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hardcoded1337

Lone wolf indie devs and making a living

12 posts in this topic

I wonder how do you guys, who work as a single (lone wolf) developers of indie games make a living of it?

 

From all of the jobs I've ever tried it turned out that game development, especially if you work alone, is one of the toughest jobs to be successful with. This is true for most of stand-alone jobs in general but for game development it even more stands out. To create some basic game and to sell it, you have to master multiple areas of game development - programming, visual art, animation, marketing and some sound engineering also. Besides these "technical and artistic" knowledges, one has to have some sense for creation of some innovative game logic which is most of the time required in heavily saturated market in order to stand out of the crowd. One must also have some sense for level design to make levels visually appealing, challenging and meaningful and one must have some sense for overall game structure in order to build it in such a way that the flow channel of the game feels just right. Besides this, a single developer is basically forced to create games that aren't really what he wants to create. For instance shooter games, RPGs, platformers and similar stuff has to be omitted due to limited resources and time, because it's even hard for teams just to finish such a game, not to mention to polish it and make it suitable for the market. Also the quality of visual art has to be on professional level, since no serious distributor/investor and after all  gamer, will take your game seriously if it looks cheesy. And at the end, if it also taken in account that development time per project is usually measured in multiple months, you can throw all that time away if game is unsuccessful on market and this isn't rarely the case.

Edited by hardcoded1337
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About Minecraft, it's also easy to forget that while he was alone at the start, and he managed to get people interested in it enough to start give him cash before it was done, it was not until he had the cash to hire a team that he was actually able to finish it.

 

And afaik he did have help with art and sound already before that.

 

There are really not that many true "lonewolf" developers out there that are successful these days.

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You can always outsource the art. A lot of devs I know do this. They focus on the logic, rendering, inputs, feel and timing, and when ready, they contact a freelancer to replace placeholder art. It can weigh on one's morale to work with programmer-art for so long, but it comes with the job too.

I think being an indie is much harder on the system than it requires skills. A lot of successful indies release games that have crappy code, and weak artistic design. Part of what makes Minecraft so appealing (the box-art so to speak) is also the result of a lack of ability to do better, but at some point during production, Notch basically had to reason himself and say "that's ok for what I want to do" and apparently, it was also ok for a lot of other people because the core gameplay was delivered and it was fun.

 

Real indies are part designers, part programmers. This is true for Braids' creator, and you'll notice "2 people teams" tend to break it down that way as well (one programmer, one designer/artist) (case in point: Meat Boy).

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I think many people are too quick to pigeon hole themselves into a specific area when it comes to design.  "I'm a programmer so my game will always look crappy."

 

I completely disagree with this.  While people will always be quicker to learn in some areas than others, human beings have a remarkable ability to learn ANYTHING.  (This includes ART, for all of you programmers.)  All talent does is allow you to learn something faster than others.  A non-talented artist can become just as good though time and dedication.

 

Perseverance always trumps talent.  Turns out if you just don't give up, you will eventually create something good.  All of us are really good at knowing when something looks wrong.  I used to suck at animating.  The good thing is that it is obvious that my animations sucked.  So I worked on them.  Then worked on them again.  Then scrapped them and started over.  Then tweaked them.  Then fixed them again...you get the idea.  Eventually, my animations looked pretty good and I became a lot better animator.

 

As long as you don't expect to create a game in a few months (a few years is more likely) than NO project is impossible for a solo developer, they just take more TIME.

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It's about appeal and advancing your reputation to a large extent.  I know some very talented game devs and designers who will, sad to say, probably never go far until they understand the strategic decision making in advancing their careers.

 

Indy is okay to start but securing a place and maintaining it in the industry forces almost every indy to bring new people onto the team stage and improve the personal leadership skills.

 

Literally every major aspect of game development must be thoughtful, strategic, and implemented with effective tactics.  Few careers demand so many skills in order to succeed as a profession long term.

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they just take more TIME.

 

You must realize however that time is something a lot of indies don't have. Financing doesn't come by easily for WIP, and most successful indies will tell you its better not to keep a day job.

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About Minecraft, it's also easy to forget that while he was alone at the start, and he managed to get people interested in it enough to start give him cash before it was done, it was not until he had the cash to hire a team that he was actually able to finish it.

 

And afaik he did have help with art and sound already before that.

 

There are really not that many true "lonewolf" developers out there that are successful these days.

 

He also had an established community that liked sandbox games from his development of WurmOnline.   On his 7 year "stint" on WurmOnline the game developed vocal community that liked crafting and world building, and got "outposts" from other major communities like Something Awful, MMORPG.com, 4Chan...   Notch also invested heavily into contest communities like the Java4K contest, and just other random places.  Communities and interest that lead to early investment, interest and gameplay feedback on minecraft as he developed it.    All which eventually allowed talk to happen about minecraft all over the Internet, which lead to features on news sites like Rock Paper Shotgun and similar.

 

Minecraft wasn't about burst and boom that most other people have seen.   It was about a slow build up to critical mass from a wide assortment of fans, and an obscene amount of community participation by the developer himself, experience the developer learned from a lot of hard work elsewhere.

 

edit:  In other words even with one developer, it was laughably not lone wolf.

Edited by lithos
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Lone wolf doesn't mean no contacts at all and no experience. It means doing the vast majority of the work on your own. Notch did that. But there are lessons to learn from what you say. It's important to be able to reach the community, and that doesn't just mean marketing or hoping for a good review somewhere. It can mean participating in conversations with other developers and gamers and forming bonds that lead people to be interested in what you're making. It can mean taking part in events that raise your profile like Ludum Dare, 1 Game A Month, Global Game Jam, etc. People have to know about your game to want to buy it, and often the best way for them to know about your game is for them to know about you.

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I'll take your interpretation as being sound for the games industry, and those that frequent it online.   After all what's considered a small production still involves the time of a dozen or three(dozen) people.  

 

However I find difficulty labeling 'lone wolf' while surrounded by multiple communities, and communities that you've raised to an extent or another.   Just from the imagery of a pack animal, that isn't one anymore. Most successful games that are 'lone wolf' are just very very social, and in the discussion it was something that hasn't been covered very well.

 

You have to work with/for communities, and a lot of work at that.  I feel that the term gives false implications behind the meaning of lone wolf.

Edited by lithos
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Embrace the realistic limitations you have. Ironically, limitations have a way of focusing you -- but only if you have the wherewithal to accept them, rather than fighting them. Your feet will be firmly on the ground, without your head in the clouds.

 

Many of today's AAA games are no longer games from the NES era, were no less fun, and yet were created by 1/30th the number of people and in less than 1/3rd of the time. Imagine that Megaman, Castlevania, Super Mario Brothers, or Ninja Gaiden weren't released back in the day, but were released today with somewhat-higher-resolution 2-D graphics. Would they not sell? They may not command the $30 price tag they did in their day, but with the reach of our distribution channels today, you might very well make it back in volume -- and you'll have spent only 1/1,000th of the budget of a modern AAA game in doing so.

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