Indie games (meaning independent) are different from big-label games in that the former are created by independent developers or teams of developers, while video game publishers sponsor the latter.
Indie game development is inherently different from sponsored game development in some ways, which we discuss below in more detail. Let’s look at the positive side first.
- Limitless creativity. When you are your boss (which is the case with indie teams), you can experiment with crazy ideas that established game publishers would not risk investing into. They can afford the luxury of changing their minds and moving in the opposite direction; they can start small and grow big (unexpectedly), or they can back off and completely dissolve their project. As soon as there is a sponsor, you have to account for their opinion, you are responsible for certain pieces of work, so you cannot switch to work on a great idea you have just had, you cannot modify the concepts at your own discretion, and you cannot stop delivering results according to the schedule.
- Relaxed atmosphere. Indie game developers are often friends or at least soulmates. They share a common outlook; they are OK with crossing boundaries and neglecting authorities, they are adventurous and daring. So it’s hard to put these folks into the framework and make them do “right” thing (which is not always good, though – see cons). But these guys try to enjoy every minute of the process, and toil because they love what they do.
- Flexible deadlines. This point is directly related to the previous one – when no-one is pressuring you, when you don’t have an announcement of the release date published in all possible media, you will much less likely tie yourself by strict deadlines and will unlikely be upset when unable to stick to them. After all, your team got together to have fun, productive and possibly profitable, but fun.
- Internal motivation. When the team of enthusiasts decides to create a new fancy game, they are already charged with ideas, passion, and energy. No supervisor with the whip is needed to get them going (however, a jockey to pull the reins in the right direction may help – see cons). This intrinsic drive is what keeps indie developers on track, at least for the time being.
- Lack of business knowledge / unreasonable expectations. Getting into indie game development is a piece of cake – simply team up with a few like-minded aficionados and way to go! But reality can be cruel, and the pink glasses may fade quickly. Game development is not a game in itself – it’s business, and business is all about rules, procedures, KPIs, and… profit. If you start developing a game out of the blue, you risk setting expectations too high (too low happens much more rarely), misinterpreting what the customer wants, or just running out of money. So, at least some informal research and planning are desirable to back up your endeavor.
- Poor management. This drawback stems from the previous idea. As indie development teams are frequently quite amateurish, especially regarding coordination and subordination, they tend to be disorganized and too horizontal. However, an indie game development process is not much different from the way big-name games are developed. After all, it is still a game, and for it to see the light of day particular sequence of steps has to be followed. Even if there is no designated manager in a team, someone has to act as one to streamline the development process, determine priorities and assign tasks.
- Limited resources. This issue is pretty obvious due to the nature of independent video game development – no outside sponsors are welcomed. Indie teams usually rely heavily on personal contributions of its members and leverage crowdfunding. Since it’s not always easy to ensure public buy-in, most indie games are developed on a tight budget. This leads to several important consequences:
- Indie games are often small or nor as elaborate and multifaceted as the big names
- Graphics may be not as high quality as mainstream games can afford
- In the best case scenario, arriving at profitability takes 3 to 5 years
- Indie developers have to be good at everything as having designated narrow specialists for each area of expertise is unrealistic
- Marketing would most likely happen through social networks, forums, and other free channels, therefore, reaching out to large audiences may require time and talent.
These days, opportunities for independent creative process grow exponentially – you can self-publish a book, run a blog, organize a personal exhibition, or launch a new video game with little to no investment. Free collaboration, development, management and marketing tools enable passionate individuals to pursue their dreams with a minimal price to pay in case of failure. Being your boss, working in an inherently aspiring team, and making your vision come true are the factors that drive inspired geeks into the indie world.