Over Cloud 9's Blog

A boring record of whatever that comes in my mind

Life of an Indie- Part 2


It’s been long that I blogged about anything. Shifting to a new place has done one bad thing- high cost of living. Self funding in business and living on your own without any external source of income other than games is taking its toll on game development and my general sustenance. For the past two months, I have been struggling to make payments to artists due to the restrictions raised by Reserve Bank of India on international payments. The progress has slowed down because of that and forced me to come back to my home and work from here for sometime. I am hoping to complete the ship game in two months if things go as planned.

In the mean time, I thought of making a comic series based on ‘Pascal’ from my game and sending them in newsletters. He was quite popular amongst players and it would nice if players can enjoy more of his outrageous jokes outside the game. Here’s the first one, the others will also be posted in my blog apart from the newsletters (Click on the image to enlarge).

The problem of being an indie is you get a lot of money once your game is out for a month or two. After that sales start decreasing, and unless you have a lot of your own game titles or affiliate sales, you will start to feel the pinch. Being an indie is not just making games, but making a living too! And to make money, it is important that you understand and take care of the business aspects of game making. In my earlier post of ‘Life of an Indie’ series, I had mentioned the problems one faces in this career. In this post I will be discussing how I have solved some of those problems and plan to solve for those who are facing this. So let’s take the issue one by one-

1) Sustenance- This is a major issue for indies. From what I have heard or seen other indies doing and also what I have done, here are some ways to manage a sufficient income to sustain yourself (can’t say if you have a family).

a) Get a job which is less time consuming and if  this is your first game in development. Teaching is a good option as it is not as exacting in terms of time and energy like other jobs. You will have a fair pay and sufficient time to do a game in your spare time. I am sure there are plenty of other online freelancing or contract based work that you can do depending on your skills.

b) Get paying customers to your site instead of just any traffic. Getting huge exposure is good, but it is important that you get targeted traffic instead of wasting money marketing to huge but non-targeted traffic. Targeted traffic will get you money, people not interested in your game or site will earn you nothing. To know what kind of traffic you want, you should know what kind of game you are making. Players can be broadly divided into two categories- hardcore gamers and casual gamers. Remember most games appealing to hardcore gamers will not please casual players and vice and versa mainly because of their demography. For example, most games on Steam are hardcore, targeting male audience (though they have some casual titles also); while most games on Big Fish Games are casual, targeting female audience. Your games should have a specific audience to begin with instead of covering a broad range of players, at least during the incubation phase. Once you have more than 2/3 successful titles, then you can get more experimental with your audience.

c) Generate additional income if you want to diversify into other business or make more money. Like sell your talent in what you are good at when you are not making games. Make sure that you do something that is closer to your business than something totally different, it will help you not get burdened to totally different tasks. Like if you are good in making art, sell your artwork or do contract work for other developers when you have spare time. I am better at marketing, so I would monetize and hone my skills by marketing games of other developers soon. If you are good at making music, you can make and sell music too for others and generate additional income and so on and so forth.

d) If you have started making decent money from your game, keep making more games! :) Also don’t forget to keep promoting your older games in various portals, game forums, etc. Older games sometimes tend to die down in terms of sales. In that case, you can tie up with adver gaming companies like MyPlayCity who put ads in your game and give it out to players for free. You will earn from the revenue generated from those ads. But you should opt this option only if your game is not making any sales for months. Revenue generated from ads are not as much as unit sales, so if your games are generating revenue, you should not kill them by making it freely available.

2) Free Marketing: Yes, not paid ones but free ones. There are many free marketing techniques which can generate huge revenue yet cost you nothing, so its a win-win for you. Revenue generation is the most crucial part of sustaining your business, so marketing wisely will help you save a lot of money. I usually do not recommend paid marketing techniques as the free ones are easier, better and have no risk. Some of those best free marketing methods have been mentioned in my older blog post on marketing, here are some more that I didn’t mention there.

a) Forum discussions: Most developers are a part of some game forum or the other apart from their own. If the forum board permits, then you should discuss and post about your game in those forums. Put an attractive picture of your game with a titillating tag line in your signature or avatar. Players who know you and trust you in those forums will visit your game pages to check out and might buy it if they like. This is one of the best and easiest way to get targeted customers. These customers, again in turn, will spread the word to other gamers who might follow their recommendation.

b) Put ads in your game: This is something everyone knows yet very few indies utilize. Big companies and portals who sell indie developer’s games generate a lot of money for themselves by doing this. This is something I am going to try in my own game this time. It works like this- you contact advertisers who sell products that is relevant to your target audience. If you have older games, show them your game download statistics and say that your game will generate X number of downloads approx. Tie up with them by putting their static ads in your game during load screens, installation and all game scenes where the player is not actively doing anything. That way, ads won’t be annoying or intrusive but rather serve as a good timepass for players while he waits for the game to load or install. You just need to show the advertisers the download and install count to show how many impressions they have made. If you cut intermediaries in getting advertisements, then the total payment is yours. If you get hold of at least 5- 10 advertisers and charge them reasonably for putting their ads, then a large/full part of your development cost will get reimbursed by that. That is a nice safe guard even if your game doesn’t sell much as you won’t incur huge loss.

c) Spread the word locally in real life: Make stickers or paint your game’s logo and website address on  T-Shirts, mugs and give it out for free to friends, relatives, cousins or neighbors. Put up your website or game banners in parties organized by people you know (so that it is free). Don’t forget to put simple, easy-to-remember url of your game or website so that people can visit and see it. When people see and hear about something most often, they will get curious and visit your website. You never know, they might become paying customers.

d) Social Networking:  This is a huge way to spread the word about your game for free to a large audience. Create accounts in popular social websites like Facebook, Twitter, My Space, Stumble Upon, Digg, Delicious, etc and make friends with people who are interested in gaming or those you know. Your updates and posts regarding games will make them take a peek at it. Viral marketing is the hot trend of social networking, so make use of it.

