Indie game developers are a different breed
Web and database developers demand high salaries. Indie devs often work for free or at their own expense.
Web and database developers work nine to five. Indie devs work any time they can.
Database devs work because they want to pay bills. Indies answer to a greater call than the almighty dollar.
Indie game developers work because they love games and they want to create something they can be proud of and enjoy. They want to create art, not generate revenue. That’s why the most popular independently-produced games tend to be either extremely artful and stylish, or extremely deep and nuanced.
Either way, indie devs have a problem on their hands when it comes to marketing and promotion. Unlike so many database developers, indies are inherently right-brain dominant and far more interested in art, stories and ideas than things like accounting and plotting.
Artists as accountants
Game devs are artists, first and foremost. They specialize in concepting, imagining and visualizing their creations into existence. This is why they make great games.
But as nice as it would be for great games to draw players on their own, it just doesn’t work that way. Even the best games need to get the attention of the players, preferably before release.
Many developers resist this idea. They aren’t in it for the money, so why bother promoting?
But as we’ve seen, the demands of creating a great game on one’s own time are great indeed. Most devs work their regular job (perhaps developing databases?) and then come home to hack away at their passionate creation. (Writers have a similar plight, but don’t get me started!) Indies potentially work two full-time jobs — actually, let’s do the math: Two jobs, and only one pays. That’s working four times as many jobs as a regular person for the same amount of money. Right? Well, I’m no accountant either.
My point is this: Indie developers work damned hard to get their creations up and running and out to the public. If their games are great, why shouldn’t they make a living off them?
The concept of selling out probably doesn’t come into play. Most devs would be perfectly pleased to make millions off their games and retire. Some artists may fear the stigma of being a sellout and giving up on your art to create mindless flashy games to make money. Major game producers feel this pain every time they change a tried formula.
EA took sprays of word-shrapnel from frustrated fans when their Origin platform was introduced. In fact, EA is often a scapegoat for frustrated gamers. But EA is such a huge company with so many mouths to feed, it became necessary to consider how to preserve their intellectual property, prevent piracy and market their products to a wider consumer base.
And even though I’m not crazy about Origin either, and my Ghetto PC can scarcely run the majority of their releases, I understand their desire to protect their money and ensure they can continue to pay their people.
What’s sadder? A rich, money-savvy game developer with a varied-enough career that fans have the option to argue about it? Or a talented and artistic game developer stuck in the basement of a corporation babysitting their database, unable to produce games that I could be playing because they gotta pay them bills? If only so I can play them, game developers need to develop games!
Even indies who want to promote their games, may not have the knowledge to do it, and most likely don’t have time to do it well. And many marketing agencies don’t understand the gaming industry and, even still, will charge thousands and thousands of dollars to promote.
These huge price tags are usually untouchable for after-work indies.
Why does marketing even matter?
That’s a stupid question. Are you dumb? Just kidding.
I won’t spend time on this. You’ve read this far, so you must have some idea of the importance of marketing. Even the greatest games won’t sell if nobody knows about them. By spreading the word prior to release, games can gain the momentum and support they need to see developers across the finish line. Presale incentives can tempt players to get on board early, and help devs cover some of the expenses of what they do.
Social media — Twitter and Facebook in particular — are great places to let your constituents know what you’re up to, collect feedback and let the community know you’re involved in their interests.
More than any other type of production, independent games rely on community. Indies may be independently creating a game, but it is the gamers that bring it to life. And if developers want to create more games (and players surely want them to), then they gots ta get paid!
More to follow
There are tons of tips and suggestions for marketing. A lot of it is stuff that devs can do on their own, or with minimal monetary involvement. Depending on the readership of this article, I am prepared to provide further information.
If readers want more, feel free to comment on this article with questions and considerations as I continue writing. IndieWatch is a community-driven site and I want to write articles you want to read.
Comment here or reach out to me on Twitter @longie_long.
The Ghetto Gamer