Fifteen years indie

Indie since 1896! 😛

Happy Birthday to me! Well it actually was earlier this month, the day before the previous blog post. But here I’m celebrating my 15th birthday as indie! I already wrote about my journey in my previous post of five years ago, so if you want to know more about it read here: https://www.winterwolves.net/blog/2014/04/my-first-40-years-10-as-indie/

The present

Now, five years have passed since that post, and things changed, changed a lot. In practice, everything has become insanely harder. I had to start a Patreon, because things are so tough recently that I felt I needed some help to finish the next games. Once again your response was really overwhelming for me, and I want to thank you all for your support!

Why things got harder? there are many factors but in the last weeks I thought about it a lot, and basically it’s due to a single main factor: “the gatekeepers”.

Back in 2004 when I started, you could sell directly from your site. I even knew people making six figures a year directly. And consider that amount using vendors which takes around 8-10%, not modern portals which take 30-35%…! But wasn’t only in 2004, I was still selling fine direct even when I wrote my previous blog post back in 2014, so 5 years ago.

In recent years instead, we had two different big changes:

  • the advent of mobile devices
  • Steam accepting all games and becoming “de facto” the most common way to discover/buy/play new games

In the first case, a new market opened, so thanks to Ren’Py I decided to try, and even if the money is really low compared to desktop, at least with Ren’Py doing the mobile ports is easy (except iOS, because of course everything Apple-related must be a pain in the ass, forcing me to hire an external coder!).

But in any case, even if probably some people who before were playing my games on desktop, now play them on mobile, for sure there are also new people/players who were introduced to my games (except for RPGs, I don’t know how you can play one of my RPGs on the tiny tablets! seems impossible) thanks to mobile devices. So that probably balanced things out in the end.

The ‘Steam tax’

But Steam? That is a different matter. Now, I am not “anti-Steam”. I am neutral, and I welcome the new Epic store because a monopoly is never a good thing (I can say it being neutral since there are 0% chances any of my games ever being accepted on Epic store lol).

As a matter of fact though, when before you could make a game, and say “I have 1000 true fans who will buy my next game. This new RPG costs $24.99, I’ll make around $25k and after vendor costs will be around $22-23.000.” now this reasoning is no longer valid. First of all the competition is crazy. Second, the discovery is a big problem on Steam right now due to non-working algorithm (I keep getting flight simulator games shown to me, even if I never bought one in my life!). But even if we consider that the same amount of people (the true fans) will buy my RPG, the problem is the fee: of those $25k in sales, less than $17k will end in my pocket after Steam’s cut. Such a difference for small indies like me is a lot, means less money to invest in the next game, more worries, etc.

Many of you still buy direct from me, and once again I thank you (I get almost 30% more each sale!) but the vast majority will obviously buy on Steam. I am not blaming users, since it’s not really their fault.

It’s what I call “the Steam tax” – basically when in 2014 Steam started Greenlight, IF your game got accepted on the store, you would get GOOD exposure. Really, really good, millions of views. Totally worth the 30% commission they asked in exchange of such visibility. Now? It’s almost like selling more or less to the same amount of people that before were buying on your own site, but of course you earn 30% less than before. Not a good thing as you can imagine!

The future

I won’t be lying and for the first time since I’m indie, I am not sure if I’ll still be here five years from now to write a new blog post. I mean, I probably will because even if this ended up becoming an hobby for me, I would still find the time to do it.

Things in life change, and nobody can really know what will happen in future, but the situation right now is rather tough. And it’s not just me, the mr nobody indie! I know of friends who made MILLIONS (literally millions) back in 2010-2014 on Steam that right now are not earning enough to make a decent salary (indeed many quit full time indie and took a daily job instead).

Haha this post turned out rather sad, didn’t it? It wasn’t my plan I swear, but if I had to write about the current situation, this is it. I hope nobody thinks I’m giving up or anything: I’m doing my best with my skills and resources. But I’m also living day by day, without much expectation about what will happen.

