Succeeding as an Independent Game Developer
Game development is heavily bound by huge capital investments by the game publisher. To ensure profits, the game developers need to reach out to a wide market base and increase their chances of large acceptance. For instance, if a game developer chooses to use the game engine Unreal Engine 2 the license will cost USD $350,000 plus 5-10 percent of the wholesale price for the title as royalty. Proprietary development tools are also often quite specific to computer/console platforms further reducing the field of distribution and developmental flexibility. That is, to develop games for Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox requires an SDK license that can cost anywhere between USD $2000 and USD $10,000 in addition to developer fees and profit cuts.
Further, the gaming industry is largely classified under ‘entertainment’. All games are subject to a rigorous approval process so publishers/console manufacturers get to decide and propogate their idea of what is ‘entertaining enough’ for the user.
So where does that leave an independent game developers who is solely relying on his programming skills and self-determination to create games outside this restrictive relationship?
Over the years, the industry has given rise to a community of players and developers who prefer to operated outside the traditional publishing culture. Indie game developers like ‘2D Boy’ and ‘Number None Inc.’ have created a lot of buzz amongst players for their games ‘Braid’ and ‘World of Goo’ respectively.
When quizzed about the success of independent game development, Drew Davidson, Director of Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at Carnegie Mellon University, said "I think it's already having an effect. Larger studios are looking for ways to develop more small games. And the success of indie developers is encouraging more people about the possibilities."
Indies also find it difficult to have access to expensive state-of-the-art tooling for creating game content. But software makers have responded to this growing community with specially crafted software and opening up online digital distribution channels. In 2008, Microsoft launched Xbox Community Games, later renamed as Xbox Live Indie Games to allow independent developers to create games for the Xbox 360 using XNA development tools. The developer could later sell the game in the Xbox Live Marketplace; this is how 2D Boy released the critically acclaimed game – Braid. Now avenues like Xbox Live Indie Games, Playstation Network and WiiWare provide distribution channels for indie games.
What Does it Take to Make an Indie Game?
Rule No. 1 for indie game developers is to spend as less as possible. Instead of investing in high-end machine, indie games can also be developed on a netbook with a reasonably good configuration. For software, it is open source all the way. Game creators like Scirra’s Construct can be downloaded for free. Yoyo Games’ Game Maker comes with better recommendations and cost USD $25. Other freely available software include BlitzMax, GLBasic and Unity.
As for marketing, free distribution of demos, word-of-mouth publicity and creativity in exploring experimental game themes and styles of game play can get the game developer an impressive overall advertising budget to customer ratio. Direct deals with console manufacturers can also aid wide distribution of their games and with the internet around it’s not too tough to put up a reasonably attractive website.
To keep costs under check, experts recommend independent developers can endure by building smaller games with lowered production costs. Also, their primary focus should remain on finding their niche in the industry. "You may want to sell a million copies of a game you developed over three years for $10 million, but you'll have a better chance of selling 20,000 copies of -- let alone finishing -- a game that takes six months to develop for $5000," says Jeff Tunnel, Founder of Garage Games, the creators of torque development technology.
How Can an Indies Succeed?
For all the reasons cited earlier, few young and energetic entrepreneurs/students choose the indie route rather than joining a professional game studio to unleash their creative freedom. Indies have challenges in all aspects of game development such as funding, developing, publishing, marketing and selling their games.
But if you have the passion to become one, then India Game Developer Summit is the place to be on 27th February 2010. In a first such initiative for India's game development community, India GDS is hosting a session that covers all aspects of Indie game development ranging from the choice of gaming platform - PC/Mobile/Console to pros & cons of self publishing and digital distribution.
Since indie teams have budget constraints, they don't have access to modern 2D and 3D content creation tools that professional game studios use. To address this specific problem, the session shows how high-quality open source content creation tools could be used as a viable alternative to their commercial counterparts.
The speaker, Karthik Subramaniam, presentation introduces a set of free, production-quality open source software such as Blender, GIMP, MyPaint, etc with a brief overview of their capabilities. Depending on the type/genre of game, indies can benefit from open source game engines to drastically reduce time to market. The session will conclude with the presentation of a cost-effective marketing strategy and few successful indie case studies.
Attend IGDS to get inspired, learn from the gurus who have gamed their way to success, and join a club that seeks competence to grab a share in the $43 billion global gaming development pie. The summit will be held on Saturday, 27th February in Bangalore. For complete information about the program, speakers and talks lo on to www.gamedevelopersummit.com.