To Aspiring Indie Devs
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
(note: nothing I write here is aimed at anyone in particular. If you feel offended, it's whatever. I probably felt offended by your shit. Also, this piece was originally posted on sagacityapp.com)
I know, I know; you're getting this a lot right now.
"10 tips for aspiring indies!"
"15 hard truths about being an indie dev!"
"8 things they don't tell you in video game school!"
I guess maybe it comes with the time of the year. Best Of lists show up all over the place, the IGF nominations are in, we start looking back and I guess that means we also start looking forward.
Before I released my first game, I used to eat that shit up. I read all of them and I believed every word simply because they were written by people who had done the thing I wanted to do but hadn't. These people were better than me by virtue of having done what to me seemed to be the impossible: They had made a video game. They were gods.
I wasn't going to question gods.
It wasn't just that though. The second part of it is, pretty much all of these articles list the same fucking things. And every time I read them, they became a little more true in my head. The facts cemented, then hardened, then they were stuck. Universal truths.
And that messed me up for a long time. Which brings us to the reason I'm writing this, and I'm hoping that anyone who is looking for "ASPIRING INDIE ADVICE" reads this because I refuse to believe I was the only one who ever fell into this poison mind state, or the only one who ever will.
It messed me up because after I released my first game, and then my second, and then my third, most of the shit I had "learned" turned out to be false. BUT: Because it was all written by people with experience, and because so many of those bullet points and snappy one-liners had been on a constant loop in my mind, I thought the problem was me, the problem was my games. Oh shit, I was making games wrong!
But then after I made my fourth, fifth... I started getting suspicious. And eventually I smashed the shit out of those cemented facts.
So let me run through some of the things that made me feel like I wasn't a "real" game making person for way too long:
1) Your first 10 games will be awful.
This is the bastard that really did a number on me. I read it everywhere. Your first 10 games will suck. Usually after that you get something like "so get them out of the way as soon as possible".
My first game was a minimalist platformer called ROOD. For some reason I thought it would be neat to put some secrets in there, stuff like if you walk into the wrong direction and jump over invisible blocks - and invisible gaps that will kill you- you get to find some super hard extra levels.
I released it and didn't think twice about anyone EVER finding out about those secrets, because, y'know, i had 9 more shitty games to make before people would start enjoying anything I did. To my surprise, some people DID find the secret levels, and even beat the ultra hard bonus levels.
My second game was called A Bat Triggered The Sensor That Activated The Defense Systems. I decided to put the game up for sale on flashgamelicense.com not because I thought I could sell it, but because I wanted the experience of being on the site. For later. Y'know, after I had made 8 more shitty games so I could start making good ones. To my surprise, I found a sponsor within a week.
My third game, if I'm remembering correctly, was a platformer called Underneath, which still (I just double-checked the Mochi ads to confirm this) gets played on portals daily. I didn't put it on FGL for sponsorship because, y'know, I still had 7 more bad games to go. I regret that now.
I could go on but now it's starting to feel like showboating. The point is: Your first 10 games don't have to be bad. You are allowed to see them as good games. Some people might love them. Someone in the world might think it's GOTY. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to think your first 10, or whatever number, of games will be bad. If they are bad (whatever that means to you), and you hate them, or no one cares about them, that sucks. But there's no rule that your first 10 games HAVE to be bad.
2) Start small.
Well, I did, and if you have a crazy-ass MMORPG planned out and no skills to make it real, then sure you would indeed be an idiot not to take this advice.
But with that said, if you are the type of person who wants to make a game that requires a lot of content / time / effort, and you believe you can make it happen, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
3) What works for us might not work for you.
Seriously y'all I just got lucky lol. Aw shucks I have no idea what I'm doing really!
Fuck that. I get that indies like to be humble and shit (heck I just apologised for showboating a couple of sentences back), but this one always made me feel like it was impossible to make anything happen with indie games for the longest time, like any sponsorship or sale I got was down to dumb luck.
Look, if you have ideas to make and the skills to make them well, you can make shit happen.Yeah luck factors in, yeah networking and connections factor in, but guess what's a breeding ground for both luck and connections?
Yeah. The stuff you make before you have either.
4) Marketing is super important and its own job and a science and
Really though? Chances are if you're into indie games, you're on the internet and exposed to things like twitter and indie gaming websites.(*) And that means you're exposed to all the marketing tools you need, and they're not hard to reach. Just posting a picture on twitter with the #screenshotsaturday hashtag can get you coverage on places like Indie Statik. As an aspiring indie dev, that's seriously all you need to concern yourself with.
(*= I might be off-base on this, I don't see how anyone could get into indie games without the internet but if I'm wrong let me know)
5) Prototype first, worry about art / music / etc later.
This one wrecked me for a while. I come from a graphic design background so for me it's much more pleasant to start with graphics and work from there. For some people making the music might be what inspires the rest of the game. There's no wrong approach. You're not less of a game making person if you don't start with code.
For me personally, moving placeholder boxes around just isn't inspiring, but I tried doing it that way for a while because I read that I should. I got way more productive once I decided my own workflow.
Alright! I think that's everything. Let me wrap this up by saying that these are my experiences, by no means am I saying the advice I've singled out and disagree with can't be valuable to you. It can be, and I hope it is. But if you start making games and your experiences don't line up with what those lists tell you, just know it's not your fault.
In closing, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this: There is one thing on those lists, usually right at the top, that I fully agree with 100%. It has helped me immensely, and I think it's probably the only thing an aspiring indie dev really needs to know:
Make something and release it
Sets and Settings / @folmerkelly