Can you make a living as an indie game developer?

Money can you make a living as an indie game developer

You may have had the idea to create a game. Maybe you wanted to make money with it. Which can. But if you dreamed about becoming rich, I certainly have to interrupt that illusion. Let’s be realistic and say that the chance of success is small. Just like any creative profession, a lot of perseverance comes into play and your first game probably won’t be a best seller. I will tell you why developing indie games is hard.

Cut-throat competition

The competition is fierce. I am not sure about the numbers, but I once read that 20% of the indie game developers can make an living out of it. Take the exact percentage with a grain of salt, but remember that there really is a cut-throat competition. I regularly see calls from people who want feedback on their Steam page. You see that people work on a project with passion and it really bothers them that their game only has 100 or 600 paid downloads on steam or Itch.io.

You might be asking yourself: don’t people see the love they put into their project? People sometimes don’t see that! The market is flooded with new games every day. It cannot be kept even if you would make it a day job. So you really need to know how to present your game above average. Otherwise, your indie game will be overrun by other game developers who are also screaming for attention. For that, you have to make a lot of time for PR. You are often not only a game developer but also a marketeer.

This game released in January 2018. By the end of 2018, over 500,000 copies of the game had been sold.

You won’t make money with indie games without PR

Lots of indie developers fail because they make common but yet surprisingly PR mistakes. Therefore they won’t build a community and do not make that many sales. Even if you’re doing everything that you could do in terms of promotion, it will ask a large proportion of your time. The time that you could have been spending on making your game better or by even developing another game. Unlike the bigger studios, most of the indie game studios don’t have a sales department. PR is just a developers’ second job.

You could tackle this a bit by making less creative games. There is a reason AAA developers stick to the same formula every time. Games series like Halo, Mario, Call of Duty, FIFA and many more just repeat themselves endlessly because AAA publishers know these kinds of titles sell. Most indie game developers want to create unique ideas while not knowing for sure if there is a market for such a project yet. For that, you have to do market research or just go crazy and find out yourself.

Little Devil Inside will launch as one of the PS5 indie titles. The studio behind the product has worked, Neostream, really hard and many years to get such a partnership and a successful Kickstarter.

Are indie games profitable?

One of the main reasons for making a good salary out of indie games is because you can not ask top dollars for it. If you are selling your indie game for $20 or more, you are competing with Celeste, Inside, Cuphead, Yooka-Laylee, Spelunky, and other highly appreciated indie games. You could try, but the chance of success ain’t high. People won’t pay top dollar for games they never heard of.

Even if your game is hypothetically better than these videogames, you will have a long way to go to convince others about it. You might not even have the media coverage to convince users that, that is a fair price point. More than often you will have to go for releasing a lower prices indie game and sell lots of units to even make a good amount of money. To get there you have to work hard before you can make money with indie games. At the start, indie games won’t be that profitable.

Yooka-Laylee succesfully got launched because the game got succesfully Kickstarted.

Funding your project

In most cases, money can be a problem for some indie developers. Often developing games will start as a side job because you have something else to pay the bill. Creating a game takes time and as long as you don’t have an end product, you don’t make any money anyway. As a result, you may have to do work that you don’t like at all. It’s a huge gamble to quit your job and hope to make enough money with your game.

Some developers took the risk, but that does not always end well. You may be able to make this bet if you already have a nice amount to fall back on, but not many people have this. You see it more often happens that people set up an extra project in their free time and try to grow from there. Who knows, they might be able to make money with indie games, and that money might fund your next project.

Fruity Smoothie, a game I and fellow students developed, during our study Game Design and Development. It was free to play and therefore got a lot of attention. We did not manage to make money.

Chase your dreams and make money with indie games

Ultimately, it’s not easy to make money with an indie game. It’s not impossible, but it’s probably going to take a lot of your stamina. If you want to make real money from it, don’t let it stop you. Follow your dreams. Be realistic. Assume that you don’t earn much, then you can’t be disappointed. Keep your expectations as low as possible. And if you do collect a good amount, it feels extra nice.

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