Being indie is a long-term game (includes graphs!)

Oz
Oz Revenue (5 years)

HB
Holiday Bonus Revenue (5 years)

I just posted some comments on Twitter about how being indie is a long-term game and thought I’d make a mini blog post to explain further.

“Overnight Success”

You often hear about successful indies in the press but overnight success is actually very rare. Most times the indie in question has actually been making games for years and their “overnight success” was the result of all that knowledge, or they really did just get super-lucky (right time, right place, right people, plus incredibly skilled).

What you don’t hear much about is all the indie failures, and unfortunately there are a ton of those (as there are in many fields of business). Or people like me, who keep going and make a living from it, but haven’t got rich (yet).

Holiday Bonus

I’ve been running Grey Alien Games for 6 years, and it’s been a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. I’ve shipped 7 games and I’m always learning new things and finding new ways to sell my old games. For example, this Christmas, my 5-year-old match-3 game called Holiday Bonus (PC/Mac Download) is on some new casual portals and is being localised to 8 new languages by Big Fish Games, and is coming out on iOS/Android/WP7 and web. Check out the graph above that shows the revenue of Holiday Bonus over 5 years. Hopefully this Christmas will be the biggest spike yet, and who knows what the future brings?

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The other graph is from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, my only non-seasonal game. Sure there’s a big spike at the beginning but look at that long fat tail… Oz is also coming out on some new portals soon and being localised, and I have plans to get it on mobile – so the story is not over yet! Hopefully you are getting the picture here: many eggs in many baskets over many years type thing.

It takes a long time

Basically if you go full-time indie with a year’s worth of savings in the bank and aim to get rich quickly, you are most likely setting yourself up for failure. You need to have several years’ worth of savings, or be prepared to earn money doing part-time work/contracting etc until your games get good enough to provide you with a half-decent income. Then with more practice (and a ton of perseverance and dedication), hopefully you’ll make something hot that really sells.

6 Steps to Massive Success

I documented how I saw this process a while ago in an article called The 6 steps to massive game development success. Alas I’m still at step 5 having dropped down from what I thought was 5.5 (Facebook game FAIL). Still, I’m pushing towards step 6 (“massive success”) every day and am determined to get there. Why? Well sure, I enjoy making games for fun, and for many people that’s all they need, and that’s fine. But I’m in my mid-30s and don’t live in a basement plus I have a family (+cat) to feed, so I’d really love to get some good money in the bank just to relax a little bit for once! We’ll see…

It takes a long time

Yes, I know I’ve already used that sub-heading – it’s important that’s why!

- Don’t plan for overnight success (but do plan for success).
- Don’t plan for your first game being a massive hit (but still work bloody hard on it as if it will be.)
- Don’t get discouraged when your first game, and maybe quite a few more games after it, flop or make peanuts.

Come to terms with the fact that being indie is a long-term game that takes a lot of hard work, mistakes, and mini-triumphs over many years. If you want to “make it”, keep on learning and don’t give in!

Also, it’s probably best not to play Skyrim and get some work done instead ;-)

Please share your stories in the comments. Thanks!

6 Responses to “Being indie is a long-term game (includes graphs!)”

  1. Bram Says:

    Insightful and inspirational as ever.
    I quit my job a little over a year ago, and never looked back.
    I’m getting close to stage6 now, never made so much as I did this year, not even close.
    I am gunning for the really big score now, retirement money, a solid stage6.
    I feel it is possible.
    Your full-indie presentation of the 6 steps (I think it was 5 in that presentation?) gave me the last little push I needed. Thank you for that.

  2. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Glad to hear you are doing well Bram and close to stage 6 in just over a year! I wish you the best of luck/skill in getting there. I’m glad you remember the presentation I did (it’s always been 6, it’s me who’s been stuck at 5 :-) ).

  3. Arowx Says:

    Currently on stage 4 have a couple of games out there but no quite successful at the moment, keep going back through stages 2 and 3 with new prototypes, alpha. betas!

  4. MrPhil Says:

    I don’t even really remember when I started exactly. I usually say 2001, but I didn’t register MrPhilGames.com until 2003. I’m not quite to Stage 3. I don’t feel Stacker is “Complete,” but I’m also burned out trying to make it better (the mechanic is limiting) and I’m more interested in strategy games anyway, so I’ve moved on to a Iron Raods. Its slow going for me, but I’m enjoying it.

  5. Lucifer Jheng Says:

    Last year I quit my job and became a full-time indie. I fully agree your opinion and the ’6 Steps to Massive Success’. I think I am currently at stage 4.5. In my opinion, being an indie requires not only time and money, but also devotion, persistence and self-development.

    The following are my thoughts for aspiring indie game developers:

    Why You Shall Not Quit Your Day Job To Make A Game App
    http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/LuciferJheng/20111207/8980/Why_You_Shall_Not_Quit_Your_Day_Job_To_Make_A_Game_App.php

  6. Grey Alien Games » Blog Archive » Holiday Bonus Postmortem video Says:

    [...] in November 2011 I wrote a post about how my casual games seem to have a very long tail in terms of sales. I followed this up with [...]