If at a certain happy moment you came 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 entertainment products backed by publishers and investors and created for purely commercial purposes.
  • Independent games that do not have such financial support, but that are distinguished by the freedom and courage to put the idea above the 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.

The gaming industry is one of the richest markets in the world, 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.

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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. 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. Sales of the PC edition, released in 2016, surpassed the 500,000 mark, generating $ 10 million in sales in the year following 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 large investors ready to fund all their ideas. Money for development is most often collected 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.

For people to believe in an idea and join it, it is necessary to talk about it thoroughly and passionately. This is exactly what developer and composer Alec Holowka and animator and illustrator Scott Benson did, who created the indie studio Infinite Fall and announced the start of fundraising for the 2D story-focused adventure game Night In The Woods. The main leitmotif of the game, “at the end of everything, hold on to anything”, indicated in the title of the campaign, from the very beginning caused a vague pinching in the soul and an inexplicable melancholic reflection. 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.

The depressing and at the same time leaving hope for the best, damn mature, thought-provoking and touching story of the current generation mercilessly and straightforwardly tells about the reckless youth and the cruel breakdown of growing up, enveloping the mystical storyline with inexplicable metaphysical flashbacks, where sleep is difficult to distinguish from reality. An attempt to wedge into the world left behind, filled with the spirits of the fleeting delights of youth, crashes against the harsh reality.

The authors seem to have turned their souls inside out and filled the Night in the Woods with their feelings, experiences, pain and desperate questions turned to nowhere. 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 thoughts, the search for faith and its justification. Everyone will find something that will touch the soul. And it worked. The breathtaking atmosphere of the game 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.

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Night in the Woods 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 topics and more. It will not be a product with ultra-modern graphics and mechanics, but it can definitely cut to the heart and awaken the most undercover thoughts and feelings.

True indie developers do not adapt to the standard needs of the gaming market and do not seek to adjust their skills to be hired by a large gaming studio. They are distinguished by the presence of versatile useful knowledge in the field of game development and promotion. They often combine the experience of several experts: programmers, artists, designers, etc. But the main thing is a great desire to constantly grow and expand the base of their qualifications in all directions related to the creation of games.

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

  1. Don’t quit what you started. Indie developers are driven solely by their enthusiasm. They must be able to boldly face criticism and negativity face to face and continue to perfect their project no matter what.
  2. 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 become successful. This is a poor use of time and limited resources. The best strategy is to concentrate on one project and bring it to perfection.
  3. Use original ideas. What makes an indie game a worthy competitor to large studio products? 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 iconic and gain a huge fanbase precisely because of their idea.
  4. Promote your work. Indie developers are not backed up by a strong marketing department: they need to talk about their product on their own. Announcements, trailers, press releases, ad art, posts on forums and thematic communities – everything will be good.
  5. Plan ways of retention. Indie games are not a direction where players can be motivated by the emergence of new large-scale patches and DLS. In order for the players to continue to interact with the game even after the end of the storyline, it is necessary to think over the mechanisms of their retention and motivate them to replay them in order to obtain new achievements, unblock interesting information, and so on.
  6. Decide on monetization. In-game purchases, advertising, cross-promotion – standard monetization methods are possible for indie games as well. They must be implemented very neatly and organically so as not to alienate the player. Some indie developers are moving away from standard monetization methods and just sell the whole game for a fixed price. Users of the Epic Games Store, Steam or other platforms pay for it one-time and get access to all of its functionality.
  7. Engage with the community. After sending the game to freewheeling, you cannot leave it to its own devices. It is necessary to track mentions, give comments, listen to feedback, answer questions and in every way stimulate the interest of all those who are not indifferent.

There may be situations when you have an idea and certain skills, but they are not enough to cover the entire spectrum of work for 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 companion from freelancers, but no one guarantees the understanding and quality of what you expect. With a limited budget, any risk can be fatal.

A much more efficient option is to order the desired art or animation from an outsourcing studio. Experienced professionals will quickly figure out the essence of your request and immediately get down to business, providing a consistently high-quality result. While they are working on the art, you will be able to deal with other aspects of the game and thus significantly speed up its release.

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Team Composition To Create Indie Games

How to make indie games? Just like other games, taking into account the fact that finances will be limited almost all the time. And of course, no indie game can be made without a team.

Despite the fact that often every member of an indie team is a multi-instrumentalist who understands several areas at once, it is necessary to remember about the core composition without which it is impossible to create any 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 well versed in testing, while the indie game designer is engaged in both art and animation. It’s just important to know what types of work are ahead in order 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, the main thing is that this person can see the general and integral concept of the game as the player will see 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 spelled out. The whole team will build on it as they work, and if questions or controversies arise, they will be able to come to a consensus.

