If at some happy moment you come up with an original idea to create a game that has no analogues in terms of presentation, plot, or gameplay, but you have neither a team nor funding, then congratulations: the arrow of your internal game development compass has moved towards indie.

And that means you’ve come to the right place.

Indie Game: Definition

First of all, you need to understand that indie is not a genre, not a class, or even a type of games. It is rather a characteristic of the conditions for their creation. The gaming world is conditionally divided into:

  • Sponsored products backed by publishers and investors and created for purely commercial purposes.
  • Independent games without such financial support, but with the freedom and courage to put the idea ahead of profit.

So what is an indie game? These are projects that are created by independent developers.

Independence means that they do not work for large studios like EA or Ubisoft, but only for themselves. These are kind of individual entrepreneurs in the gaming industry. Typically, indie studios are made up of just a few people. Most often, their number does not exceed 10 experts. There are also indie developers who make games alone.

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Dive deeper

The gaming industry is one of the richest markets in the world − it is now worth more nearly $200 billion − but that money rarely reaches independent teams. Due to the availability of training courses and the gradual simplification of the development process, there are more and more indie studios every year. But only a few achieve financial success. And often it is largely based on pure luck.

On the one hand, this means that most indie developers are wasting money and energy almost in vain. On the other hand, it shows that these studios have to look for innovative ideas and new ways to make games. After all, restrictions and high competition force you to be creative.

Indie Example: Superhot

Superhot game screen

For example, let’s take a look at Superhot, a first-person shooter video game developed by the independent Polish Superhot team.

Game’s tagline: Time moves only when you yove

The essence of the game is that time moves around players only when they move. That is, if the player suddenly stops, time also freezes.

The project was created in just a week as part of the 7 Day FPS Challenge in 2013. The widespread attention to the demo prompted the development team to create the full game. They received funding through Kickstarter.

In the first 7 hours, the creators of the game collected half of the required amount of $100,000, and by the end of the first day, the goal was almost completely achieved. As a result, the team raised $250,798, which allowed diversifying the game with additional challenges, a replay mod, and more advanced animation.

The PC version, released in 2016, surpassed the 500,000 mark in sales, generating $10 million a year after its release.

What Is Indie Game Development?

The word indie has nothing to do with India, as one might think. It is short for “independent”.

Indie game development is the process of creating a game by a small team or one person without the financial support of large publishers.

Indie developers do not have investors ready to fund all their ideas. Development money is most often raised on crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and CrowdFunder. Some also use Patreon, a subscription-based website that offers regular support to developers. While the creation of the game is in progress, indie developers can share exclusive materials, artwork, backstage videos, and more with their patrons.

Indie Example: Night in the Woods

For people to believe in an idea and join it, it is necessary to talk about it thoroughly and passionately. That’s exactly what developer and composer Alec Holowka and animator and illustrator Scott Benson did when they created the indie studio Infinite Fall and announced the start of a fundraiser for the 2D narrative-focused adventure game Night in the Woods.

Game’s tagline: At the end of everything, hold on to anything

Seen for the first time, this phrase from the very beginning causes a vague longing in the soul and an inexplicable melancholy musing.

A detailed description of the game, its ideas, locations, characters, and music resonated in the hearts of more than 7,000 people, which allowed the team to collect the claimed $50,000 in 26 hours and quadruple this amount in a month.

NITW on Kickstarter

Player reviews about the game speak louder than any description.

NITW reviews

The authors seem to have turned their souls inside out and filled Night in the Woods with their feelings, experiences, pain, and desperate questions turned to nowhere. This is an interactive psychological novel that touches a nerve.

Through incredible and multi-layered dialogues, they raise many relevant topics:

  • the transience of being and the injustice of the world;
  • the reality of the soul and the piercing essence of growing up;
  • the vagrancy of the body and mind;
  • the search for faith and its justification.

Everyone will find in this game something that will touch the soul. And it worked. The breathtaking atmosphere of the game has attracted a huge number of fans to it, who, with delight and horror, find parallels between their fate and the fate of the characters, between the history of their city and the gradually fading breath of Possum Springs.

Night In The Woods won the award for “Best Adventure Game” in IGN’s Best of 2017 Awards, “Best Cast of Characters” in Giant Bomb’s 2017 Game of the Year Awards, and “Best 2D Visuals” in the Unity Awards 2017.

NITW game screen

Who Is an Indie Developer?

