the graveyard on their first release.

I agree @Padouk about the best success being a mutual of good publishing and good developing, leaving outliers aside (as is best for generalizing analysis).
 
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cdeveloper

Member
Thanks for making this thread, @Neptune! It is very helpful. I think I qualify as a target for this thread.

I think one of the big challenges to making a small indie game these days, is that there may be more people making these small indie games, than actually play them.
 

Neptune

Member
There is definitely an audience, but I feel you... Lots of "noise" to get through.
If you make an awesome game, possibly aiming for the Nintendo switch might help escape some of the bulging market area? Just a thought...
 
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