Artist

An artist is a person who creates the visual component of an indie game. Art takes time and creates what the players see when they play. 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 visual effects of the game. It all starts with concept art before moving on to the content that will appear in the game, including backgrounds, characters, animations, etc.

Artists also make sure that the content they create meets technical requirements and creates an overall feel for the game. The more difficult the game, the more artists it is preferable 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 cope with creating pixel art and animation.

Programmer

Your idea may be the best, but without a programmer, it will probably never come true. A computer programmer is engaged in the development of the code base and tools for the game. Since video games are electronic entertainment, the absence of a programmer usually means the absence of a 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 giving the atmosphere to the game. Even if it’s not a horror game that needs scary music to heighten the experience, you’ll still want a catchy tune to accompany your puzzle or action-platformer game. Some particularly successful tunes become iconic for the game and even take on new life in the form of fan covers.

There are many aspiring game sound engineers, and if you need one, then you should pay attention to specialists who have been involved in similar work before. For example, you might want to find someone who has already made chiptune music for other games, if that’s the style of music that’s right for your project.

Tester

In most cases, this role is played by the programmer. But it is not always easy for them to notice errors in the code that they spent many hours working on. Therefore, a fresh look from a third person would be more relevant and effective here.

It is not necessary to hire a professional tester. This can be problematic if the budget for the game is not that large. Your friends, volunteers who supported your crowdfunding campaign, or anyone who loves to play games and at the same time knows how to describe in detail what went wrong can test the game and look for bugs.

Other Roles

We have listed the main people involved in indie development. There are other equally important roles that we have not singled out into separate points because separate people are very rarely allocated for them in indie teams. Most often, these roles are performed by those who are already doing some work on the project.

The first is the writer. Basically, any team member can write and tell a story and shape a storyline. If a large amount of text and dialogues are planned in the game, then it is better, if not to hire a writer, then at least ask someone to check all these texts for errors before the release. There is nothing worse than an indie game with typos in the text, terrible dialogues and a boring story, even if its gameplay is very beautiful and interesting.

The second is the project manager. The responsibility of the project manager is to make sure the team is working quickly and efficiently, to set deadlines, to motivate the lagging team members, and to ensure that everyone’s work is being done. Very often, indie developers fall behind easily and may not meet deadlines as they do not have a publisher or higher-level person to urge them on. Therefore, they really need a person who will coordinate the work and maintain a general fighting spirit, whoever he or she is.

Pros and Cons of Indie Game Design

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

Advantages

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  1. 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.
  2. Fast feedback tracking. Indie studios are almost always small. Therefore, it is easier for them to respond to complaints and suggestions from players. It is not uncommon for developers to fix bugs within hours of reporting a bug. In addition, independent teams are adding new content more readily and faster than large studios. The latter can only react to notification of errors and bugs after going a long way consisting of people from different departments.
  3. Focus on a specific aspect. Unlike large-scale projects, where developers can afford to cover everything at once, indie games usually stand out on one specific feature: beautiful graphics, unusual gameplay mechanics, or a captivating storyline. The unusual presentation of these elements often creates a much more emotional attachment to the game in players than is the case with advanced AAA titles. 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.
  4. No clear deadlines. What is an indie game if not the creative embodiment of independence? The developer has no instructions from the publisher, no tight 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 the development is voluntarily allocated by them, they enjoy every minute of work on the project, and the game is a product of their pure enthusiasm and the inner drive that gives them the energy to move forward.
  5. Recognition and trendsetting. Indie teams will not get lost behind the loud name of a famous publisher, their names will not fade into oblivion. They are free to talk about their role in their projects and proudly write this information into credits. At the same time, new interesting ideas can turn out to be fateful not only for developers, but also for the entire gaming industry, which will discover a new gaming trend based on a new groundbreaking game. For example, the independent Danish studio Playdead had no idea that their puzzle-platformer Limbo would become a cult indie game and even initiate a new 2D game art style called monochromaticity.

