So You Want To Be an Indie – How to Start an Indie Game Studio – Extra Credits


over the past few years we’ve done a series of so you want to be episodes talking about what it takes to fill the various roles in the game industry but lately we’ve got more and more requests for suggestions on how to get into independent games development and since it’s something that James has worked with a number of people on we figured hey why not hopefully this helps some of you take the first steps toward getting more fantastic games out to the world so without further ado lesson one the first thing you have to know is an indie dev is that you are not going to be making a game with the scope of a God of war or a Call of Duty for your first project think simple think small whether you’re self-financing for a few million dollars or you’re living off a ramen doesn’t matter you want to keep your first project achievable something you can get out to market and into the hands of real people your first time through this process will teach you a great deal even if you’re already a wizened veteran coming out of the triple-a industry it’s a totally different experience working with a small team and actually getting to help call all the shots and if you’re not a veteran the amount you’re going to learn from this is just staggering I can guarantee you this your second project will be so much better and go so much smoother than your first and when it comes time to start your second project think simple think small again James has an enormous amount of experience estimating project timelines and to this day when he makes these estimates he always just adds an extra fifty percent to the schedule and budget because these projects always end up with a thousand little pieces and complexities you can’t possibly foresee before you’ve gotten started lesson two being an indie dev involves a lot more than just building games I’ve known plenty of teams that were great at building games but whose studio died on the vine because they didn’t know how to do marketing or PR or how to get the project distributed there is a lot more to succeeding in this industry than just build it and they will come this is where the fantasy of being an indie separates from the reality you’d like to dream about working on games all day but honestly you’re going to be wearing a lot of hats and if this company is your baby you’re probably going to be spending almost as much time answering emails taking meetings worrying about taxes and money and so on as you are actually developing your game if you’re working with more than one person I would highly recommend getting a lawyer from the outset you don’t have to use them much until it comes time to deal heavily with contracts but someone who can help you set up your company right can save you a lot of headaches in the long run if you can spare the 500 to a thousand dollars to hire a lawyer when you start to get serious about launching a game it’ll be well worth it once you’re all set up the key is assuming you’re not working with a lot of money is how to get visibility the best method is going to differ wildly for different games in different studios so here I would just recommend really studying how other games have done it whether it’s building into the game things that people want to share like in minecraft or using spaces like congregate the way team meat did there are a thousand different methods to help your game stand out from the ever-growing crowd of indie titles out there just remember going viral is something that you work for and you have to stay on top of it it’s not just something that happens by itself at least not 99.99% of the time beyond that you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to get your project distributed getting on Steam doesn’t just happen and many of the much smaller digital distribution services aren’t going to glean you more than a few dozen sales so really think about and give yourself at least six months prior to launch to work on pursuing distribution lesson 3 is budget this might seem simple as an indie studio you just take the minimum amount you all need to live each month multiply that by the number of months you expect the project to take and voila you got your budget wrong no because it turns out there are licenses you’re gonna have to buy and legal fees you’re going to have to pay and then there’s taxes and of course somebody’s car is going to break down at some point and then one of the computers is going to burst into flame and you’ll have to replace that plus all the work that was on the hard drive that people forgot to back up and oh that’s just the start of it often you build your first game simply to get people to know who you are and to gather a small following of fans to get people interested in you as a company and make your work stand out amongst all the less well crafted indie games out there often even if your first game wins some awards and get some press it’s not going to sell phenomenally well honestly just getting noticed is probably a more important goal for your first game than sales but that does mean that you’re going to need to plan a way to survive long enough to release your second game so just keep that in mind also another important thing to know mini game distributing companies aren’t going to pay you until 30 to 90 days after they start selling it James has seen too many nd teams suffer because they ran out of cash while waiting for that first decent sized check of course it’s not the end of the world if this happens if your game is selling well enough people will be willing to front you some money but that money is going to be a lot more expensive than you never want it to be and finally lesson 4 mechanics trump content this advice is for your actual game design as an indie you can get away with a game that’s short your game could be a five-minute web game that touches us in some deeply emotional way or even a gripping 8 hour adventure when it absolutely must not be is 25 hours of that’s alright polish and scale are the weapons of the triple-a world and these can’t really compete with that so unless you already have something spectacular or novel to offer your focus shouldn’t be about building more of it instead concentrate your efforts on making that play really stand out too often I see new indie companies cobble together some baseline functional mechanics and then just start building levels and creating new content because doing that feels like a games getting made it feels like tangible progress but that is the wrong way to go about things if you don’t make sure your mechanics are right first you’re just gonna have to redo all that level design when you polish those mechanics or worse you’ll be afraid to change your mechanics for the better because of all the level design you already did and you’ll be stuck shipping a mediocre game and remember to test early it may scare you it may feel like your game isn’t ready or that people won’t understand it but it’s almost never too early to test you can always get valuable feedback it’s often our own egos and our fear of being hurt of having this thing we love misunderstood or rejected that keeps us from showing it to others in an unbiased environment an environment where it’s okay for them to rip it to shreds right in front of us but to succeed as an independent developer that’s just something you’re gonna have to step past so to review lesson 1 plan your game scope well lesson 2 know what you’re getting yourself into lesson 3 keep your budget realistic with hopefully enough in the war chest to make another game if the first one doesn’t sell and lesson 4 mechanics trump content good luck we hope to be playing your game soon see you next week