3) Paid marketing: Paid marketing helps once you have started making some money out of your game/website…though you need to be careful about investment, The key word is targeted traffic if you want good return-on-investment (ROI).

a) Start your own retail distribution: Make  CD/DVDs of your game (preferably more than one game in bundle), put them in a nice boxes and research on which part of your neighborhood would be likely to buy those. Popular spots like shopping malls where they sell games, internet or video game parlours, parks, children recreation centers or any related entertainment hubs are most likely to show positive response if you try distributing your games. You don’t need to set up a shop or be physically present there unless it is some kind of a fair. You need to speak to the owners or moderators of those places to see if they have a spare computer or system where people can play your game. For a nominal fee, you can rent the system or offer a per unit sale commission to the owner/moderator if they let you set up your game on one system and they invite their visitors to play it. If those players like it, they can buy the CD/DVD. You can give the owner/moderator some CDs at a discounted rate or commission basis for sale. That would also generate you some revenue.

b) Put ads in websites: This is the most common and effective method of getting targeted traffic, if you know where and how to place the ads. Apart from Google ads, Chitika, Adbrite, you can put ads on Facebook and other popular websites that generate huge and relevant traffic. Highly targeted traffic can be obtained from website which reviews, sell or post on games of your genre, try contacting those sites as the chances of purchases from these websites are quite high than anything else. Sending  ads in mobile SMSes is also not bad if you can get in touch with a good service provider.

4) Managing resources- Unless you plan and organize your resources like money, assets, time and energy properly, it will incur you additional costs which will add to your investment in a game. Breaking even will become difficult if you do not plan in advance how much you are going to spend both monthly basis on essentials like electricity, internet bills, salaries and other costs as well as the game development costs. For example if you are planning to make your own game engine, you should start doing that in your spare time and do some other work to cover the costs. Or else the amount of money you spent creating the engine will add as an overhead when you start making games. If you are using a commercial engine, make sure you know how to work with it to a manageable extent (in case if your employees quit suddenly you will be able to finish it somehow). Plan as to what what will your employees do when you finish one game and have else nothing to do? Outsourcing artwork, music, etc is a very good option for indie developers as it gives you quality work of your choice at one time cost. Only the time spent monitoring and receiving all your assets from an external source is a lot, so you need to plan it accordingly. Remember, whatever you spend on indie business has to be covered by the game sales, so the amount of money you want to invest should be planned much in advance so that you know your break-even limits. Keep the cost of production as low as possible without compromising quality.

I will be posting the 3rd part of this series after I finish and release the ongoing ship game project to share the results of my experiments. That is all for today. Please feel free to share your ideas. :)


7 Comments to

“Life of an Indie- Part 2”

  1. On June 23rd, 2011 at 5:46 pm Jan Says:

    I ran a business for years. It was in the accounting, not creative field, but still seminars, courses (needed or not) put me where I could make contacts. These frequently led to getting contracts. You could go to both kinds of seminars, softies like me, and the hardcore. If people try your games and mention them to others, likely they would get more exposure??I always considered the seminars as hard work b/c you have to stay up and party to meet the right people (not that I’m against partying), but you also need to be at the breakfast meeting.

  2. On June 23rd, 2011 at 10:40 pm over_cloud9 Says:

    Yeah seminar is a good way, but there aren’t many seminars that happen here. For indies, networking is extremely important and the more one gets exposure in any form, the better it is.

  3. On July 17th, 2011 at 9:49 am greath Says:

    Nice to read, but not every thing is right. Most indie games on Steam are casual games, but i think that most customers are male.
    The other problem i see here in the casual RPG scene is that u rarely give any discount. I have never seen Aveyond on Amaranthia for sale even when it is several years old, that is ridiculous!
    There are many other problems! I wish you the best and looking forward to our next game :)

  4. On July 17th, 2011 at 9:50 am greath Says:

    Oh may you and the other casual rpg indie devs should make a bundle, like wolfire has done it with the humble indie pack.

  5. On July 18th, 2011 at 5:08 am over_cloud9 Says:

    Yeah we are thinking of doing a bundle since two weeks now. I wish to put my upcoming game in the bundle which is nearing completion. So I will wait until it is done :) In the mean time, you can put up your thoughts of the problems you were talking about.

  6. On July 26th, 2011 at 8:34 am Cool Says:


    I am not sure how hard it is to get a dev kit from Sony or Microsoft. But I think it would be cool to see Over Cloud 9 make games for the Xbox 360, PS3 & PS Vita. So would there ever be any chance you would make games for those systems?

  7. On July 26th, 2011 at 8:38 am over_cloud9 Says:

    Getting the dev kit is not difficult, but working on something absolutely new is not worth it unless I have done the researching the market. We have to make a living along with experimentations ;) . Anyway, we’ve got the android sdk kit to test out a new game concept on it. This ship game will be available on Xbox live indie games. :)

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