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New Ways for Indie Games to Enter the Market

Today, indie game developers need to pin all their hopes on a AAA publisher picking up their game ideas. The current state of the indie game development landscape is a far cry from what it used to be, and that's exciting in a lot of ways. While traditional development and publishing continue to thrive, go-to-market alternatives for indie games offer unique opportunities to score big, even at a significant cost reduction.

Plenty of indie game publishers invite game developers to come aboard and launch their indie games. Perhaps the most revered, Steam requires a reasonably low $100 submission fee that you can recoup after reaching enough sales on the distribution platform. Many other game distribution partners operate on a revenue-share basis with no upfront cost to submit games. Itch, Humble Bundle, Gamers Gate, and Good Old Games (GOG) are just a few examples that require no startup fee. For mobile games, many devs take the direct route to Google Play, the Apple Store, and the Amazon App Store with much success.

The Evolution of Success for Indie Games

In the recent past, the success of indie games often depended on providing a turnkey product that hit the market powerfully in its final form. Today's indie games can enter into various partnerships with distribution networks, earning revenue from sales that allow for further development and future iterations of the game to come to life. Gog is one such publishing platform that allows devs to adjust the revenue split to earn an advance on royalties. The general idea is that this higher level of income could bring about the final version of the game sooner, spring-boarding the entire process.

Where in the past an indie game could launch on Steam and enjoy great success, today more criteria come into play. Newly launched indie games require marketing, public relations, dedicated communities, and technical aspects of development that help to propel the brand forward. All of this can be costly, which presents a challenge in and of itself, as many indie games begin on a bootstrap budget.

Factors Affecting Cost of Indie Game Startup

We’ve surely seen indie developer ideas become expensive rather quickly. All indie game marketing and promotional costs really pile up, but rarely are they even the greatest expenses. Various factors can make or break your game's shot at hitting it big--particularly in terms of development. First and foremost, you must consider the platform. Will your game be played on a console, on a PC, or on a mobile device? If you're dreaming a bit bigger, be realistic about whether you can really afford to launch on all three platforms or if perhaps you can begin with one and build out from there.

Your game's place across the different levels of simplicity and complexity is the next major factor to consider. Part of the beauty of indie game development is that devs of all experience levels can get into the game. Five levels of simplicity and complexity exist with indie game development, allowing for many styles of indie games in countless themes and genres to come to market.

  • Level 1 games involve simple designs featuring two-dimensional, basic/primitive gameplay based on mobile platforms. These games typically cost between $2K and $10K to build. One of the best ways to keep costs low at this level is to learn the necessary programming yourself. Become a jack of all trades--marketing, graphic art, coding--all in the pursuit of your passion.

  • Level 2 games offer a slight upgrade from those at the entry level, rendering designs in two dimensions with some 3D enhancements. These games upgrade a bit further with multiple levels and offerings of in-app purchases for monetization, which can help you to recoup your initial $10K to $50K investment. Critically review your game plan for development and determine if cheaper solutions exist, particularly whether you can find more than one way of achieving a set goal. You may need to invest a bit of your own income to bring your game to life, but it will be worth it if everything goes to plan.

  • Level 3 games involve sagacious storylines and shrewd game designs bringing a compilation of mini-games to the market. Refined graphics and far superior audio effects level these games up to the tune of $50K to $150K. Create partnerships offering shares of the business (or revenue share) to a few like minded tech and marketing pros in an effort to get your game where you need it to be without breaking the budget.

  • Level 4 games comprise everything from the third level and deliver even more polished game content. Notably, micro-transactions are streamlined for smooth monetization strategy--a clearly necessary piece of the puzzle for games of this level, as their development starts out at $150K+. Running a campaign on Kickstarter or another crowdfunding platform can rapidly help you to raise funding while partnering with your prospective audience. (As an added marketing bonus, you'll also generate awareness of your game while it's still in development.)

  • AAA Titles command stiff premiums for roughly the same features as above, with known and proven artists charging exorbitant costs for a shot at video game fame. Partnering up with an angel investor or venture capitalist may be your best bet if you are looking to launch your indie game at this level.

Ways to Save on Indie Game Development

Like buying a house, costs can vary greatly from one to the next. The number of skills you personally have will directly impact how much you have to spend on hiring others to do the work. While labor costs account for the vast majority of your expenses in developing indie games, they are far from being the only costs. Rather than reinventing the wheel, indie games may at times need to pull in other types of licensed software such as 3D model editors and other software development kits (SDKs).

You'll also need to secure a game engine (some free ones are out there), and if you haven't learned programming, now might be a good time to start. Forming partnerships with skilled coders can help get the project off to a sound start. Consider a profit-sharing model as a deferred means of payment that could make for a fair arrangement on all sides. Alternatively, you could hire freelancers piecemeal to handle the cost upfront but keep more of your profits in the long run. Check sites like Upwork, Skyword, Freelancer, and EngineerBabu for qualified professionals to tackle the tasks at hand.

Keep all pieces of your game in mind as you think about cutting down costs. Don't forget that you will need digital art, music, and sound effects to tie everything together. You can source your digital art from a low-cost provider like Fiverr, barter with a friend, or create it yourself. Look online for no-cost, royalty free sound effects and music that you can implement as well. Sometimes one talented contractor or freelance excels in numerous crafts and skills, so maximize here if you can. For example, your marketing person may also have website development and graphic art skills. Explore possibilities of exhausting all of your resources before bringing on someone else. Of course, one of the best ways to save on labor is to learn to do it yourself.

Luckily, indie developers can make use of these and various other creative ways to cut development costs. Remember, though, that labor cost often goes beyond development, moving into branding, game website creation, content writing, and more. Create a budget and stick to it as closely as you possibly can.

Indie Game Publishing Cost Comparison

Generally speaking, big name video game publishers will pocket 70 to 80 percent of the gross income from your game, leaving you with just 20 to 30 percent. On the flip side, should you choose to move forward with Steam, as one example, the revenue share drops down to just 30 percent for Steam and 70 percent for you. Self-publishing with Steam and similar platforms gives you more creative freedom and flexibility to do things your way, but you'll also have to step up to the plate for just about every aspect of promoting your game, tracking sales, managing all costs, and running your business. This is a decision you will have to weigh yourself to find the right fit for your new indie game.

New Trends in Indie Game Development

In the world of independent video games, your success depends a lot on your fan following. Brilliant indie games continue to captivate gamers as they offer more to users than the average video game. Many more freedoms await at the fingertips of indie game developers who possess the creativity and the knowhow while also being truly in touch with what their fan base desires and expects. Indie games have come a long way over the years and continue to satisfy gamers' love of gaming much in the same way as indie films make for contented movie buffs.

Source :

Entering the Indie Games Market at the Lowest Cost Possible
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