100 thoughts on “So You Want To Be an Indie – How to Start an Indie Game Studio – Extra Credits”

  1. As a designer (or what you could call pre-designer as I'm not officially a designer) I mostly stand on the sideline when it comes to economy. The game I'm helping make right now has a budget of 0 at the time being so advertisment is going to be the key to our sucess. Most of us have not yet invested a single euro into this project and so we are all working for free, and that's allright. It'll take atleast 2 years before we have anything we could call a beta and this game will take a amazingly long time and a ton of effort of us, but that's all part of the challange.

  2. so your saying my first game should be better than press the space bar to shoot a balloon and don't let the balloons get to the bottom of the screen or you lose (that was my first game)

  3. I have a question…
    So,im currently working on 4 games(not at the same time i work on one at a time then switch to another) and 3 of them have a multiplayer element…and if i spend sooooo much time and effort into something…how will i know it will be good? Why should i spend YEARS working on a battle multiplayer game when if someone comes online and nobody is playing they cant either?
    I feel like theres no point in making a game where im at because people wont play them…

  4. So I'm getting ready to go to college in a couple years, and want to be an indie. I've been realistic about it and am currently working on a fairly complex game in OpenGL after having made about 5 simple ones in Unity. I know that I'm not going to realistically going to make a living yet, or maybe not for the rest of my life off of game development. This doesn't mean that I'm not going to try.

    That being said, what are some decent jobs that I could pursue that leave some time for coding (I want to get a USEFUL degree in college instead of just dicking around and wasting money). I already know about all I need to program games, so a degree in Computer Science wouldn't really do much for me.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

  5. Regarding the testing:
    After having completed one small game with a friend of mine (which I didn't even distribute publicly because it contains copyrighted material and so on), I still don't let anyone do the testing until I'm more than halfway done.
    Why? Because I am personally connected to this game so I can bear it being incomplete, bugged, things seeming clunky, getting crashes and so on. A person who has tested the game is too likely not to play the entire game since they've been more or less "spoiled" by the incomplete mess it used to be.
    This is why ~70% of our time was spent testing the game rather than programming it. The same goes for the next game we're working on, and I am completely fine with this because I love playing it and realising that a certain level is complete bullshit and redoing that bit from scratch.

  6. I've just finished my first year of university and the more I think about it the more sure I am about wanting to be in the game industry, even with all the struggles explained. I've done a bit of everything… art, music, coding, writing/design (and liked it of course) and i just want to be able to put out my own creations, direct something, make something great… I'm also going into computer science and business so if it doesn't work out there are still other occupations left over. I hope a few years or more down the line I can come back to this and have made it. Hopefully everyone else in the comments will have too. 🙂

  7. After 5 years and the way to become an indie dev has gone rougher and more dangerous, since there are so many bad games now on Steam, by both the big companies and The Indies, people become cautious and passive in buying games. Which means that if you don't have a good marketing strategy, or you are not already famous in the Industry then making profits as Indie Dev is near impossible

  8. I'm planning on only getting experience on my first couple of years (totally not because I'm a broke teenager who has no clue about advertisement)

  9. I'm A One Person Team Making A 7 Hour Long Text Based Game With Tons Of Choice…
    ItS gOnNa Be FiNe FoR mY MenTAL HeaLtH

  10. I've been watching these videos for quite a while, and I've always been wondering: How much of this could apply in other industries? I am growing in music production. I'm composing, arranging, and sometimes producing music, and I feel like some things they touched on could apply in some way.

  11. Learn to code, first.
    I mean, it's not like it's gonna be worth it or anything. You're still not gonna get Greenlit.

  12. I've made the mistake of making a 'meh' kind of game many times but recently, I've started focusing more on the actual gameplay and design. I have a game coming out soon and if anyone wants to know then just send me a reply. Good luck to all the new gamedevs out there.

  13. If you want to be an indie developer then just make a game. If you do all or most the work yourself you don't have to worry about legal issues or setting up a company or taxes. You can always get a a few work for hire freelancers if you really need help now and then. Copyrighting your character designs is also a good idea. But I wouldn't complicate game development with all that legal/company nonsense when you could programming or creating graphics for your game. Plenty of time to worry about setting up a business once your game is well on in development and you start thinking about contacting console manufacturers for release.

