Learn more about the indie game development scene: hidden challenges, project peculiarities, and most successful titles to date.
THE CURRENT STATE OF INDIE GAME DEVELOPMENT IN 2022
If you are reading news and articles about game development, you cannot help but notice how widespread the term “indie games” has become in recent years. Well, not even the term but rather the collocation itself. But many perceive its idea differently. Something that had emerged long ago as a definition for the game publishing form became an entire genre. Nowadays, game development is much more accessible, so stepping into the indie game scene without renowned publishers backing you up is not mission impossible. But before hopping on this train, you should understand what lies ahead. Join , s(h)e will guide you through today.
WHAT IS INDEPENDENT GAME DEVELOPMENT?
So what is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “it is an indie game?” Your brain probably imagines a humble project with rather simple graphics made by a small team of enthusiasts. Yet, it is still made with passion and packed with really creative game mechanics that are not very complex. You are not alone in such a view, let me tell ya! But must all indie games match this vague description? Obviously not!
Indie is from “independent,” meaning that a game studio is free from the shackles of publishers that tend to set their rules (and take their cut from sales too). Sure, these suits help with marketing and promotion but at the cost of various creative limits. I think you would agree that it is not cool when you are a developer and someone tells you how you should design your game or dictate terms.
Everyone who works in the indie game development niche understands that, at some point, they either find a publisher and agree to some compromises or stay true to the vision and continue without external marketing support. No matter the path chosen, your game may succeed or fail. There are many examples of fantastic games that became massive hits and were made by just one person (Undertale, Stardew Valley). And there are even more cases of big AAA projects hitting rock bottom (Anthem, Fallout 76).
The latter usually happens when publishers decide to push the devs to release their game at a specific date or before a certain event. Such rushing results in crunches that often lead to problematic releases of bug-ridden games with tons of promised content missing (hello, Cyberpunk 2077).
HOW DO YOU START WORKING ON YOUR FIRST GAME?
Well, I have some money, but I could use some more. So I will create a mind-blowing presentation of my project for Kickstarter; people will love it and fund the game of my dreams! Unfortunately, it does not work like this if you are not a well-known game designer or media person with a background in the gaming industry. You may not accumulate enough attention, or your game may be too niche of a project. Therefore, you will have to improvise: work on a tighter budget, hire affordable outsourcing designers and coders, cut down the number of features or their complexity, etc. It is usual for indie game development.
Remember that indie titles can survive on smaller budgets. When lacking funds and knowing that you won’t be able to get even a penny more, you must consult with professionals to define the course of action. As a result, you will have a list of “to-dos” and “not-to-dos.” In some cases, it would be okay to save on graphics while leaving mechanics intact or maybe make the game less complex but aesthetically pleasing.
In any way, you must begin by describing your idea in detail on paper, explaining core gameplay features, and writing a plot summary. Basically, you will be making a Game Design Document (GDD) that will keep you focused on the goals till the end of the development process. Plans and means for development may change a dozen times, it is normal, but the goals must be set in stone. Therefore, we recommend entrusting this task to specialists familiar with the job. This way, you will be sure that your GDD follows the initial vision.
With a finalized GDD on your hands, you can proceed to choose a game engine for the project. The two most popular and universal game engines for the job are Unity and Unreal. Both engines are widely used by professionals and individual enthusiasts alike, have a variety of free assets, and can be used without licensing to a certain extent. These basics can solve a bunch of problems, but you will still require experienced designers/artists/etc. For a small-scale project, you don’t need a lot of them, so hiring one or two outsourcers for art production won’t deplete your budget. The same applies to coders.
If you are planning to do a blockchain-based project with NFTs, marketplaces, and a sophisticated economy, then prepare to look for niche specialists. They will take care of all aspects that must be added to your initial game (it will serve as a base to build upon). You will need blockchain experts, programmers with economic knowledge, and token masters that already have experience with such projects.
In addition to that, you need to explain the token system in your game to investors and your target audience. How it works, what it offers, and what the benefits are. This requires solid technical documentation, so if your programmers are not good at expressing thoughts on paper, then you gonna need a technical writer as well.
POSSIBLE GAME DEVELOPMENT CHALLENGES
Indie game development is free from publishers’ pressure and their ridiculous (at times) demands and limits. However, it does not mean that there are no other cons or challenges to deal with. We already mentioned small teams and small budgets but let’s take a closer look at the problem to understand what other issues such limits raise.
When working alone or with a small band of fellow devs, you will inevitably run out of the workforce for implementing fresh ideas and adding new content at a steady pace. If time means nothing, you are free to advance at your own will, but the addition of any new feature will delay the game’s release. And what if you come up with dozens of new ideas? It could possibly mean weeks or even months of extra game development work, hence extremely low scalability.
Furthermore, your humble team most likely won’t have people with experience and knowledge in different fields (designing, programming, animation, sound, and so on). It is quite possible for one specialist to cover several roles, but it requires a lot of patience, determination, and willingness to pull the weight for the team.
