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How do you determine the ROI of "Going Big" vs. "Keep it Small" Development


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#1 lucidimage   Members   -  Reputation: 112

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Posted 17 June 2013 - 12:35 PM

Hello, my name is Micah. I'm pretty much the classic definition of an indie developer. Self-taught. No professional game development background. Self-funding. Boot-strapping. A nobody.

 

Today I'm looking to find out what drives an indie developer to "go big" verses keeping it small? And what are the benefits/ROI that made you make that decision?

 

A little background for you.

 

I was the founder of a small indie studio who developed "Dawn of Fantasy" for the PC. It was originally published by 505 Games after a VERY extended (and self-funded) development process (around 5 years) then was eventually greenlit by the Steam Community.

After a small break from game development, I jumped back into an epic new fantasy based FPS for the PC. After a very "mild" taste of success and development, I wanted to go HUGE! The problem with these epic projects is that they can also be epic time-sinks or worse, and epic-disaster.

 

After around 10 months of development on this project, we found we could NOT maintain a self-funded project with AAA visuals without another dramatically huge dev cycle (5+ years). Putting our mega project on hold, we've moved onto a much smaller 2D platformer called "Tesla Breaks the World!" for the PC, Mac and Linux. We're developing it on Unity 3D and have spent the past 5 months developing out our prototype and nailing down the "look and feel" of the game.

 

We're currently on Kickstarter, where we're struggling a bit but have a realistic shot of trying to hit our small goal:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1660691250/tesla-breaks-the-world

 

We feel we can wrap up development on this project by the end of this year (with or without the Kickstarter- KS obviously allowing us to add additional polish & features).

 

Pro's of a small project:

-Much smaller budget

-Dramatically fewer resources (team members, tools, assets etc)

-Smaller timeline = quicker to market = potential revenue faster

-Smaller games = More games

 

Cons of a small project:

-Limitations on fleshing out your story or technology

-Sacrificing features to meet self-imposed deadlines

-How do you standout from thousands of other small titles?

-How do you price your small project when selling it?

-How can you market an indie title that isn't breaking down design barriers or impressing with AAA visuals?

 

So the question is: Right now, we're developing out a small title and have yet to really hit the point in our journey to know if this is a better business plan for our indie studio verses dumping large amount of time and effort into a larger scale project.

 

So how do you develop? Is it a mistake to go small? Is attempting a AAA indie game impossible in the current market or easier with the availability of more technology?

 

We would love to hear other developers thoughts and feedback on this topic and how they're currently structuring their business plans. I realize team size, talent, budgets etc all weigh in. But I'm very curious what drives an indie developer to take the risk of "going big" verses keeping it small. Thanks for reading!

 



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#2 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 8647

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Posted 17 June 2013 - 01:00 PM


1. Is it a mistake to go small?

2. Is attempting a AAA indie game impossible in the current market

3. or easier with the availability of more technology?

 

1. No. It's recommended.

2. Yes.

3. No.


-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
Making games fun and getting them done.
www.sloperama.com

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#3 lucidimage   Members   -  Reputation: 112

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Posted 17 June 2013 - 02:08 PM

 


1. Is it a mistake to go small?

2. Is attempting a AAA indie game impossible in the current market

3. or easier with the availability of more technology?

 

1. No. It's recommended.

2. Yes.

3. No.

 

Thanks for the feedback Tom.

 

I ask because my original game was developed fully in house and was fairly large scale (MMORTS) even though it was fully self-funded and independent, but it also took half a decade to build and was old technology by time it was released. Licensing technology was really in it's infancy at the time and not readily available (or remotely affordable).

 

Are you saying that the availability of things like UDK, Unity even Crydev etc does not make it any easier than developing an indie game 5-10 years ago or just does not make attempting to develop a "AAA" game any easier for indies?



#4 Promit   Moderators   -  Reputation: 6091

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Posted 17 June 2013 - 02:16 PM

I'm actually going to disagree with Tom on #2 -- AAA indie is not impossible, merely insane and misdirected. You said it yourself. By the time it was done, the whole thing was way out of date.

