Do you have a “runway” to go Indie?


photo by as737700

I had lunch the other day with someone who is planning to go Indie soon and I asked the all important question: “Do you have a runway?”. And I was very impressed that he a) knew what I was talking about, and b) has a 5 year runway! That’s a serious runway!

So what am I talking about? Well if you have a “regular” job and are about to go Indie, for goodness sake make sure that you have saved up some money first. You need to have enough money to pay for ALL of your living expenses: mortgage, bills, car, food, kids, debts (if any but I hope not) etc for quite a long time. How long? Well that depends of course on how soon you start making real money. If you are very lucky and skilled that could be in 6 months, but it could take 2 years or longer. Many Indies don’t make any decent money from their first few games because they are more like learning exercises. I didn’t make any decent money for almost 2 years and that was from royalties from my 3rd game.

Aside from the runway, you are most likely going to have to spend some money on graphics at some point (unless you are planning a retro “programmer art” style), so you need to save up even more money! Or you will have to get a loan, or get invested in, or find an artist to team up with (tricky if you’ve never released a game before, because how can they trust you to deliver?)

When I went Indie, I had no runway at all, which is not wise. But I just felt I’d had enough of business software and was determined to make it work it. It was very tough and I had to do some IT Consultancy to keep some cash coming in, plus juggle my finances a lot and rely on my partner Helen to bring in some cash. It took longer than I thought to make some money, and even longer to pay off my debts!

To conclude: don’t quit your job until you have a runway, some serious skills, and a decent plan!

13 Responses to “Do you have a “runway” to go Indie?”

  1. Alex Vostrov Says:

    It helps to be frugal as well. I can survive on 15k a year, that means that I have a lot more latitude than someone with 2 cars and a mortgage.

    Then there’s Jason Rohrer who could keep making games while camping out in the wilderness.

  2. Kyle Newton Says:

    I can’t say that I really have a runway to go indie. I suppose I have the “runway advantage” of working from home, but it’s difficult (and/or scary) to put away the steady and proven paycheck-generating work to pursue “the dream”.

    It’s encouraging to read that you worked as a consultant (what I call myself) to keep some funds present while you chased the game development path.

  3. Allan Says:

    What about when you’re unemployed and unable to obtain a job in the IT industry in your region, so set off to go indie as you don’t have an alternative, add to that just enough money to get by… What would be your advice then? ;o)

  4. hermitC Says:

    I like the stories of game dev startups from the 80’s in the Retro Gamer magazine ( ). These stories are like “I slept beside a pile of 1000 ZX Spectrum tapes in my bedroom”, “sent graphics on tape by snail mail” or “hard work and individuality were the secret”. The last statement seems important to me. “Indie” better expands to individuality than to independence.

    I’ve gone indie with begin of 2010. My runway parts are:
    – saved money for 1 year
    – live at my parents house in one room
    – no car
    – no girlfriend – not planned but happened πŸ™‚
    – PC work that pays the bills
    – non-PC work that pays the bills (I’m a carpenter to)
    – keep going out at a minimum

    Living alone makes an indie startup easier. Staying alone is another story πŸ˜‰

  5. Troy Hepfner Says:

    It also depends on the kinds of games you want to make. If you want to make casual games, you have a lot of competition – and unless your game is original or exceptionally good, it will get drowned out by the better games. Ditto for flash games. If you’re going to make niche games, you’re going to have a lot harder time getting noticed.

    For example, I make games for kids. The portals don’t want my games, because I don’t fit their target age group (although BFG carries games for kids, but they still don’t want my games and they still give me the same lame “doesn’t fit our target age” excuse). And my target market doesn’t visit hardcore gaming sites. So I’ve had to rely mostly on direct sales. It took me nearly 5 years to grow my traffic and business to the point where it pays for all of its own expenses and puts a little money in my pocket. And it has taken me 7 years before I’m ready to go full-time indie next month.

    So what Jake says is so true. Don’t quit your job expecting to get rich from games. It ain’t gonna happen.

  6. Troy Hepfner Says:

    Oh yeah, my runway:

    1. Worked as full-time dev for large company, and evenings/weekends on game dev
    2. Paid off all debts (house, car, credit cards)
    3. Saved up a year’s salary in the bank (feels like I should probably have 3 years worth)
    4. Plan to continue working part-time at my full-time job when I go full-time indie next month (important not to sever all ties, in case things don’t work out and I need to go back)
    5. Cutting WAY back on non-essential expenses

  7. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Really encouraging to hear all your stories, awesome! Good luck to everyone.

    @Alex: I was originally inspired to change from my full-time business software job to a part-time contractor by a friend of mine who lived in a caravan and had great computer equipment and didn’t have to do hardly any work at all. So yeah, low overheads all the way! Although I cheated: I charged more money and worked less hours so didn’t need to scale down my living expenses! Later on though when I went Indie and was doing consultancy work on the side, I really did have to scale things back though.

    @Kyle: The consultancy thing worked but after a while I just found it annoying getting calls about problems and having to stop work on my game to go out and fix stuff. Although I was grateful for the money, it was very distracting. It was a relief to finally tell people I didn’t do that any more.

    @hermitC “no girlfriend – not planned but happened”. Oh dear, you are doomed now then, how will you do any programming? ;-p

    @Troy: Yes cutting back on non-essential expenses is vital. We even got rid of of Satellite TV and BBC TV License to save money AND of course it meant I got more programming done πŸ™‚ Similarly, if you don’t drink or do drugs you’ll get more done too and save money.

    @Troy: “Don’t quit your job expecting to get rich from games. It ain’t gonna happen.” There is wisdom in this, but I would add one word to the end: “quickly”. Because it is possible to get rich from making games, but it takes lots of practice, hard work, contacts and luck. Bit like the music and film industry.

  8. hermitC Says:

    @Grey Alien Games:
    This way it’s easier concentrating on game dev. Don’t worry, there are girls in the “pipeline” πŸ˜‰

  9. Grey Alien Games Says:

    @HermitC: Oh I misread your original post as you didn’t plan to have a girlfriend but got one, and that’s why I joked you wouldn’t get much work done πŸ™‚

  10. Robert Says:

    I am indie now and deeply in debt. I couldn’t afford the runway so I decided to jump off the edge and hope that before I land on my face, I’ll have earned enough to afford a parachute.

  11. Grey Alien Games » Blog Archive » How to find time to Program Says:

    […] Home       Free       News       About       Contact       Blog       Framework       Links       « Do you have a “runway” to go Indie? […]

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