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6 Painful Challenges Of Indie Game Development

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Indie game development has become quite the ‘thing’ in the last few years. It’s a big buzzword, slapped onto so many games that it sometimes becomes a bit hard to distinguish Indie from Not-So-Indie. The actual definition is this: “An independent video game (commonly referred to as an indie game) is a video game that is created without the financial support of a publisher. Indie games often focus on innovation and rely on digital distribution.” Those few lines reveal a lot more challenges than you might think. Here are six painful challenges of indie game development, in our opinion.

1. The Desert of the Abandoned

With the help of crowdfunding and… a few other culprits, there’s a giant misconception that Independent development is a lot easier than it is – and for those who know how to exploit the system, that might very well be true. Unfortunately this results in a lot of games that either go to market without being fully developed or there’s a lot of generated hype for a game that’s never finished. 

It gives IndieDev a bad reputation – not only does it make it harder to reach an audience (that’s been burned a few times), but to stand out from the many unfinished or sub-par games that flood the market.

2. Garage Indie vs. ‘BIG’ Indie

After the hype that IndieDev generated, a lot of larger companies wanted in on the action – and who could blame them? This is a two pronged problem. First off, this creates a market that always expects all Indie games to be on that level. Whether it’s developed with the backing of a large company or in someone’s garage, gamers expect the same level of gaming experience.

The other side of this problem is that, although some of these picked up games go on to do really well, others don’t live up to their advertising. This compounds our first problem – because if ‘big’ indie games are a disappointment it just makes it that much harder for the small guys to find a market.

3. Where are the resources?

There’s a giant misconception about how easy it is to create games. Let me rephrase – there’s a giant misconception about how easy it is to create good games. It’s easy enough to create a basic little game and drop it in the market (sensing a pattern here?). But, for many developers, it’s a lot harder than you might think – and one of the biggest problem is access to help from engines. In case you don’t know, the ‘engine’ is the base that the game is built on – like Unity and Unreal Engine. Unfortunately, these engines aren't always perfect. But when a team runs into bugs or problems, communicating with the support teams for these engines aren’t all that easy. It slows down development as the teams either wait for help, or try to figure out a solution on their own.

4. Mission Impossible: The Target Market

While big companies can draw on massive amounts of user data and statistics, that’s not the case with small indie teams. They have to work on hunches, on public user feedback, forum comments, tweets… Basically, they have very little information available about their market, and not a lot of it is really all that reliable. But, with that limited amount of information, they need to try and glean enough information about their market to make a game that would appeal to people.

Remember how we mentioned how ‘burned’ the gaming community felt by a lot of indie games? That just makes this problem worse – these guys need the feedback of the gaming community to help them improve their game. But getting these dedicated and supportive followers is so hard that it’s pretty much considered a ‘rare happiest case scenario’.

5. This isn’t CHEAP!

A lot of indie games find their funding on Kickstarter – we mentioned that, remember? – or other crowdfunding platforms. But that doesn’t solve all their problems. A few years ago a very promising indie game not only made their target, but far exceeded it. There was a lot of excitement when that happened… until everyone started taking their cut. Lawyers, Kickstarter, equipment, registration, tax AND all the pledge prizes they had to give out. In the end, the team had about 10% of their raised amount actually available to use on the game.

Yes, you say, but they should have planned their finances better. Keep in mind, buddy, that these are small teams of developers. They’re not chartered accountants, just people who love making games. Yes, crowdfunding can be very successful – but it’s not as easy as money=game.

6. I’m done. I’m exhausted. No more.

Another thing gamers need to keep in mind that a lot of indie teams are really small – so they don’t have a lot of people to create everything. They have just enough people to spread the work around. So, more often than not, you end up with a ton of pressure on these guys to perform. And they do their best at it, too. 

But let’s face facts – more often than not there’s just one person on the team trying to make everything. For hours on end. Every day. Some Frustration Allowed. 

It gets worse - if there’s only one person dedicated to doing the kind of work that big companies delegate to entire teams, there’s going to be a point where it just becomes too much. Burnout is a real risk for these small developers and, in a market that’s not all too tolerant of delays, that can be a real game killer. Not to mention the long term detrimental effects it has on a person’s health.

Thanks to the CompliKATed team as well as all the other developers who took the time to have a chat with me about this piece.

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