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Opinion: What This Indie Developer Needs
Opinion: What This Indie Developer Needs
August 16, 2011 | By Kyle Kulyk

August 16, 2011 | By Kyle Kulyk
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing

[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, Itzy Interactive's Kyle Kulyk argues that one of the biggest things indie developers need is "a voice of experience" from successful studios to help guide startups trying to find their way.]

Recently a question was posed on the Facebook page of my local game industry special interest group, GameCampEdmonton: "If you were to list what you need to help grow your indie game studio here in Edmonton in regards to talent levels, assistance, business options and so forth, what would you want to see and why?"

I've had a couple of days to ponder this notion and it certainly got the ole noggin a churnin'. As we near completion of our first title, in terms of resources – what is it that would have made our lives that much easier? What resources do we still need?

Talent isn't really the problem. The pool of artists and programmers who can dedicate their time without any idea of how much or even if they'll be paid may be a bit shallow as we start up, but for talent we've been able to manage. I find what we are really lacking is a voice of experience.

The internet is home to not just porn, funny cat pictures, and tales of Xbox hardware issues; it's also a place where people can share their thoughts and experiences on numerous other topics as well. The problem is, in relation to starting up an indie studio, the thoughts and experiences shared are often from people who haven't actually achieved the feat of starting up a successful, indie game studio, let alone turning it into a viable business.

Combing through online blogs and articles on the subject, I'm often left feeling like I'm a runner taking advice in marathon running from a writer who watched half a marathon on TV once, or from a writer who created the laces for a popular running shoe. Genuine advice from people who have run my particular marathon seems to be a bit hard to come by.

Soft advice is another problem. It seems I've come across countless articles with advice to indie studios like "Don't lose sight of your goals!", or "Focus on your passion", or helpful nuggets like "If you fail it will not only affect your family, but your team member's families too." Wow. How did these pearls of wisdom never occur to me? /s

Attending a developers' conference in Vancouver a few months ago, I was also left frustrated by the lack of information I could use. While there were a couple of useful talks, most talks seemed geared towards helping established developers land the funding required to keep their teams of 20-50 employed and working on their next PSN/XBL release in a dynamically changing marketplace. Not much thought seemed to be given to those that dare try to start up their own companies.

Why is it that finding specific, useful information on the internet is like trying to find sunlight by digging a hole? How hard is it for indie bloggers to share specific information regarding their wins and losses?

In this day when anyone can self-publish their titles, what do publishers really bring to the table? What are effective social media marketing strategies for indies with a marketing budget of zero? What type of games are the most successful in the mobile marketplace and why? Are free games littered with ads the way to go? Clicks or impressions? Who do you turn to for ads? Or are in-game transactions the cat's pyjamas? Budget titles? How do the numbers compare? Who's tried them all?

What indie studios like mine need are mentors. We need someone successful who has gone through this type of process recently and can speak to the specific trials they faced and share that wisdom over a pint of Guinness or through some sort of correspondence. Articles from people who haven't actually made it in the industry, or articles from people who made it 10 years ago when you had to fight for shelf space in retail stores, while well intentioned, don't offer up much in the way of useful information that the indie studios of today can wrap a business plan around.

[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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Alexander Bruce
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Go to the Indie Summit at GDC, talk with all of the people around the IGF Pavilion, hang out with people while you're at the conference.

Also, go to IndieCade.

You will find many people that you can share stories with and have done this stuff before.

Ish Said
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Totally agree with Alexander on the Indie Summit @ GDC.

Another thing I've found is that just asking with the intent of listening has always worked for me. I've cold emailed the info contact of multiple developers for help and points in getting through TRCs, ESRB, PEGI, etc. I was always amazed at the amount of replies and thoroughness I got back. That's why I love this industry and community!

Megan Fox
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Talk to other developers. Seriously, just cold-email them and be polite.

The most useful bits of wisdom I have gotten have invariably come from emailing other small studios that just launched successfully with their first game - take your pick, there are quite a few on XBLA, PSN and PC - and politely asking for whatever input they can offer.

By and large, I've found developers of a similar size to be hugely helpful, friendly, and generally willing to answer way more (and offer way more help) than I'd ever expected. You build up this image in your head of them being unapproachable bastions of business and supreme wisdom, but really they're people that are just like you'll be in a few years; surprised by their success, some combination of stunned and jazzed, and happy to share their experience if it'll help others get over the hurdles that almost flattened them.

Those same people give talks sometimes (Hello Games did a brilliant one on "please don't make an iOS game" a few years ago), but skip the middle man and just go ask them yourself. It isn't like there is an ocean of indie startups out there all clamoring for information from devs, we're still a pretty rare breed - your questions will likely break through the general buzz of fan mail the devs in question get. And if they don't respond, hey, they're probably busy, don't take it personally, and just try asking someone else.

(... but I mean here we are, with just one contracted title under our belt and only on the runup for our first IGF entry - so I'm hardly an expert myself, all I can share is what I've learned thus far)

Matt Cratty
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One problem is that successful people do not seek company, in general.

But, there are decent people even amongst the aggressive types it takes to successfully launch a successful studio. I like the thoughts above which basically simplify to "call them and ask".

But, I'd add that calling before they become truly established isn't a bad idea (again, in general).

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The casual industry have documented that already, look for casual connect. While the casual industry is establish now they had to face the same challenge as indie at the beginning. Don't let ideological thought cloud your mind, the business aspect is the same and you can easily sort the bad "sell out" advice from other (especially at the beginning)

Joe Method
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I develop both indie and professional games and vent my daily lessons on my twitter account. I have learned a lot in my 7 years in the game industry and I learned that the best way to retain knowledge is to teach someone else what you learned immediately after learning it. Some of my lessons are obvious but I also post them for former students who might not grasp the fundamentals it's also important to note that what I publish everyday is actually a lesson I experienced that day. Feel free to check it out and ask any questions you might have on my formspring account as well.

Joe McGinn
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Hi Kyle,

I suggest getting involved in indie vision:

It was a bit slow there for a while but I know the site owner has recently decided to put more energy into it, and has posted some great stories full of the specific kind of information you are talking about. All indies should gather around one spot like this and openly share into.

P.S. Why does the Gamasutra board have the most primitive comment editing system I have seen anywhere on the web in years? Can't even insert a clickable link? What century is this again?

Kyle Kulyk
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I'll check it out. I appreciate the feedback. As I mentioned, it's can be frustrating trying to find specific information and informed opinions when it comes to running your own start-up.