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Why your indie game dev team will fail



I wrote this article on Medium and thought I'd cross post it here:

This is based off of my own past personal experiences (and failures) and observations of indie teams. I think a lot of the points are probably common knowledge among experienced game devs, but it's good to share it regardless. If we can steer a few more teams onto the right track and get good games, it's worth the effort :) 

Note: I've been procrastinating on monthly updates. Long and short is that I've been busy, distracted, recovered from falling off a horse, etc.


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I have to say i was tempted to write something about high horses and lonely pedestals - but harsh and uncomfortable as your words may be - i think you are right. There may be exceptions to a few of your points at a time, but 9/10 of them will have to apply. 1 in 7.500.000.000 is Notch - you aren't Notch, i ain't Notch. If i thought i was the lucky one, i might as well play the lottery. Gonna get back to coding now.

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Basically, think from the client's perspective and how to make money, rather than your own perspective or exploring ideas. I only get so far with this line of thinking before I run out of ideas though. Basically it's all bunk though and you're not going to make money either way.

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Would have loved to just see a copy and paste of the text here to make the interaction / quoting here in the comments easier :), but this last bullet of yours is very relevant and why GameDev.net exists:

  • Share your knowledge with others. When everyone shares, everyone wins. A rising tide lifts all ships. You are currently benefiting from my knowledge — add to it and spread it around.

We created GameDev.net for this exact purpose, and I can't stress its importance enough - the developers in the GameDev.net community have been strongest as developers when they have been willing to take the time to share their knowledge and experiences, whether in the form of forum replies, blogs, articles, or even news relevant to other developers.

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8 hours ago, Orymus3 said:

Given this, has your game failed? And what metric would you use to describe failure?

Everything being relative, it would help to have a bit more context into what led to such a 'stop sign' type of post (while others prefer to profess unlimited motivational posts which will quite unnecessarily lead to a bunch of entrepreneurs making bad decisions while pursuing 'dreams').

Hope you're well despite the fall!

This post has a lot of context behind it. I've watched a lot of indie projects.
There's the internet based indie projects, with remote teams and young ambitious people, of which, almost all of them fail. This is the main target demographic for my article, which was triggered by someone yesterday pulling me into his discord channel in an attempt to recruit me into the project. The intended game was going to be some variation of Black and White 2, built by a team of five people. They had a ton of red flags which needed to be corrected, so I went into detail. It wasn't the first time I've told people that their team and project has some major problems, and I started to feel that I was repeating the same things over and over again, so it would be worthwhile to compile a list of do's and don'ts so that I could just link people to it.

What have I seen?
Waaaaay back in the day, I joined an internet team, lead by some guy in Colorado -- called "runic games" or something. I was 17, their only programmer, who barely grasped C++ at the time. We were going to make a game about "vampyres". A few artists made concept art, lots of ideas were created, and then people started ghosting the project. It failed.
Then, I tried many times to start my own games (very young and dumb) by myself and I kept on failing. Mostly because I was lazy, untalented, and burned myself out.
I started to watch other variations of the first experience play out over and over again, many from small teams on gamedev.net; I decided I would not touch these types of teams with a ten foot pole because they all failed.
I persisted with software development in general. I started getting a bit of professional experience and I had to deliver completed projects for people. There was no half-assing allowed, either do it or go home in shame. This is where I started figuring out the software development life cycle and getting good at the process.
More recently, after starting my own indie studio, I've been keeping in touch with fellow indies and watching other start ups in my space. A lot of tragic stories. There was one indie team of five young men in my former building who all worked in the same workspace and actually shipped an HTML5 MMORPG. It works. It was an incredible accomplishment. They deployed their game online. They had an in-app purchase business model. However, they failed to attract any customers. They spent well over $200k and borrowed from friends and family. The lead programmer literally died towards the end of production. Why did they fail? Marketing, sales, and low testing and engagement with customers. The game they made was an MVP, but it just wasn't good enough to attract and retain players.
Then there's this local guy who made this dumb game about a monkey. He also shipped, which is rare. But, his game is utter shit and the reviews reflect it. His problem? He couldn't accept constructive criticism and wasn't interested in critical feedback or improvement, so the result was garbage. His standards for quality are abysmal. Polish? What's that? He keeps on trying to make various games, but they are all equally bad and uninspired. He's doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes.
Then there are the other start ups which seemingly do everything right, get funded by VC's, make a product, and discover that either they are too early to market, or that there is no market for their product, so they go out of business. This... is something that could have been figured out in planning instead of post production.
These kinds of business problems aren't just unique to game developers, it's a problem common across all sectors of business. I've seen 90% of inventors inventing a product, only to find that they made something which nobody wants or needs. They may even spend tens of thousands in marketing and advertising, but that doesn't change the core fact that their invention is useless. Whoops! These inventors are facing the exact same problems that indie game devs face.
You can even go to various fairs and look at the booths people have and see their products. Who is successful? Who has customers? Why are they doing well? Who is failing? Why are they failing? Is it the booth agent or the product? The lessons are universally applicable, because ultimately everything is either a product or service.
Then there are also the local indies here in seattle who I think are doing everything absolutely right and they will succeed. They won't get wildly rich, but they will succeed.
There is a million reasons why some people will succeed and fail, but I think random luck is the least influential variable in all of it.

Will my game succeed or fail? I don't know, the verdict is still out. The two biggest challenges for me right now is marketing and building more content. I've made some big mistakes along the way (only revealed by hindsight), but also made some pretty good decisions as well. There are still more decisions to make, some may be mistakes, but as long as I am proactively looking for risks and trying to preemptively mitigate disaster, I can't screw up too bad, right? The lack of this process in most indie projects is what causes them to fail predictably...and its preventable.

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You need some dynamite methods to start making money on games. This shovelware will not do... you need a bulldozer. Start by... making something that is not a game. That makes people 200% more likely to buy it.

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