On the bright side, you will always be in control of game development, knowing who is doing what and how the project is advancing. Plus, it will be much easier to design elements of the game, make changes to them, and experiment. It comes with a price, though. In the form of spreading yourself thin all over the place, hopping between multiple tasks and departments.
A lot of times, independent devs start out with a good, well-calculated plan for the desired project, but unexpected issues can ruin it. Hiring pro game devs to solve problems in the middle of the process can be troublesome as they need time to learn the details. So it is either crunches or release delay. That’s why it is good to have an extra bag of cash stashed for an emergency.
HOW TO OVERCOME THE CHALLENGES AN INDIE STUDIO FACES?
Despite having so many potential challenges, ease of mind can be achieved with just one move. Hiring specialized people to fill the blanks in your team immensely relieves the pressure. Plus, those “hired guns” can also serve as extras on the project, ready to take on any task you want. The time of professional designers or programmers may be costly, so we would recommend employing only those who have the right experience. Otherwise, you will be spending your money inefficiently.
How to make sure that a game development outsourcing studio is the right fit for your project? First of all, take a good look at their portfolio examples. Have found something similar to your game? Good! It will be your starting point for discussion. Secondly, ask for a consultation before signing a contract with the studio. Your future partners must be open and willing to help prior to striking a deal.
Make sure that your associates have enough specialists to meet your demands. For example, if your base team is lacking animators, 3D modelers, or 2D artists for a graphics-heavy title, then voice this issue at the very first meeting. It would be a major problem to learn that you actually need more developers than originally planned, and your partner has no free hands to provide.
In other words, you can overcome most indie game development challenges by expanding the core in-house team with experienced creators that know their craft. And who knows, maybe just one or two extra level designers or concept artists will pave your road to success right into the top tier of indie games.
MOST SUCCESSFUL INDIE GAMES TO TRY
Games from independent creators can sometimes compete with AAA titles for critical acclaim and even total earnings. We prepared a quick list of three notable projects in this regard. We played them and enjoyed them, and we really think that these are one of the best indie game development scenes can offer.
We could not start this list with any other game, honestly. Originally created by Marcus “Notch” Persson, Minecraft was his hobby project that turned into the most successful indie game of all time. Sure, he had to quit his full-time job and hire a team to continue the game’s development, but it was very well worth the risk. Ultimately, this “hobby project” earned Marcus $2.5B after the deal with Microsoft was sealed.
Minecraft’s gameplay mixes multiple genres, from exploration to survival, while surprising the eye with boxy pixel graphics. The design of the game is perfect in its simplicity, offering everyone something interesting to do. The practically limitless replayability of the sandbox with countless possibilities will never go out of fashion.
The idea for this sandbox game came from the creative mind of Andrew “Redigit” Spinks, who wanted a game that could appeal to all audiences and be fun in all gameplay aspects. A simple idea has transformed into a big game that required more people. This led to starting of an indie game studio Re-Logic with three people on board.
The commercial success of Terraria was overwhelming, with more than 200K copies sold in the first two weeks. By 2022, the total number of copies sold across all platforms exceeds 44 million already. Both users and critics praised the title, so developers had no other option but to update and expand their game.
The game was not successful at its release in 2018, but in 2020, it suddenly became a massive hit with more than 10M players on Steam. This was a big surprise for a small team of three developers, so they started working on new content that made the game explode in popularity even more. The devs from Innersloth even had to cancel Among Us 2 to focus on improving the first game.
Among Us draws inspiration from the classic horror movie The Thing, directed by John Carpenter in 1982. The gameplay is based on deducing who-did-it/find-the-traitor mechanics, allowing players to cooperate in tense ways. Lying, staging events, and framing others is what you need to do to win a game. Cool, isn’t it?
Blockchain indie games – the case of TryHards
NFT gaming has shown a significant growth in early 2022 compared to 2021. And even during a crypto winter there are more and more new projects emerging on the horizon. Argentics team has helped to build one of such games from scratch.
A bit over a year ago we started working on a competitive action-driven MOBA set in a sci-fi world of a distant future known as TryHards. The game is an engaging third person shooter that lays the foundation for an entire metaverse, with MMO and crafting mechanics to come in 2023. As of present the game has a multiplayer shooter arena, 20 characters, and multiple skills and weapons.
HOW TO FIND A GOOD PARTNER?
If you would like to create indie games, save your time, money, and nerve cells by delegating the development of your game to Argentics. Partial help and support or full-cycle game development – with our professional team of seasoned developers, we can handle just anything. Designing, prototyping, concept drawing, production, and so on up to the release and post-launch support. Regardless of the game genre and target platforms, we will make sure to consult you first and offer the most relevant tech stack to back up the latest trends in the industry. Contact us to discuss what you have in mind today!