Disadvantages

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  1. 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, because of which the player begins to get bored after a few minutes. In others, the interface is not intuitive or a little visual. Any aspect can be unfinished and spoil the general idea of the game.
  2. Limited resources. Independent developers pay very dearly for their independence: they need to take on 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 promoting the finished game.
  3. An oversaturated market. After the overwhelming success of a number of indie games like The Binding of Isaac in 2011, the number of indie releases per year began to grow almost exponentially. Most of them came out on the Steam store, because new games are hardly checked in any way. The site was flooded with the first works of novice developers, low-quality projects, and clones of famous games. Currently, there are about 20-40 games released on Steam per day, almost all of which are indie. For players, this means that they will never know about most of these projects, even if they are really good.
  4. Poor marketing. Lack of money, time or skills for effective PR leads to the fact that the game simply goes unnoticed. Major publishers spend tens of millions of dollars on it, but some of their titles still fail. So, a project from a little-known independent developer has practically no chances to stand out without a promotion campaign.
  5. Management problems. Often, an indie team is a collection of good game art, design and programming specialists who have no knowledge of building coordination and management processes. They may find it difficult to balance the distribution of tasks, and some team members may not be well organized and collected. Since the team does not have the extra resources to hire a project manager, they have to cope with all the problems of optimizing the workflow on their own.

Top 10 Most Interesting Indie Games 2020

While the previous year was terrible in terms of a pandemic, it was very successful for the video games market. People spent most of their time at home and became much better friends with the world of virtual entertainment. Many indie games have succeeded in taking the entire gaming community by storm, inspiring connoisseurs to create fanart and even animations based on their favorite games.

Despite the fact that many players blame indie games for 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 grandiose AAA titles, but also for 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, this 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, 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 get-togethers with friends over a cup of coffee. It is a cure for cold, loneliness and heavy thoughts that often plague many people at night. Calm and life-affirming game full of fascinating stories of all kinds of people and cute mini-games that make you feel warmer.

Find out what the city’s only midnight barista has to deal with every night. Attracting like a magnet people who have nowhere to go or no one to ask for advice, you will gradually learn their stories in more detail and give some advice, while trying to find a drink that best suits their lost souls. Pixel graphics and pleasant music allow you to concentrate on studying the characters of night visitors and help them find answers to simple and complex questions. The night coffee station, the only lighted haven that lures those in need of encouraging words. And a warming drink.

3. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout 

How about a pinch of extravaganza and mild insanity? Game shows with funny obstacle courses like Legends of the Hidden Temple became the prototype for the creation of Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. Here teams in multiplayer with a hundred participants realize their crazy race with obstacles and traps. You will start with the others, but there will only be one winner. In the finest battle royale tradition, but with a much more cheerful message and a 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 they had not waited in vain: the classic roguelike passing system here is brightly colored with a mythological plot. The main character Zagreus, the son of Hades, is trying to escape from the underworld of the dead and get to Mount Olympus. He is helped by the Olympian gods, who send Zagreus various gifts to help him cope with enemies.

Rooms filled with enemies and treasures in new ways each time make 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 admire how far Zagreus managed to go, or scoff at his next death. Each time the player opens up new dialogues that tell 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 mind, he had to work in some studios and study the capabilities of Unreal Engine 4.

In this game, we will play as a mother deer and her little baby deer. Finding themselves in a world where all people suddenly disappeared, cute creatures will get food, flee from wolves and look for their 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 in 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 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 the spacecraft, and the second tries to kill each member of the first one by one and disrupt the repair work.

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 are trying to prove who the impostors are and blow the whistle on them by voting. At the time of lockdown, when it is still impossible to play the real Mafia game, 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 only manage highly specialized functionality for caring for pets and a vegetable 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 in which it 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 embodied in the indie world. Here, in the role of a hawk warrior, you will fight enemies in the air, while looking at the amazing oceanic locations with rocky islands. You must uncover secrets lost in the depths of the sea, join different clans or fight against them, complete quests and explore new territories.

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

10. 12 Minutes

Is it possible to write an interesting script about events that took place for twelve minutes in one single room? And to make a game based on it, the passage of which will drag on for more than six hours? 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 accuses the woman of murder, and within the next twelve minutes, the couple is killed. Thanks to supernatural intervention, the protagonist has the opportunity to go back exactly twelve minutes each time and look for ways out of this situation. Surprisingly, at first glance, the simplest room is fraught with a lot of hidden opportunities that will open up after each time travel.

To more reliably recreate the claustrophobic atmosphere of a closed room and convey the realism of what is happening, the developers even built a model of the room right in the studio and constantly experimented with the plot and the arrangement of objects. Fans of thrillers, detective stories and simply atmospheric indie games will definitely love this. By the way, the man is 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 complete interesting product.