An indie developer is someone who develops games independently or is part of a small development team that produces video games for PC and mobile devices without the financial support of large companies.

Unlike most big studios that create big-budget AAA titles, indie developers are not afraid to use fresh and risky ideas, rarely follow industry-recognized standards, and do not create products solely for the purpose of earning money. They can make an indie game based on their personal experiences, perception of the world, comprehension of current social issues, and more. It will not be a product with ultra-modern graphics and mechanics, but it will definitely be able to touch the heart and awaken the most intimate thoughts and feelings.

True indie developers:

  • do not conform to the standard needs of the gaming market and do not seek to tailor their skills to hiring a large game studio;
  • are distinguished by the presence of versatile useful knowledge in the field of game development and promotion;
  • often combine the experience of several experts: programmers, artists, designers, etc.
  • have a great desire to constantly grow and expand their skill base in all areas related to the creation of games.

We define indie games as relatively low-budget games created by a small team independent of major publishers. There can be thousands and hundreds of thousands of such games. In fact, even one person can make an indie game. But how do indie developers get their game noticed?

Don’t quit what you started Indie developers are driven solely by their enthusiasm. They must be able to bravely confront criticism and negativity head on and keep improving their project no matter what.
Focus on quality It makes no sense for an indie developer to create a large number of games and expect that one of them can be successful. This is an inefficient use of time and limited resources. The best strategy is to focus on one project and bring it to perfection.
Use original ideas What makes an indie game a worthy competitor to the products of major studios? Their unusual plot and mechanics. Among indie games, you can find real masterpieces of storytelling, similar to interactive books, packed in graphics. Many of them become cult and gain a huge number of fans precisely because of their idea.
Promote your work Indie developers are not backed by a strong marketing department: they need to talk about their product on their own. Announcements, trailers, press releases, promotional art, posts on forums and in thematic communities – everything will be fine.
Plan retention methods Indie games usually fail to keep the player’s interest with new massive patches and DLC. In order for players to continue interacting with the game even after the end of the storyline, it is necessary to think over the mechanisms for motivating them to replay it to get new achievements, unlock interesting information, etc.
Decide on monetization In-game purchases, ads, cross-promotions – standard monetization methods are possible for indie games as well. They should be implemented very neatly and organically so as not to alienate the player. Some indie developers are moving away from standard monetization methods and simply selling the entire game for a fixed price. Users of the Epic Games Store, Steam, or other platforms pay for it once and get access to all its features.
Engage with the community Once the game hits the market, you can’t leave it to its own devices. You need to track mentions, give comments, listen to reviews, answer questions, and in every possible way stimulate the interest of all those who are not indifferent.

How to Fill the Missing Skill

There may be situations where you have an idea and certain skills, but they are not enough to cover the full range of work on creating an indie game. For example, you’re good at programming, but you don’t know how to draw at all. It is possible to find a temporary freelance companion, but no one guarantees the understanding and quality of what you expect. With a limited budget, any risk can be fatal.

A much more effective option is to order the desired art or animation from an outsourcing studio. Experienced specialists will quickly understand the essence of your request and immediately get down to business, ensuring consistently high-quality results. While they’re working on the art, you’ll be able to work on other aspects of the game and thus speed up the release significantly.

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Team Composition To Create Indie Games

How to make indie games? Just like other games, given the fact that finances will be limited almost all the time.

And of course, no indie game can be made without a team. Even if it’s about one person.

Despite the fact that often each member of an indie team is a multi-instrumentalist who understands several areas at once, it is necessary to remember the composition of the core, without which it is impossible to create a single game:

  1. Game designer.
  2. Artist.
  3. Programmer.
  4. Sound engineer.
  5. Tester.

All these roles can be performed by one person. It is also possible that the programmer is good at testing, while the indie game designer does both art and animation. It’s just important to know what kind of work is ahead to make an indie game.

Let’s talk a little about each role.

Game Designer

More often than not, everyone on the small indie team contributes to the design of the game. This can be done by a programmer, sound designer, artist, etc. The main thing is that this person can see the overall and holistic concept of the game as the player sees it.

The contribution of each team member to the game design can be both positive and negative. On the one hand, there are a large number of interesting ideas and interpretations. On the other, there is a discrepancy between proposals and their possible inconsistency with the original idea. Therefore, it is important to have a game design document where the main points of the idea and style of the game will be spelt out. The whole team will rely on it as they work, and if there are questions or disagreements, they can reach a consensus.

