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Sean Doherty

Do Independent Games Make Money

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The subject pretty much sums up the question; since many of us is either working on game as a member of a independent team or on our own; is it possible or even likely that we will make any money? Keep in mind that it is a lot of work to write a good game or for that matter even a bad game. However, in my opinion I am starting to see a trend that is disturbing; it seems as though developers in generally do an awful lot for free. For example, I have friends and family in blue collar industries such as carpentry where they wouldn't dream of lifting a hammer and pounding a single nail for free. Yet how many times have we been asked by these same people to fix their broken computers for nothing. As I see it, part of the problem is that it looks as though we fixed their problem with little or no effort. However, they can’t seem to understand that we work in an industry that is constantly changing and it is a lot of effort to maintain the skills which allow us too fix their computers this easily. That said; I concerned that this slippery slot is even worse when it comes to game development. Somewhere along the way, developers began giving games and other software away for free because either no one would buy them or they felt that it was expected. I guess my question is basically “are independent games generally capably of making money”? Moreover, what types of games can make money; and how good do they gave to be? _______________________________________ Understanding is a three edged sword... [edited by - Sean Doherty on December 15, 2003 10:49:43 PM]

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A general problem with triple-A titles by independent developers is time, cutting-edge technology, and most importantly the content. I'm sure you'll understand what I mean by that.

There are other ways to make money, such as shareware, a donation system, etc. It's just a matter of which method will get you more money for the work done.

So the PC is not a very good target platform. Unless you have a publisher, you won't get anywhere far.

There are other alternatives out there, however, and I know of one. I'm sure there are many more, but this one I know.

There's a relatively new company out there by the name Tapwave. Few of you might've heard of it, but I'm sure not that many people did. What they've done is created a PDA device named the Zodiac, but not just any. It's been designed from ground up for gaming and multimedia in mind. So, basically, it's a GBA + Palm + MP3 player + DivX player + portable emulator of soon to be many consoles + etc. And it's done really well too, IMO.

The way they sell their games includes two optional choices: sell it online or retail. Online means you buy the game from their online store, download it, upload it on the device and away you go. Retail means you buy an SD (flash memory card) card in a store (where you would buy any other PC games, etc.), stick it in and it's game play time. The retail launch is set in a month or so, meaning you won't be seeing this device in stores just yet, nor games for it, and the only way to purchase it is through their online store (you have to be a US resident too, so sorry international folks for now - should be shipping outside of US soon).

What they offer is the following. You make a decent game (doesn't have to be decent, but it should be if you want people to buy it), and this can range from very very simple stuff, like pool, tetris, etc. to more intricate desings, which are up you (RTS, FPS, racing, anything you want), and then Tapwave sells it on their online store. They, of course, take a small percentage of the profit, but the major part goes to you. Most Zodiac games are between $10 (simple tetris clones, etc.) to $30 (the very special AAA games, like Tomb Radier: AOD, Spy Hunter, etc.). So an average game can cost around $15. I'm estimating that's at least $10 for you per every game sold. And IIRC, there were at least 150`000 sales of the device in the first few weeks of its release, so you've got yourself quite a large, and quickly growing audience.

The device is quite capable (200 MHz Motorolla CPU, 32/128 MB memory, ATi Imageon 2D graphics chip, and so on), costs very little for its features compared to its rivals from palmOne and Sony, and could make you quite a bit of money in a short amount of time. Palm programming isn't hard, they have an excellent API and documentation, friendly dev support people who answer your dev questions, and is an excellent development environment.

Visit their dev zone and take a look, if you're interested.

PS. No, I don't work for them, and I wasn't paid to say this. Just giving an honest opinion, honest.


[edited by - shurcooL on December 15, 2003 8:47:31 PM]

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Original post by Sean Doherty
...they would (wouldn''t?) dream of lifting a hammer and pounding a single nail for free.

This phrase can be used in a variety of contexts, nevertheless... In general, what would be your impression of a carpenter who tells you: "I wouldn''t pound that nail for you, unless you pay me"? I think demonstrating some generosity helps build relationships with clients.

My opinion is that the inconvenience of online payment puts off a lot of customers. It''s easier to spend $10 on a little trinket in a shop (using cash or credit card), than buying a game online.

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Independent games can, and do, make money. But there''s a lot more to it than just making the game. Marketing, managing the business, customer support, understanding your target audience... it doesn''t matter if it''s a AAA title on the shelves or a shareware title at RealArcade, business is business.

Most of the projects that surface around here are, usually, hobby projects. People get the idea to make a game and ask for help with the infamouns ''You''ll get paid if we can get published''. Sorry, but that sort of project is doomed from the beginning. They can''t have it both ways - they''re either making a commercial/shareware title or they''re not (freeware). You can''t approach a commercial project the same way you can a freeware one, which is what most of these groups don''t get.

There''s several markets where indies can thrive (online distro''d PC titles, handhelds, niche markets where the big boys won''t risk it). It''s not impossible for a solo coder to break in, provided he treats the project exactly as it is - a job. Start coding, register a business, license assets or pay others to create them, research your target market and use that info appropriately (testing for system specs, predicting support issues), find someone to start marketing the game a couple of months before release (or DIY), research distributors for your target market...
It''s a lot of work, but can be and is being done.

If the first title is enjoyable, it will get sales. Though they most liley won''t really start coming in for several months. That''s why customer support is very important. Build up a customer base, develop a relationship with the players, improve/bugfix the game based on player feedback, continue to market it to bring in more customers, and all of this while working on the next game. Eventually, if everything comes together and all of the details are attended to, it''s possible to make a living at it, hire an employee or two, and gain enough of a reputation to be recognized by the major game news sites/mags.

What all of this sums up to is that an indie game developer is someone who appraoches their projects as it is - a business, and if they do so sucess is possible.

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I feel you could make money but you''d need to put in a lot of thought beforehand. You need talented people who are commited to putting in lots of work. You need to have as few people as possible to split the work between. You need artists. You need to give serious thought into making a game which is fun but not hugely complex (not too much code to write) and doesn''t need loads of complex artwork. You need someone who knows about putting up a competent professional (you can''t afford to look like ameteurs IMO) website and ecommerce options. You also need someone who knows a bit about business, marketing etc as advertising is a HUGE factor.

But I think if your game is fun and well advertised you can make money. Professional developers get I''m sure less than 10% of the proceeds from a game - something v.small anyway - due to publishing, marketing and production costs. If you sell directly online (note you need some tech support in this case) via download I''m sure you could get above 50% of the sale price as profit. So you don''t have to sell nearly as many copies to make a decent amount. With a small team and no manager taking a big cut you could get a fair amount each.

ANy comments anyone?

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