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5 ways to be a successful indie developer
5 ways to be a successful indie developer Exclusive
June 28, 2012 | By Mike Rose

June 28, 2012 | By Mike Rose
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    24 comments
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing, Exclusive



Fortune has favored indie studio Zeboyd Games over the last couple of years. While the studio started out creating text-based adventures for Xbox Live Indie Games, it soon found small-time fame with Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, a retro parody RPG that took multiple digs at RPGs of old.

This success continued into quasi-sequel Cthulhu Saves the World, another big hit on XBLIG, before the two titles were finally brought to PC via Steam and received the full recognition they deserved.

This week Zeboyd Games released what is its first crack at a big-name franchise. Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness -- Episode Three takes the original, polygonal RPG franchise and gives it a complete 2D Zeboyd-style make-over.

On the back of this rapid success, Zeboyd founder Robert Boyd plans to release the fourth and final Penny Arcade Adventures game in 2013. After that he'll either continue to work with Penny Arcade on new IPs, or crack on with the studio's own titles. Either way, Zeboyd plans to take a break from turn-based RPGs after Episode 4, and try something different -- perhaps a 2D Legend of Zelda-esque action game, hints Boyd.

For now, however, Boyd is all too eager to share with Gamasutra what he believes to be the key pillars to his studio's quick march success streak. Zeboyd's big plans for indie scene domination followed five key points, which he shares with us now.

1: Don't do it alone

"Find someone who is reliable, wants to make games as much as you do, and is skilled where you are not," begins Boyd.

"You can do so much more when working as a member of a team - not only will you have more talents to draw upon, but it also helps with motivation and getting a clearer view on the viability of your ideas."

2: Focus on your strengths

Says Boyd, "I'm very knowledgeable about RPGs and Bill [Stiernberg, Zeboyd founder] is a talented pixel artist so our path was clear - make a retro-style RPG."

3: Begin by working on lots of smaller games rather than a huge and lengthy project

"Rather than spend years making a magna opus like many famous indie developers have done, we would make several smaller games to gain experience, to build up a fan base, and to raise money," explains Boyd.

This approach allowed the duo to eventually work on game development full-time last year, accelerating its potential output.

4: Focus on what the big publishers are missing

"Since we can't compete directly against huge companies since they have far more resources than we have, figure out what they're not doing that's within our reach," states the Zeboyd designer.

This came down to a few different pillars of focus for the Zeboyd team. "In our case, that meant a focus on comedy (despite the success of the Portal series, there are far too few funny games being released these days), fast-pacing (most RPGs are huge epics that take a long time to get to the "good parts"), and accessibility without sacrificing depth (again, most RPGs these days have a very high learning curve but if you look at most classic 16-bit
RPGs, they were very easy to get into)."

5: Improve with each game

"If you look at our games so far, you can see drastic improvements from Breath of Death to Cthulhu Saves the World," notes Boyd, "and later from Cthulhu Saves the World to Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness."

These enhancements are most notable in three main areas -- "gameplay, story, and technology (from pseudo 8-bit to early 16-bit to mid-era 16-bit)." Building on the foundations of your first titles is key to expanding your horizons, he says.

Overall, Boyd believes that what every indie developer should keep in mind is the following: "Find something that you can do well that other game developers aren't doing and do it. And don't get discouraged if your first game (or first several games) isn't the big success you were hoping for."


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Comments


Fabio Macedo
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The REAL 5 ways to be a successful indie developer:

1. Work for some time in the gaming press, then leave and find someone else to do all the programming and art for you. Them being good is not really necessary, but hey, it won't hurt, and you may even get some GOTY award for best soundtrack or something.

2. If you can't write for sh*t, stalk journalists and buy them drinks whenever you can while you whine about how the mainstream won't hire you. Specially effective when it comes to Californian slacker types who think they're the Hunter S. Thompsons of gaming journalism thanks to 3-hour podcasts about hot dogs or whatever.

3. Bribe someone to be a panelist in some event and choose a random person to lambash publicly. If you can do that to a foreigner, the better.

4. Take a very basic gaming concept, preferably something that can tickle the retro fancy of many hipster types, and make it more "intelligent". You don't need to do much, a quirky platformer with a Escher-like level will do.

5. If all else fails, rip an unknown game off and give Zynga a call.

Kris Graft
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You should definitely put your methods to the test, Fabio. Let us all know if it works out!

Fabio Macedo
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Nah, I prefer to keep my soul as good as it is: corrupted and sold to the mainstream. That way people can appreciate the fact that I actually bathe daily as well as my hard work.

Joe Cooper
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Is this about someone in particular?

Casimiro Barreto
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And never ever forget to properly register trademarks and patents so, if even #5 fails, you'll be able to make some money patent and trademark trolling guys who do the real stuff...

Ryan Creighton
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What does "lambash" mean? Do you mean "lambaste"?

Christopher Casey
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So indie development is for unwashed, talentless, narcissistic hipsters. Got it. Any other bits of wisdom you'd like to share with us?

Zack Ribbe
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Great advice! This should help many people get a jump in the right direction (including me).

Alan Rimkeit
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Thanks for the advice. This is the way I am going with making games and advice like this is always appreciated.

Darcy Nelson
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I notice that none of those five things involved funding. Kind of important, even if you're doing all the other things well.

Robert Boyd
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I think you missed this part:

""Rather than spend years making a magna opus like many famous indie developers have done, we would make several smaller games to gain experience, to build up a fan base, and to raise money," explains Boyd."

Darcy Nelson
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But where do you get the funds to do the smaller games?

Robert Boyd
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Use up your savings, have a paying job and do game development in your spare time, ask for money from family, and Kickstarter are the typical ways.

Darcy Nelson
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Come to think of it, I'm not even really sure why I thought the answer might be something else.

Aaron San Filippo
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Making a small game on zero budget in your spare time is really not all that hard. Lots and lots of indies go this route.

Craig Page
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There is another way Darcy, I've been funding my game development now for over two years entirely by breaking into cars and stealing loose change. It's a little awkward paying the rent each month with quarters and dimes and car radios, but you do what you have to.

Rob Lockhart
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*magnum opus
source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnum_opus

William Collins
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I thought so, too.

tony oakden
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thanks for the advice. Now back in the real world...

Joe Cooper
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Do it alone, focus on your weaknesses, spend six years making a WoW clone and make each version worse?

Dave Toulouse
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Funny how all these recipes always miss the "Do what you are happy to do" part ... I thought the need to be indie was highly motivated by that yet I never read that.

Of course we all want to be "successful" but I believe most of us can be without being indie. That's why I wish these "recipes" would put more focus on the "do what you feel like doing" part. It's easy to be successful. Not so much to be indie ...

Christopher Casey
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I always thought this article by Derek Yu had a pretty good take on it: the ideas with the most potential are at the intersection of games you want to make, games you want to have made, and games you are good at making. It's over at http://makegames.tumblr.com/post/1136623767/finishing-a-game -- he explains it much better than I do. But it seems relevant to the "happiness" point you bring up.

Robert Boyd
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If you're looking to become an indie developer "Do what you are happy to do" is taken for granted.

And that article from Derek Yu is fantastic.

Lance McKee
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Thanks for sharing the advice Robert!


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