Artist

An artist is a person who creates the visual component of an indie game. Art takes time and represents what players see during the game. Therefore, choosing a person for this role is a vital element of your project.

Working closely with programmers and designers, the artists will create the game’s visuals. It all starts with concept art before moving on to content that will appear in the game, including backgrounds, characters, animations, etc.

Artists also make sure that the content they create is technically compliant and builds the overall feel of the game. The more difficult the game, the more artists it is desirable to hire. This is especially true for 3D options with a large number of characters and locations. But if you are creating a retro platformer, then one artist can handle the creation of pixel art and animation.

Programmer

Your idea may be the best, but without a programmer, it will most likely never come to fruition. A computer programmer is engaged in the development of the code base and tools for the game. Since video games are electronic entertainment, no programmer usually means no video game.

Note that the programmer usually does more than just coding the game while on an indie team. They will also take responsibility for debugging and beta testing to make sure the games are polished and acceptable.

Today, a game programmer does not need to know programming languages. There are many game engines (for example, Unreal Engine) that allow you to develop using blueprints, that is, visual programming.

A lot of indie games were made with just one programmer. So it mostly depends on the size and scope of your project.

Sound Engineer

The sound designer or composer will be responsible for creating all the sound effects and music for the game. Sound is a vital element in creating the atmosphere. Even if it’s not a horror game that needs scary music to enhance the experience, you still need a catchy tune to accompany your puzzle game or action platformer. Some particularly successful tunes become iconic for the game and even take on a new life in the form of fan covers.

There are many novice game sound engineers, and if you need one, then you should pay attention to specialists who have already done this kind of work before. For example, you can find someone who has already written chiptune music for other games if that style of music suits your project.

Tester

In most cases, this role is performed by the programmer. But it’s not always easy for them to spot errors in code they’ve been working on for many hours. Therefore, a fresh third-person view would be more relevant and effective here. The tester will carefully check the game and find all the inconsistencies, errors, problems, glitches, and crashes.

Your friends or volunteers who support your crowdfunding campaign, or anyone who enjoys playing games and can describe in detail what is going wrong can test the game and find glitches. But they can never replace a professional tester. It is better to allocate a budget for testing in advance if you do not want your game to fail purely due to numerous bugs.

Other Roles

We have listed the main people involved in indie development. There are other equally important roles that we have not highlighted in separate paragraphs, because in indie teams it is very rare to assign individual people to them. Most often, these roles are filled by those who are already doing some work on the project.

The first is a writer or a so-called narrative designer. Basically, any member of the team can write, tell the story, and shape the storyline. If the game is going to have a lot of text and dialogue, it’s best to at least have someone check all that text for errors before release. There is nothing worse than an indie game with typos in the text, creepy dialogues, and a boring plot, even if its gameplay is very beautiful and interesting.

The second is a project manager. The project manager’s job is to make sure the team is working quickly and efficiently, set deadlines, motivate team members that are lagging behind, and make sure everyone’s work gets done. Very often, indie developers fall behind easily and can miss deadlines because they don’t have a publisher or higher level person to push them. Therefore, they really need a person who will coordinate the work and maintain morale, whoever he or she is.

Pros and Cons of Indie Game Design

Indie games are very different from sponsored projects in many ways, both positive and negative. Our task is to give a complete picture of all of them without distortion and prejudice.

Advantages

Pros of indie games - Indie Game Development: Guide to Revenues, Most Profitable Genres & Monetization [+ 10 Best Indie Games 2020]
Unusual ideas Indie studios are the main source of experimental projects in the gaming industry. Big publishers carefully weigh each step and figure out which concepts will make them the most money. Independent developers create the games they want and are not afraid to explore crazy ideas. For example, Getting Over It is an incredibly hard-to-control mock game designed to torment the less patient and show them that defeat is an integral part of the gameplay. Such projects are only possible in the independent segment of the gaming industry.
Fast feedback tracking Indie studios are almost always small. Therefore, it is easier for them to respond to complaints and suggestions from players. It’s not uncommon for developers to fix bugs within hours of reporting a bug. In addition, independent teams add new content more easily and faster than major studios. The latter can only respond to error and bug notifications after they have come a long way, consisting of people from different departments.
Focus on a specific aspect Unlike large-scale projects where developers can afford to cover everything at once, indie games usually stand out for one particular trait: beautiful graphics, unusual game mechanics, or an exciting storyline. The unusual presentation of these elements often results in players having a much more emotional attachment to the game than is the case with advanced AAA games. For example, the platformer GRIS has completely captivated players with its visual style, which is said to “leave a warm glow in the heart and be one of the most beautiful games ever made”.
No clear deadlines What is an indie game but a creative expression of independence? The developer has no instructions from the publisher, no strict deadlines, and no threat of fines in case of violation of certain agreements. The indie team comes together to do what they want. The time spent on development is allocated by them voluntarily, they enjoy every minute of working on the project, and the game is a product of their pure enthusiasm and internal drive, which gives them energy to move forward.
Recognition and trendsetting Indie teams will not get lost behind the big name of a famous publisher, their names will not sink into oblivion. They can speak freely about their role in their projects and proudly record this information in the credits. At the same time, new interesting ideas can be crucial not only for developers, but for the entire gaming industry, which will discover a new gaming trend based on a new breakthrough game. For example, the independent Danish studio Playdead had no idea that their puzzle platformer Limbo would become a cult indie game and even start a new art style for 2D games called monochrome.