 

But allow me to get to the point, and listen very closely. Your goal as an indie is not to ape current market trends and create the same shit everyone else (pro or not) has. That is a pointless exercise. As an indie, you need to explore something that is different and off beat creatively. There's an excellent talk by Ben Kuchera of ArsTechnica discussing this. If you as an indie accomplish the herculean task of matching an AAA studio on visual fidelity, you've just given your potential userbase something they already have. I only briefly skimmed it but your Kickstarter looks like you're doing the right thing.

 

Go big creatively, not budgetarily



#5 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 8647

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Posted 17 June 2013 - 03:05 PM


or just does not make attempting to develop a "AAA" game any easier for indies?

 

Not that either, but that's closest.  An AAA game is never "easy" for anybody, especially for indies.

 

Edit: it does make it "easier," so "not any easier" is incorrect.  I'm saying an AAA game is still incredibly expensive and time-consuming to make, even with the best engine.


Edited by Tom Sloper, 17 June 2013 - 03:41 PM.

-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
Making games fun and getting them done.
www.sloperama.com

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#6 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6306

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Posted 17 June 2013 - 03:24 PM

Provided you've proven your worth at working for niche audiences and understand the trade, I wouldn't jeopardize your current structure.

Going AAA also means possibly being one of thousands of developers that will lose a lot of money. While indies also make projects that fail, they don't fail as badly. Sure the payout isn't as exciting, but if you find value in making smaller-scoped games (as you seem to do), your chances are definitely to stick with this approach.

I can think of many more projects you could do with these kinds of budgets, and I would bet that someone with your experience of the market, with an actual published game, would find better ROI in working on smaller titles.



#7 lucidimage   Members   -  Reputation: 112

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Posted 18 June 2013 - 09:48 AM


Your goal as an indie is not to ape current market trends and create the same shit everyone else (pro or not) has. That is a pointless exercise. As an indie, you need to explore something that is different and off beat creatively. There's an excellent talk by Ben Kuchera of ArsTechnica discussing this. If you as an indie accomplish the herculean task of matching an AAA studio on visual fidelity, you've just given your potential userbase something they already have. I only briefly skimmed it but your Kickstarter looks like you're doing the right thing. Go big creatively, not budgetarily.

 

This is great feedback. And thanks for the compliment, while it's easier to take the small approach- it becomes difficult to make your game stand-out from the masses on smaller games. But you bring up a great point about focusing on the creative aspect to find your market. Although "going big creatively" is a bit easier said than done, but I think your point as a whole is dead-on.

 

 

Provided you've proven your worth at working for niche audiences and understand the trade, I wouldn't jeopardize your current structure.

Going AAA also means possibly being one of thousands of developers that will lose a lot of money. While indies also make projects that fail, they don't fail as badly. Sure the payout isn't as exciting, but if you find value in making smaller-scoped games (as you seem to do), your chances are definitely to stick with this approach.

I can think of many more projects you could do with these kinds of budgets, and I would bet that someone with your experience of the market, with an actual published game, would find better ROI in working on smaller titles.

 

Appreciate the feedback. It's definitely a bit validating to hear that from other developers on how they approach this. As far as the experience with shipped titles go, its surprising to me how little that actually helps anything other than your own personal growth. But you make some great point regarding finding your niche. We're hoping our new title will open us open up the doors to a new niche for us, but we will have to see how it plays out.

 

Thanks again for the feedback guys.



#8 SimonForsman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 5770

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Posted 18 June 2013 - 01:32 PM

 


or just does not make attempting to develop a "AAA" game any easier for indies?

 

Not that either, but that's closest.  An AAA game is never "easy" for anybody, especially for indies.

 

Edit: it does make it "easier," so "not any easier" is incorrect.  I'm saying an AAA game is still incredibly expensive and time-consuming to make, even with the best engine.

 

 

 

To be honest, i don't think the engines really makes making AAA games easier today than it was lets say 25 years go, the production values of AAA games have gone up dramatically and the fact that the necessary tech is reasonably cheap and easy to license today doesn't offset that.


Edited by SimonForsman, 18 June 2013 - 01:33 PM.

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