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Financial Solo game development as feasible profit-oriented business?

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Hi guys,
I'm junior engineer and I have one goal in mind: I'd like to beat my current net salary (40-60k)  in the time frame of 24 months, by starting a solo part-time business, which would over time hopefully grow into full-time activity. Let me point out that the business would be primarily profit-oriented, which means that the 1st priority is to generate targeted amount of income, followed by "doing what I like to do".
I have thought about game development being one possible business to achieve my goals. And before you jump on me that I'm trying to do something without any experience,  I'm able to tell you, that I'm not entirely unexperienced in the field of game development. In fact, As a hobbyst I have developed handful number of small flash games, covering the art, programming, game design and sound production by myself, so the whole idea - at least from the standpoint of implementation of a small 2D game - might not be that much of wishful thinking. In addition, during my studies I was also developing C# apps in the scope of enterprise solutions, in order to earn some pocket money. 
In regards to game development I have done some googling, which suggested, that game development market is business-wise, almost the same as music production market - overly saturated, high entry barrier, high probability to fail, and for most of the producers, a mediocre payment accordingly to requirements. In business terms, this might be labelled under high-risk/low-reward business. Or in other words,in game development I might have as much chanches to earn 40-60k NET a year as I would have in music production.
What is your consensus about this?


If you are solely profit oriented, avoid the game dev business like the plague. /thread[background=#ffffff] [/background]

Edited by 2cents

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Sure, you stand about as much chance of netting $60k/a as a solo game developer/entrepreneur with little to no applicable experience as you would as a pro musician, pro sports player, or pro actor in the same boat.

I mean, you know, you might have played on your high school football team, tossed a ball around with some friends every day after school, own at least 3 Nikes, and watch Sunday Gridiron Shouty Extravaganza religiously for years making better calls than the coaches down on the sidelines, so the NFL should be offering you a contract as a starting quarterback, yes?

I guess it would be better to invest my time and effort anywhere else, but in game dev. Maybe I should go scam multi billion dollar off-shore oil companies with a black box solution, which can detect and locate a pool of oil just by pressing a red button.  

Edited by 2cents

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My advice is, keep your day job and spend your free time to make a game. This way you can see just how much your skills as a developer is worth, without risking it all.

I'd never quit my job without having a reliable business running first. That would be some seriously risky shit.

Games have very low entry barrier, all you need is a engine and you can get great ones for free. Because of this it's even more saturated than the music production. practically anyone can make a game and upload it to a online store these days.

Yes, and this is why there is so many games most of them being plain rubbish. But what I actually meant is, that for a game product, the requirements to meet some kind of industry standard and to be realistically competitive, are high:

1. game has to be working and functional. Apparently 90% of dev already fail here.
2. game has to have quality and polished graphics. No polished art and developer have just increased risk of multiple fold that game won't sell (I can tell you personally, that when I see cheesy graphics, I run for the hills)
3. game has to be fun. Not a fun game is not a game. It's a boring app without purpose. This is probably the most important element of a game product, and as you can guess, it cannot be derived analytically. So even if a developer fullfills points 1 and 2, which is already an achievent, ship will sink if the game is not fun.For instance, when I was developing business application in .net, client didn't give a damn how it looked neither how fun was it. All what he cared was that it solves a problem and therefore is functional. So in case of programming business apps, only point 1 has to be fullfilled.

Edited by 2cents

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Generally I would say that you are unlikely to set up a solo studio and make that kind of money without several years of development, and a couple of game releases - For one, the first game you work on will if you are aiming for a well designed game take like a year or so if you contract out artwork etc, but then youre paying for the art in the game (which can be pretty costly). Of course if youre good you can do the art yourself. Audio - Contract out or do yourself?

I mean I have friends who run an Indie studio, they were a couple when they started it and now about 2 years down the line they are making (between them) around 25 - 30k will a game released on steam and a second game being worked on, though most of their income is from freelance contract work still.

On the other hand, I work making business applications for a company, earn more and have pretty good career growth prospects ahead so likely for a fair while I will continue to earn more, just from a job and whether they hit the same income or not remains to be seen.

Basically, it is possible to earn that from a solo studio, though its fairly unlikely and will most likely take a long time to build up a reputation as a studio for having fun / good quality games unless you happen to strike a goldmine idea that people love.

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If you're an extremely talented game designer (most people are not) and a somewhat talented programmer, know a somewhat talented artist willing to partner up with you, both have enough savings to pay living expenses for a year plus marketing costs, and are able to network with publishers / leverage existing relationships, then you have a shot at making two above-average gamedev salaries.