Disadvantages

Cons of indie games - Indie Game Development: Guide to Revenues, Most Profitable Genres & Monetization [+ 10 Best Indie Games 2020]
Lack of experience Very often, indie developers lack the skills and experience to create a really high-quality game. In some projects, the gameplay is poorly thought out, which is why the player starts to get bored after a few minutes. In others, the interface is not intuitive or not very visual. Any aspect can be unfinished and spoil the overall impression of the game.
Limited resources Independent developers pay a very high price for their independence: they need to take care of all financial issues and find the necessary resources on their own. This can be both personal savings and access to crowdfunding platforms. Budget restrictions can lead to poor quality graphics, short and too simple gameplay, skipping the testing phase, and problems with the promotion of the finished game.
Oversaturated market After the overwhelming success of a number of indie titles such as The Binding of Isaac in 2011, the number of indie releases per year has begun to grow almost exponentially. Most of them were released on the Steam store, because new games were practically not moderated there. The website was filled with the first works of novice developers, low-quality projects, and clones of famous games. At the moment, about 20-40 games a day are released on Steam, almost all of them are indie. For players, this means that they will never know about most of these projects, even if they are really good.
Poor marketing Lack of money, time, or effective PR skills means that the game simply goes unnoticed. Major publishers spend tens of millions of dollars on this, but some of their titles still fail. So, a project from a little-known independent developer has almost no chance to stand out without an advertising campaign.
Management problems Often an indie team is a collection of good game art, design, and programming people who are not well versed in building coordination and management processes. They may find it difficult to balance the distribution of tasks, and some team members may be poorly organized and focused. Since the team does not have the extra resources to hire a project manager, they have to deal with all the problems of optimizing the workflow on their own.

Top 10 Most Interesting Indie Games 2020

Although 2020 was a terrible year in terms of the pandemic, it was a very successful year for the video game market. People spent most of their time at home and became much better friends with the world of virtual entertainment. Many indie games have managed to conquer the entire gaming community, inspiring connoisseurs to create fan art and even animations based on their favorite games.

Despite the fact that many players accuse indie games of neglecting modern graphical achievements, their popularity among other players does not decrease. They are ready to support independent developers not only for the courage to challenge the grandiose AAA titles, but also for the twisted plots, touching stories, and hilarious twists that fully compensate for the minimalism of the art.

Let’s take a look at some of the most outstanding examples of indie games released in 2020.

1. Spiritfarer

A cozy game about death, here is the description of this indie simulator on Steam. You might think that the developers went too far. But in reality, this is not at all the case. Slightly perplexed and even at first frightened players later recognize the game as very beautiful, thought-provoking, and having an unforgettable bittersweet aftertaste.

Here you will try the role of Charon. You will play as a ferrymaster to the deceased and take care of them, delivering their souls to different destinations in the underworld. You will also have to look after your garden, harvest, fish, and explore the mysterious waters of the river of the dead. The game is very meditative and allows you to look at death from a philosophical point of view, without fear and prejudice.

2. Coffee Talk

Coffee Talk is the epitome of what we usually expect from classic coffee get-togethers with friends. It is a cure for the cold, loneliness, and heavy thoughts that often haunt many people at night. A calm and uplifting game full of engaging stories from all sorts of people and cute mini-games that makes you feel warmer.