Indie games are not limited to the creation procedure. It is vitally important for thetm to be promoted, to catch the eyes of potential players, to make themselves known on popular platforms. Lack of marketing budget or unwillingness to spend extra money on advertising leads to the fact that players simply do not know about really good indie games. Therefore, we remind you once again 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 receive 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 of this would look very depressing if it were not for the remaining indie games that prove that things are not so hopeless. 14% of indie games were able to surpass the $ 100,000 revenue mark. 10% of the more successful and consistent ones were able to make more than $ 150,000. This can already be called a success and evidence that a good product can be profitable even without a huge investment. Most importantly, 1% succeeded in raising over $ 7,000,000. 

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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

By researching the sales and revenues of indie games of different genres, VG Insights came up with an interesting pattern. The most promising genres in terms of making money are RPG, strategy and simulation. They are followed by adventure, action, sports and racing games, which should only be chosen if you are completely confident in your idea. The most inappropriate genre for indie games proved to be casual options, in which the probability of high earnings is negligible.

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Data 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 besides direct sales in stores. We suggest considering the following options.

In-App Purchases

This is a classic monetization method that suits 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 a character, bonus abilities, or weapons. The most important thing is to provide the player with freedom of choice and the ability to continue playing without buying. If you prevent players from moving on without committing a transaction, it can alienate them from the game forever.

Merch

The following options will only work if your game has already gained a certain popularity among some circles 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 soft toys based on the Angry Birds game has become a huge source of income for the Finnish company Rovio, which started as a small indie developer.

You can sell anything: figurines of the characters in the game, T-shirts and cups with their image, bags, shoes, key chains, wallets, and more. The more players love your characters, the higher the likelihood that they will want to purchase their physical copies or objects with their image.

Partnership

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

Advertising

Advertising is the way to which sooner or later almost everyone who is engaged in indie game development comes: players do not 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 is very easy to implement, it does not interrupt the gameplay much, but it is striking and can lead to a transition if the player is interested in the proposal.
  2. Full-screen advertising. Also known as an interstitial ad, this ad fills the entire screen, covering the game’s interface, stays on the screen for a short period, and then disappears. 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 go to other sites 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 direction that consistently brings mountains of gold. This is a work for the soul, where earnings are rather a pleasant bonus, which may or may not come, and you need to be ready 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 spoiled by the desire to earn more at the expense of their essence lose any meaning.

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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 feature analytics of the best-selling indie games. So let’s see how projects like this on Epic Games Store and Steam approach genre selection, gameplay, graphics, price and marketing.

Graphics As 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 meet the minimum graphic standards for the players to understand what is happening on the screen. It is not at all necessary to try to impress players with modern graphic features, you still will not be able to surpass the AAA games. Indies do not undertake to compete with AAA in terms of complex art, their essence is a non-standard presentation and a fresh idea.

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 in which he can paint the world around him. Puzzles and tasks that allow you to go through new and more difficult levels are built on the manipulation of colors, and there may be several options for solving riddles. The alternation of static and dynamic levels does not let you get bored.

The stunning 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 deeply: 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 Hugh’s journey and as if prompting him the right path.

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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 it, for example, Game Dev Tycoon or any other simulator that relies not on history, but on 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 which audience you are targeting, and do not try to put everything in the game: it should be harmonious and one-pointed.

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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 evokes much more participation and sincere comments to them.

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.

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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 don’t require many years of graphics and complex development. If you are planning an adventure or quest game, then you will have to work harder to attract the story and the plots: the competition is high here. As for racing and sports games, it is better for indie developers not to deal with them, since this is already the territory of high-budget AAA franchises with ultra-modern graphics.

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

Correct Price

Many indie developers tend to undervalue their games in the belief 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 are selling for $ 15, which is close to the cost of AA and AAA titles.

There is no need to underestimate the cost artificially. You must evaluate the game according to its quality, that is, consider the entire volume 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 can play your game, the better. The best indie games are made available for both PC and Mac. Despite the fact that Mac accounts for only 17% of the device market, it is still a large audience, which is often deprived of games because the developers do not take care of their adaptation 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 8 with the addition of Polish, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. This allows you to potentially increase your reach from 1 billion players to 3-4 billion. Many English speakers 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 know about the game, the more likely it is to succeed. Someone may purposefully search for a product similar to yours, but cannot find anything, because you decided to bypass the promotional efforts.

The best indie games never ignore marketing strategies. 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 artwork, press releases, intriguing ads, and themed events. Games accompanied by such promotional efforts become famous and anticipated even before the release.

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 face 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 reliable help if you need assistance in a certain aspect of creating your unique indie game.