  14. In all honesty, I just do it for fun whenever I have some spare time. I don't expect to make a penny from it either, I would rather gather the input of a lot more people since there is no price to trying it out. Widespread input adds so much value to devving the follow-up game (be it related or not) and maybe charge $1,99 for it or something. But if it never comes to that, fine too.

  15. Hey, check out my first decent flash game. I'm only eleven so don't expect much.
    https://supersanicman.itch.io/snail-dodge-read-disc

  16. Would anyone want to help me make an indie game? Just for fun, not actual pay but just as a time pass and to tell your friends that you made a game.

  17. I always wanted to start an indie studio where I’m from a reservation close to a meti village that somewhat share population with each other. But the whole area finally got decent high speed internet and there’s a lack of work all around besides forestry and oilfield work. But there’s a large amount of people out 4K people 65% is between the ages of 13-19 compared to the 20%25-40 but large amount of youth with little to do is dangerous so I keep proposing with my leadership to get computers not expensive major ones but ones that can run basic things like unity, spatial OS. And cost of living is pretty and since it’s tribal land there’s little in the much of taxes. But I truly believe these kids with fuck all to do and sitting in front of a computer they may learn something.

  18. “Now comes the hard part, naming it”
    “You worked on this for a year and THIS is the hard part?”

    True story with a book I book I tried writing. Could not think of a title. Probably the same with games

  19. As already other people mentioned, this Video is outdated due to changes of game development environment and game design itself

  20. And most important thing to remeber if you are serious game developer is a successful game developer does not make Video like this because they're too busy to make Videos for YouTube.

  21. Ok, the indie company I work with needs to make our big project our second project. That one I'm estimating will take around 3-5 years. Thanks for the advice!

  22. Expect to have some more patching/updating to do once you fully release a game. I just picked up a game from a new studio and part of it's really great, part is deeply flawed. And of course people are ripping into them about the flaws. The Devs claim they had over 20 playtesters, and they all swore the game was perfect. Well, maybe on the company's system, but not on mine, and there are several other poeple in their forums complaining about the same controller support issues, as well as gameplay mechanics that do not belong in the genre.
    But rather than giving up, or telling the consumers that they're wrong, the devs are updating the game, allowing the choice to remove the offending mechanics and improving controller support, etc. An open or wider beta test on customers' machines would have probably reduced the need for updates and apologies after the game launched, but it's difficult to be sure until it's fully in the wild.

  23. What if your just a bored highschooler and want to become and Indie developer can you just make a great game that people can remember and give it to another company who had many games like yours and can handle all the budget and pr stuff after your done.

    What i mean in a simplier concept sell your game to a big or small company so they can at least continue your game with the right tools?

  24. "Plan your first game small" the best tip ever given. (I didn't, been working with 2 other friends for about a year with a few weeks break every other month, we didn't plan small, don't be us)

  25. Me: Oh boy, I can't wait to make games and make everyone happy!
    This video: but you need to do these first
    Me: uuuh ok
    Six and a haf minutes later…
    Me: oh my, I need to shape up myself for what's to come, I won't stop though, even if the video made me a bit depressed, I won't stop giving away joy

  26. These videos make me feel as if I'm going nowhere with my dream.
    I aim too high with no way of achieving my goals and it just depresses me to know that I will never succeed in my way…

  27. any game developer willing to help me with a few things in my game which I am currently developing please reply

  28. "Getting on steam doesn't just happen" I wish this we're still true, so many crappy games and literally just porn puzzles on steam now = quality has gone downhill fast.

  29. My favorite part about the treasure trove of the Extra Credits library is the increcible sense of nostalgia of going back to a particular topic, and watching the team evolve and grow.. I'm so proud of EC, and their diversity of content. I hope to emulate this to a degree as I make the leap into actually making and releasing software.

    Keep up the good work EC!

  30. Have enough money for a three-year plan. That way if there are no signs that things are working out after 2 years you have a year to find a job before going broke.

  31. Sure but how do I start my game company? I get followers to help me? I make a name for myself to get followers? I join a group and then present a great idea and then we all work on that and then promote it and sell it, and then moving on to other ideas? Then what?

  32. Watched years ago now I am an indie game dev. It's even harder than before. Mainly because there are just sooo many more game devs. And thus so many more games. You have to make something really good now. I'm making a game and game dev focused channel. Come see if I fail or succeed

  33. For those of us unaware of what team meat did on Kongregate is there a source of information/a post mordem on their development that I could check out? Until this video I've never heard of the site so it's difficult for me to make inferences just by quickly looking at the site without proper context.

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