Find out what the only late-night barista in town has to deal with every night. Like a magnet, attracting people who have nowhere to go or no one to ask for advice, you will gradually get to know their stories in more detail and give them some advice, trying to find a drink that best suits their lost souls. Pixel graphics and pleasant musical accompaniment allow you to concentrate on studying the characters of night visitors and help them find answers to simple and complex questions. An overnight coffee shop, the only lighted harbor that beckons those in need of encouraging words. And a warm drink.

3. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout 

How about a pinch of extravagance and a touch of insanity? Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout was inspired by game shows with fun obstacle courses like Legends of the Hidden Temple. Here teams in multiplayer with hundreds of participants realize their crazy races with obstacles and traps. You will start with others, and there will be only one winner in the best traditions of the battle royal, but with a much more fun message and good-natured atmosphere.

To reach the finish line and earn victory points, you will have to push opponents, use the physics of the game to your advantage, and avoid traps. The game features an unusual physics engine with comedic elements, as well as bright and cheerful graphics. The project will continue to improve and acquire new elements and themes, which will positively affect the duration of attention from the players.

4. Sable

In this game, the developers raise issues related to growing up. The project will especially appeal to the younger generation, who have philosophical questions about their life, future, hopes, plans, and destiny.

On behalf of the little Sable, players will get acquainted with a distant desert world, completely open to exploration. There will be no mind-blowing battles and vivid special effects. The heroine will explore ancient cities, look for unusual artifacts, absorb the knowledge of a once-great civilization, and seek answers to eternal questions. The gameplay is meditative, and the hand-drawn graphics creates a unique atmosphere encouraging you to think about the most intimate questions and try to find answers to them.

5. Hades

After years of waiting, players have finally received a new game from Supergiant Games. Everyone agreed that the wait was not in vain: the classic roguelike progression system here was brightly colored with a mythological plot. The protagonist Zagreus, the son of Hades, is trying to escape from the underworld of the dead and get to Mount Olympus. He is aided by the Olympian gods who send various gifts to Zagreus to help him deal with his enemies.

The rooms are filled with enemies and treasure every time in a new way − this makes Hades incredibly replayable and not annoying. Everything is interesting here, from the combat system with the help of different sets of collected artifacts to dialogues that better reveal the relationship of the characters. The death and return of the character to the starting point does not cause frustration and the desire to quit the game because of the opportunity to learn more about the plot: other characters marvel at how far Zagreus has gone or scoff at his another death. Each time, new dialogues open up before the player, telling more about the characters and the background of what is happening.

6. Way to the Woods

“The Last of Us without action” – this is how the developer Anthony Ten, who has been working on it since the age of sixteen, described his project. To bring his ideas to fruition, he had to work in some studios and explore the possibilities of Unreal Engine 4.

In this game, we will play as a mother deer and her fawn. Once in a world where all people suddenly disappeared, cute creatures will get food, flee from wolves, and look for a way home. Basically, the gameplay is calm, based on exploring locations and solving simple puzzles. The author promises that the post-apocalyptic atmosphere of the game will evoke a whole range of emotions among gamers and they will not remain indifferent, following the fate of two fragile but brave creatures.

7. Among Us

Despite the fact that the game was released for Android and iOS back in 2018, 2020 can be safely called its triumphant birth. It was in this year that it gained immense popularity on YouTube and Twitch. More than 500 million players have appreciated the gameplay “find the impostors” in a sci-fi setting, where one team of astronauts repairs the systems of a spaceship, while the second tries to kill each member of the first one by one and disrupt the repairs.

The most interesting thing here is not the mini-games of the team members themselves or the sabotage of the impostors, but the meetings where the players try to prove who the impostors are and expose them by voting. In times of self-isolation, when it is still impossible to play the real Mafia, such an original replacement was doomed to success.

8. Ooblets

This is a rural life simulator with funny 3D cartoon graphics. But this has nothing to do with the classic farming games that preach a rather sociopathic pastime and a complete focus on your estates. Ooblets offers a lot more: daily quests, secrets to uncover, and even a main storyline where you have to help the mayor save the city from mysterious forces.

In ordinary farms, we do not leave our territory and manage only highly specialized functions for the care of pets and the garden. Here you can also raise cute ooblet creatures to work on the farm, explore the surrounding lands, meet interesting characters, improve workers, your character and your home, and also throw dance parties. You can even take part in dance competitions. This is a fun and unobtrusive relaxation simulator, which will be pleasant to hang out after a hard day at work.

