I thought to take all the years of experience as indie, and write down five ESSENTIAL rules/tips to follow if you want to be a fulltime indie, focusing on direct sales:
- keep your IP / retain control - seriously, everyone agrees on this. Cliff posted about it a while back on his blog, and I want to reiterate this concept. There are SO many examples of people carelessly giving up their IP (Intellectual Properties) to find out a big company XYZ had made a fortune from what they just sold. So, if you think you have a good IP, think twice before selling it. Or ask for some big money upfront
Also: whatever tool you use, be sure that you have FULL CONTROL over it. Some examples: you can let a portal carry your downloadable game, but be sure that you agree with their terms. If they’re going to sell it at $6.99, you won’t have much success trying to sell it directly at $19.99.
Another example: someone just published a new platform to build games online easily. Awesome! But does that platform let you publish the games ON YOUR SITE? No? Then, it’s not that great. Remember that promoting YOUR site, building up YOUR mailing list, YOUR fans, will let you survive even through really tough periods (like this year of crisis). See Jeff Vogel posts about getting “1000 true fans”. Also, don’t forget that if you build up your site, you can later resell the domain if has enough traffic / relevance.
- marketing – this is a very controversial point. I see to many people wanting to burn thousands dollars investing in a marketing firm or simply Google Adwords. It’s a wrong choice and I tell you why: marketing/advertising works but ONLY in certain situation you’ll get a decent ROI (return of investment).
Example: a MMO. The nature of MMO, with his increased revenues per user, makes advertising much more viable than trying to promote a single-player-downloadable game.
I get decent ROI from ads because over the year I built a catalog of SEVERAL games. So people that come to my site from a Spirited Heart banner, might end up buying also Flower Shop and/or Vera Blanc. It is not uncommon to see same person buy 3-4 games at once. Now what would happen instead if I had just ONE game for sale? Probably wouldn’t recover the costs. In the beginning, the best thing you can do is either release several games or partner with some affiliates.
- partnership & affiliates – Affiliates can be PURE GOLD: find someone that has a similar user-base (sells similar games to yours) and ask if he is interested in selling your game. Or, look if he is affiliating his games. I regularly promote other people’s games in my newsletter and I get a nice chunk of cash from affilite sales, plus I remind people of my site and sometimes they even end up buying games of mine (it’s really like if they forgot about them, and sendind a newsletter about other games reminded them!).
Also, build up relationships with fellow indies. Over the years I got to know some people and now I have several business relationships with many of them. I did games together with Phelios, with Hanako, with Sakevisual. We didn’t even need a contract, because everyone had a reputation to keep (of course, be careful about people you just met). We exchange tricks and tips, and we keep updated about the latest news. What you learn through those relationship is often priceless.
It’s a pity that not many people see the enormous potential in doing partnership and affiliate other developer games, especially niche games!
- differentiate / experiment – I started making sports games, then RPG, then simulations, then wargames, and now visual novels, dating sim… unless you have a fixation for one specific genre, and unless that genre gives you good sales (in this case would be pretty stupid to try another!) you should really try to differentiate.
In my example I’m talking about game genre: another way is to change platforms (iphone, android, flash) or system (microtransaction, social games). I’ve heard so many stories of people that changed completely field and made a fortune…
- no epic projects – this is true especially when doing the first games. Doing an awesome 3d space battle should be done ONLY AFTER you built up a good catalog of games and lots of experience in doing indie games. I’m not saying that they should be avoided: only that if you go for the “big hit”, it can work but can also be a “big miss”, so you could end up with a unfinished game (because you’re burned) or run out of funds, or simply have to get back to daily work and then not have time to market it properly, and so on.
Of course, this is based on my personal experience! I hope you found this post informative, and if you did, spread the word about it