I know a total of two people in that boat, and a lot of other people making way less than their living expenses, forced to work as contractors or full time to make ends meet.

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so without teaming up, having an actual talent and spending 6months of net time for a product and possibly sell it on a more promising platoform like steam, I can forget about my goals. Case closed. I knew that the odds were bad, but despite I got surprised.

Nevertheless, could you suggest me some fields which may be more prospective and realistic to achive the goals outlined in the OP? Edited by 2cents

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I can't think of anything legal that could get you a $40k salary working solo where you didn't already have a high level of skill to begin with. Maybe you could spend the 2 years building your skill in some area that isn't particularly glamorous and therefore full of hobbyists.

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Solo devs without commercial experience can still make hits (and big money) but it's more like playing the lottery than a business plan. If that's your passion, then you can stick with it for several years of hobby time... and if it flops, hey, it's just a hobby.

I'd recommend staying with salaried jobs until you gain more experience, to the point where people would be willing to hire you as a freelancer based on your CV, or you honestly look around your workplace and can say "I can do this better by myself".

I know some inexperienced indie gamedevs locally who probably make around $40k as freelancers, but that requires a lot of networking / embedding yourself into an indie "scene" IRL so that people are aware of your service (like any business: marketing is essential to create a market for your product), and requires a great dash of luck.

You could make some kind of niche gamedev tool, and sell it or do a crowdfunding campaign to finish it. e.g. Sprite lamp comes to mind, which raised over $20k USD in funding... Throw in after-crowdfunding sales and a bit of freelancing and the author might've been able to claw himself up to $40k USD/year...

That path would probably require a shitload of prototyping of loads of ideas, in a quest for something truly innovative and exciting... which you should probably do while salaried, and then make the decision to start a business once you've struck gold.

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As many others have pointed out: If you are solely profit oriented, avoid the game dev business like the plague.

Not because you cannot make a ton of money in it... many studios are HIGHLY successfull! But these most of the time are bigger shops and have been in the business for decades before becoming highly successfull.

Not because you couldn't become BILLIONAIRE (see Notch, altough he technically wasn't a lone Indie) as a single individual. But then even the ones much less successfull needed a streak of luck to achieve the success they had similar to winning the lottery.


The big question is: Why? Why would you do this to you, try to force your luck in the game dev business if really all you are interested in is improving your salary? When you can easely climb the ladder in the corporate IT world and make double what you make today with a decent senior job in the right company, even before you go up the management ladder.

Is this a fun career? Well, depends on what you call "fun"... then again, developing games for a living is also not just "fun and games", and really, at some point MOST people have to decide wheter they want to maximize profit or the "fun factor" in their professional career... not many people achieve making millions by surfing at hawaiian beaches for a living, and the ones that do only do so with hard work AND a ton of luck. Unless want to bet on your luck, your hard work is better spent in a less high risk / low reward environment.


Only try to get into game development professionally if you REALLY think you will enjoy working on games way more than working on business software or filling out financial spreadsheets, to the point you would accept a paycut and worse working conditions just for that.

And lets not forget, building up your own company often takes 5+ years just to start making a profit, and is by far not the quickest way to start rake in more cash.


My 2cents as someone not working in games, but as a longtime hobby dev with a interest in everything about game development

Edited by Gian-Reto

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As many said, creating games on your own just to make profit is quite hard and risky, especially since there are quite a few large companies focused on just that. 

An alternative solution could be to create prototypes of games, and try to sell them to the aforementionned companies. But for it to work, you'd need to prove to the company that your concept can work. If it's an existing concept, then they probably won't need to buy yours, since it's already out there, and they can just adapt it to their games in a different enough way to ensure they don't get sued.

There is a really interesting talk from Jake Birkett, founder of Grey Alien Games, who makes game almost on his own, and talks about his experience, and how he makes a kind of living out of it: 

If I were you, I would focus more on finding out what is the one thing I dream of doing, and then looking at how to do it and monetize it, and make good profit out of it. It is not going to be an easy path (it's actually quite hard and scary), but from my experience, it's the best way to ensure you are consistently enjoying what you do, and it's then that you become the most efficient when working (since it no longer feels like working).

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Maybe it is a profit oriented. But single only development will be use so much time. We wanna be a little comand, but when developments starts we all need more men [/size]

Edited by Tom Sloper
apparent recruitment wording deleted

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