9. The Falconeer 

This unusual role-playing game is another confirmation of what fantastic ideas can be implemented in the indie world. Here, in the role of a warrior hawk, you will fight enemies in the air, while viewing amazing ocean locations with rocky islands. You must uncover the secrets lost in the depths of the sea, join or fight against different clans, complete quests, and explore new territories.

The winged character will be able to attack opponents in ranged combat, grab them with his claws, and perform incredible pirouettes in the air, adjusting to the actions of enemies and trying to take a comfortable position. You can upgrade your falcon by enhancing its abilities and learning new skills that give him an edge in combat.

10. 12 Minutes

Is it possible to write an interesting script about the events taking place twelve minutes in a single room? And how about making a 6-hours-walkthrough game based on it? It turns out that this is possible. The 12 Minutes point-and-click survival thriller tells the story of a man and his wife who find themselves in a death trap during a romantic dinner.

The police who burst into the room accuse the woman of murder, and over the next twelve minutes, the couple are killed. Thanks to supernatural intervention, the protagonist has the opportunity each time to return exactly twelve minutes ago and look for a way out of this situation. Surprisingly, at first glance, the simplest room is fraught with many hidden possibilities that will open after each time travel.

In order to more authentically recreate the claustrophobic atmosphere of the enclosed space and convey the realism of what is happening, the developers even built a mock-up of the room right in the studio and constantly experimented with the plot and the arrangement of objects. Fans of thrillers, detectives, and simply atmospheric indie games will definitely like it. By the way, the man was voiced by James McAvoy, the woman by Daisy Ridley, and Willem Dafoe gave his voice to the attacker.

How Much Can You Earn on Indie Games?

Independent game development goes hand in hand with the belief that it is difficult to stand out here and the financial reward will not be too great. Every year there are more and more indie games, the field is very competitive, and many indie teams are not focused on creating a full-fledged interesting product.

Indie games are not limited to the creation process. It is vital for them to advance, attract the attention of potential players, and make themselves known on popular platforms.

The lack of a marketing budget or the unwillingness to spend extra money on advertising leads to the fact that players simply do not know about really good indie games. Therefore, once again we remind you of the importance of promoting your indie game: this can be a decisive factor in its success.

Now let’s talk about specific numbers.

According to research by analytics platform VG Insights that studied 21,000 indie games on Steam, half of all released self-published options do not generate more than $4,000 in revenue. They do not even cover the resources spent on their creation. About 25% of indie games have earned about $25,000 in their lifetime. Remember that these figures should be considered in terms of the time spent and the number of team members involved in indie game development. If the game has been developed for more than a year by several people, then this result cannot be called particularly successful.

All this would look very depressing if not for the rest of the indie games, proving that not everything is so hopeless. 14% of indie games have managed to break the $100,000 mark in revenue. The top 10% of the most successful and consistent have been able to earn over $150,000. This can already be called a success and evidence that a good product can make a profit even without huge investments. Most importantly, the 1% managed to raise over $7,000,000.

Source: VG Insights

Of the 21,000 games reviewed, this is about 200 pieces that managed to do the impossible. For example, entertainment products such as underwater survival Subnautica and simulation RimWorld grossed over $100 million and sold millions of copies. During the coronavirus pandemic, Plague Inc. gained immense popularity, capturing over 130 million players worldwide and generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue. Subsequently, the developers of Plague Inc. donated $250,000 to fight coronavirus infection.

Most Profitable Genres For Indie Games

After examining the sales and revenues of indie games across a variety of genres, VG Insights uncovered an interesting pattern.

The most promising genres in terms of earnings are RPG, strategy, and simulation.

They are followed by adventure, action, sports, and racing games, which are worth choosing only if you are completely confident in your idea. The most inappropriate genre for indie games are casual options, in which the likelihood of high earnings is negligible.

Source: VG Insights

Models of Monetization in Indie Games

The indie game definition implies that people independent of the publisher are involved in the development. That is, virtually anyone with a sufficient degree of desire and enthusiasm can engage in indie development. And everyone is very interested in what methods of monetization can be implemented in indie games, in addition to direct sales in stores. We suggest considering the following options.

In-App Purchases

This is a classic way of monetization, which is suitable for almost all games. The bottom line is that during the gameplay, the player is offered some additional bonuses that will significantly improve and simplify the walkthrough or simply play a purely decorative role. These can be extra hit points, clothing for the character, bonus abilities, or weapons.

