Independent game developers truly have it hard. Whether you are flying solo or work in a small team, there’s always hurdles to overcome. Unless you work at a major studio that is geared towards making your dream game, you are likely not seeing tremendous progress on your big passion project. Why is that?
As I present some reasons why in this article, maybe one, two, or even all of them resonate with you and your team. Heck, nearly all of them resonate with me! The key to uncovering and managing a pain point is by planning the solution. Hopefully, the presented solutions also resonate with you enough to give your indie game dev team a kickstart in the right direction.
1. You're missing the right skills to deliver
Let’s say you are not the most tech-savvy, logical thinking individual. Does this mean you can’t make a game? Rhetorical answer for a rhetorical question — NO WAY! The same goes for if you are not musically or artistically inclined. You can make a game, in fact, I wrote an article on the very subject of developer art and making games.
But when it comes to a dream game, everyone has their own vision. If your want custom music scores, artwork, 3D assets, or you want a complicated game engine powering a peer-to-peer MMORPG — you’re going to have a tough time.
If you are missing the skills to deliver on your vision, and you don’t want to settle with your current output or with premade assets, you will have to get creative.
For custom works, check Fiverr or Upwork for freelancers that would love to help bring your vision to reality. It may take a few revisions and back-and-forth with your contractors, but it's a viable option. If you must do it all yourself, consider taking online courses that will teach you the skills you need, on Udemy, Coursera, and Skillshare. Be mindful that you will need to be patient with yourself until you can truly make the kind of game that aligns with your dreams.
At the end of the day, if you are planning on writing your own Turing-complete language to help you write state machines for your three-part “intuitive” battle system, maybe you should think about the kind of game you want to make. Sometimes we get too caught up in our vision and forget some of the components we want to make are in direct opposition to what we are trying to present to our players. Think about your game’s promise to the player — what will they find the most fun? Is your convoluted fighting system really important?
2. You don’t have enough time in your day
Being in self-inflicted quarantine has afforded everyone more time in their days. On the flip side, our responsibilities have increased to match. If you are working a day job with 6 kids and working a side-gig on weekends to make ends meet, you are likely not able to squeeze out time to work on your dream game.
The illusion of additional time sometimes comes to bite us on the backside, too. Having “too much” time can sometimes give us the impression that we have more time to burn on idle, non-productive things. This is a common fallacy we all have fallen into at one point or another.
The solution here is easy in theory, and difficult in practice. Learning how to plan time to maximize efficiency is key. Knock out deliverables for work early so you can have time and energy later in the day for what you are most passionate about.
Maybe the 45-minute break between meetings that you would usually spend doom-scrolling through Twitter could better be used planning a new level for your game. Those nights of binging a sit-com you’ve seen 10 times already can be used for brainstorming ideas with your team.
Notice that I suggest some low-effort tasks for the breaks we have in life. Don’t expect to complete your game in a single sitting, or make immense progress during your lunch hour. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your game will not be built in an hour. Incremental progress is the name of the game.
3. Your dream is vast and varied
Have you met that friend who dreams of making their very own MMORPG one day? The World of Warcraft killer in-the-making? With a farming system that rivals Stardew Valley? And an open world that would make Skyrim embarrassed? Wait, is that person you?
Sometimes we get carried away with our dream game. It’s not to say you can’t dream of creating a networked multiplayer game. But you need to think carefully about why you want to make this kind of game — it is very possible that the core components that make your premise fun can be accomplished without online multiplayer.
Don’t jam-pack your game with every single thing you like in the world of gaming. Just because you like fighting games, strategy games, and farming games, doesn’t mean you should smash them all together and create a Frankenstein. The more scope you add to your game, the more it’s going to cost to make — in both time and money.
Drop the scope, or sell out to publishers or investors. If you have deemed every component of your game to be core to what makes it fun, then put your money where your mouth is and convince some bigwigs to get behind your project. Better yet, your next best option is to start a crowdfunding campaign to see if players find your idea as enticing as you do.
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4. Doubt has crept in
We’ve all been there — pondering, “Is this idea really fun?”
Sometimes it's okay to be unsure if your game idea would be fun, or if it would give you a significant return on investment to warrant spending your time to make it.
And sometime’s it’s not okay.
Being too skeptical of your own concept immediately shoots down any motivation to get started. If you can’t get behind your own idea, how will you convince players?
The best thing to do if you are unsure of your game idea is to spend a weekend making a prototype. If your game is doable by a small team, you should be able to create a rough prototype, proof-of-concept, or MVP (minimum viable product) in the span of 72 hours. From there, you can try the game for yourself, share it with friends and family, and get honest feedback.
And look on the bright side — you’ve just started making your dream game! You stopped thinking about the art, the music, the vision, and you just freaking did it. If your game idea does have legs to stand on, you are one step closer to making it a reality.
5. You’re not the first to market
This quandary occurs with start-up founders as well. Someone (or someones) has already delivered on your core promise already. For example, your cave exploring procedural platform idea is not the freshest, most un-explored frontier of game design ever. Now what?
Do you compete with Spelunky and Cave Story, or do you give up and keep thinking of something more novel?
If you are scared of your competition and want assurance that you will be the first to market with your game idea, then I have news for you — The most successful games are just clones in the same genre/space. It is rare to see a hit game that is not drawing tons of inspiration from its predecessors. And don’t get me started on the FPS, Sports, and Story-Driven Adventure game oversaturation in the AAA market.
The solution to being in a crowded space is to come to terms with it, and understand that the space is crowded because it is valued by players. Activision will stop making Call of Duty games as soon as they are unwanted by players. You need to accept this, and power through, up the mountain, and set yourself apart from your competition. Make the next Flappy Bird, but even flappier. Or “birdier”. I really hope that analogy landed!
On the other hand, if you don’t see your execution beating out the competition, there’s no shame in pivoting. You will be surprised how easy it is to take the core mechanics, what makes your game fun and compelling, and transplant it into a different genre or give it a new theme.
At the end of the day, only you can make your dreams come true! Part of making your dream game involves careful planning, organization, and disillusionment. Maybe your game will fall short of your vision on release — but releasing is a perfect opportunity to gauge interest and plant your flag for all to see!
Interested in making games? Are you a beginner, novice, or experienced game developer? Check out some of my articles that can help at any skill level.