The most important thing is to give the player the freedom of choice and the ability to continue playing without making purchases. If you prevent players from moving on without committing a transaction, it could permanently push them away from the game.

Merch

The following options will only work if your game has already gained a certain popularity among some number of players. You’ve probably heard about merch – this is a very relevant option not only for the gaming world, but also for the film and music industry. For example, selling stuffed toys based on the Angry Birds game has become a huge source of income for the Finnish company Rovio, which started as a small independent developer.

You can sell anything: figurines of game characters, T-shirts and cups with their image, bags, shoes, key chains, wallets, and much more. The more players like your characters, the more likely they are to want to purchase physical replicas or items featuring them.

Partnership

Finding a partner can be quite problematic, but this does not make this method of monetization less effective. If you manage to find an interested person, then you can, for example, introduce a logo or mention of a partner into your game in accordance with the game setting, or offer other sponsorship services that will bring you additional income. This may be a notification to players that there are other similar games and a suggestion to pay attention to them.

Advertising

Advertising is a path that almost everyone who develops indie games eventually comes to: players don’t have to pay anything, they just watch ads. There are several main types:

  1. Banners. One of the most common types of advertising in games. A banner is a colorful ad image at the bottom or top of the screen. It’s very easy to implement, doesn’t interrupt the gameplay much, but catches the eye and can lead to a transition if the player is interested in the offer.
  2. Full-screen advertising. These ads, also known as interstitial ads, fill the entire screen, closing the game’s interface, remain on the screen for a short period of time, and then disappear. It can be either static or dynamic in video format.
  3. Push notification. These ads use pop-up notifications to grab the user’s attention and redirect them somewhere. It can offer both to buy additional elements for the game, and to switch to other websites and applications.
  4. Advertising upon exiting the game. These ads are triggered when a user leaves the game: this is a great time to advertise another game of your partner, for example.

How to create an indie game that generates income? You need to get used to the idea that this is not the area that consistently brings mountains of gold. This is a job for the soul, where earnings are rather a pleasant bonus that may or may not come, and you need to be prepared for this. At the same time, any monetization options you choose should be implemented very carefully and unobtrusively so as not to alienate the player from the main idea.

Indie games, corrupted by the desire to earn more at the expense of their essence, lose all meaning.

Indie monetization - Indie Game Development: Guide to Revenues, Most Profitable Genres & Monetization [+ 10 Best Indie Games 2020]

How to Make an Indie Game Successful?

All indie developers want to know about this and at the same time understand that there is no exact answer. On the other hand, no one has canceled the functional analytics of the best-selling indie games. So, let’s see how similar projects on the Epic Games Store and Steam approach genre selection, gameplay, graphics, price, and marketing.

Graphics as an Auxiliary Element

The first difference between indie games and big AAA titles is their simpler graphics. This does not mean that it is bad. It can be very beautiful and eye-catching. This means that it is not the main focus of an indie game, but rather an auxiliary visual component to help you better immerse players in storytelling. 

Therefore, for an indie game, it is enough to adhere to minimum graphical standards so that players understand what is happening on the screen.

You don’t have to try to impress players with modern graphical features, you can’t beat AAA games anyway. Indies do not undertake to compete with AAA in terms of the complexity of art, their essence is in a non-standard presentation and a fresh idea.

Indie Example: Hue

The graphics in the indie platformer Hue can hardly be called sophisticated. But at the same time, its presentation and the very essence of the game is a real artistic satisfaction. Fiddlesticks Games has offered an absolute innovation in game mechanics: the main character, a boy named Hue, explores colorless locations and finds new shades, which he uses to color the world around him. Puzzles and tasks that allow you to pass new and more difficult levels are based on the manipulation of colors, and there may be several options for solving puzzles. The alternation of static and dynamic levels will not let you get bored.

An amazing soundtrack, harmoniously changing depending on whether the atmosphere is tense or calm, makes solving puzzles a real aesthetic pleasure. Hue’s journey is based on the main heart-piercing plot that will touch anyone to the core: he is looking for his mother, who disappeared for mysterious reasons. On his way, he finds notes and memories that help him to better understand her past, the reasons for her disappearance, her study of the essence of color, and her inexplicable connection with the mysterious Dr. Gray, who periodically appears at the main milestones of Hue’s journey as if prompting him the right path.

Hue game screen

Unlimited Gameplay Options

Based on the previous point, you might think that a complex and intricate storyline is vital for an indie game.

There are options that do just fine without a storyline per se, for example, Game Dev Tycoon or any other simulator that relies not on history, but addictive gameplay.

It is important to understand that players have different moods and different needs at different times. Sometimes they want something simple, uncomplicated and funny, and sometimes they will prefer a leisurely philosophical story that invites you to consider many important life issues. Determine from the very beginning what audience you are targeting, and do not try to put everything into the game: it should be harmonious and unidirectional.

Indie Example: Game Dev Tycoon

Game Dev Tycoon is an addictive economic simulation game developed and published by Greenheart Games. The action of the game begins in the 1980s, when the gaming industry was just emerging.

The players begin by giving a name to themselves and their future company. Players can then create their own games by choosing a game theme, genre, platform, and game engine. Also within 30-42 years set-top boxes of well-known companies will be produced. Sony will be represented in the game as Vonny, Microsoft as Micronoft, Nintendo as Ninvento, Sega as Vena, etc.

Initially, players start developing games in their garage, but may soon purchase 2 new offices. In offices, players can hire other game developers and work collaboratively with them.

Game Dev Tycoon game screen

Unique Feature

If AAA games have an average positive rating of 79%, then for indie games it can sometimes go up to 87%. At the same time, it is noted that the players are much more warm and sympathetic to indie games, realizing that they are not made by rich corporations, but by the same ordinary people, united and inflamed by a common idea.

The intimacy of indie games and the imprint of the developer’s soul in them invites much more participation and sincere comments on them.

Indie Example: Castle Crashers

The best indie games always show some kind of innovation, be it a feature of the gameplay, graphics, storyline, or game design. For example, Castle Crashers arcade offers very simple hand-drawn graphics, but its gameplay is so addicting and unusual that players give it 96% positive feedback.

The game takes place in a fictional medieval universe. From one to four knights (depending on the number of players) take part in a party in the king’s castle. Meanwhile, a dark sorcerer steals the mystical royal jewel and captures the four princesses. The king sends knights to retrieve the stone, rescue the princesses, and bring justice to the sorcerer.

Castle Crashers game screen

Successful Genres

We have already said that some genres of indie games are much preferable to others. RPG, strategy, and simulation will be the best choice. They do not require many years of complex development. If you are planning an adventure or quest game, then you will have to work hard to grab attention with a story and plot: the competition is high here.

Indie developers better stay away from racing and sports games, as this is already the territory of big-budget AAA franchises with cutting-edge graphics.

Remember that indie games compete with other games not for their graphics, but for their creativity, story, and innovative ideas.

Correct Price

Many indie developers tend to undervalue their games, believing that this will increase sales and attract more buyers. On average, they charge $7 per game. Many are limited to the $5 price tag. At the same time, the best indie games sell for $15, which is close to the cost of AA and AAA titles.

There is no need to artificially lower the cost. You have to evaluate the game by its quality, that is, consider the entire amount of work done and make a financial verdict.

Too low a price raises questions and doubts whether your product is another option of controversial quality, which is better not to pay attention to.

Technological and Localization Availability

The more people who can play your game, the better. The best indie games are available for both PC and Mac. Despite the fact that the Mac accounts for only 17% of the device market, it is still a large audience that is often deprived of games because developers do not care about adapting them to this device.

In terms of localization, the most popular languages ​​are English, French, and German.

The best indie games expand the available languages ​​to 7 with the addition of Polish, Chinese, Spanish, and Portuguese. This allows you to potentially increase your reach from 1 billion players to 3-4 billion. Many people will prefer to play the game in their native language if it is possible and are more likely to recommend it to friends.

Marketing Matters

The more people who know about the game, the more likely it is to succeed. Someone might purposefully search for a product similar to yours, but find nothing because you decided to bypass the ad campaign.

The best indie games never ignore marketing in one way or another.

This does not mean that you need to go to an advertising agency and pay them crazy money, twice the cost of development. These can be social media campaigns with captivating trailers and art, press releases, intriguing ads, and themed events. Games accompanied by such promotional efforts become known and expected even before they are released.

Reliable Companion in Indie Games Creation

Indie game development is an incredible barrier-free world where any of your craziest and brightest ideas can come true. You may encounter certain obstacles, but the most important thing is that you already know them by sight and are ready to achieve your goal, no matter what. Just don’t stop and keep moving forward. And Kevuru Games can become your trusted companion if you need help with a certain aspect of creating your unique indie game.

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