Hopefully we’ll see again in five years and I’ll still be a full time indie!

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24 Responses to Fifteen years indie

  1. Matt Roszak says:

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Plk_Lesiak says:

    Congrats on the milestone! I hope it won’t be the last one after all. 🙂

    I often wonder whether this oversaturation of the indie scene is a permanent state of affairs, or there’s some kind of reasonable balance we’re going to get to in the coming years. But it seems more likely that the flood of shovelware to digital stores and the endless battles with faulty algorithms will be the reality for quite a while. Especially in niches like VN, where it’s so easy to put together a quick cash-in game with little to no investment and take the attention away from legitimate creators…

    • admin says:

      Yes I agree, the main issue is not really the flood, that was always present more or less, but stores failing to deliver proper content using faulty algorithms.
      The situation with Greenlight was much much better than now, because getting votes to get in was a better process than just paying $100 to submit a game 😛

  3. Andrew Wooldridge says:

    I’m probably one of the rare folks who loves your games on mobile, as I rarely get desktop time. I know a lot of Indies are looking at switch. Are you considering putting some games on Switch?

    • admin says:

      With Ren’Py is not easy, but there are many problems with switch, like having to get a devkit and other approval stuff from nintendo. I also know a friend who released a VN on switch and it really did bad – not worth the effort ^_^;

  4. qorl says:

    Congrats on the milestone, I really hope this career will keep being viable for you, I wish you success.

  5. Lockey says:

    Always bought your games on your site ever since i encountered planet stronghold in 2011. Not planning to stop either, keep up the good work!

  6. BobTheMob says:

    Wow, congratulations, Jack!? I imagine it can’t be easy.

    Here’s to another 15 years!

  7. Rincewind says:

    Congratulations on the anniversary! And hopefully there will be more in the future!

    Regarding Steam, in my case, besides that it’s nice to have almost everything in a place, lately has become very difficult to buy in other place.
    Because certain specific circumstances of my country (the value of U$S Dollar going up five times it previous value in three years for example) buying in stores that doesn’t allow me to pay in my regional currency and with local pricing is a financial suicide.
    So, I’m stuck with Steam and U-Play, the only ones that give me that option.
    And lately, with the economy still in downhill even that option is becoming complicated.

    And regarding the games being buried in a flood of trashware… well, that’s why I rely in a curator and checking other sources to find games that I could like. Like reddit or gaming websites like Rock Paper Shotgun.
    But of course, since my interests are pretty specific, yuri, that could make harder to miss something.

    • admin says:

      Yes regional pricing is really a good thing, I wish more stores/services would offer it, but I think only really BIG companies like indeed Valve or Ubisoft can do that (I doubt itch.io will be able to offer that).

      The bad thing with curators is that it’s too tied to journalists tastes and not necessarily gamers tastes. For example, Rock Paper Shotgun never reviewed any of my games since 2010. That’s almost 10 years and zero coverage! And surely not because of quality or popularity since Loren or Cursed Lands or even Roommates did very well on Steam, so… 🙂

  8. Troyen says:

    Yeah, that steam algorithm…about a third of the games on the steam store home page it keeps showing me are on my ignored list, and the recommendations rarely seem to change. It’s to the point where I pretty much have to follow developers I know I like or waste hours trying to find something new. And all the curators steam keeps recommending to me are either trolls or making meme jokes instead of actually reviewing products.

    I prefer to buy direct, but that’s been getting harder, even for your games. Not necessarily your fault though, you’ve written about the troubles with codesigning updates for MacOS, and Gatekeeper keeps getting more and more restrictive. Many devs don’t even offer a direct purchase option.

    You may have answered this before, but does itch take a smaller cut than steam? I think the last few games from you I bought on itch, but browsing their store is even more of a garbage mess than steam. I wish somebody would introduce a minimum price filter, but they’re more interested in showing off cheap or free crap.

    • admin says:

      Oh yes, with itchio you can set your own commission. In theory you could even put 0%! I put 8% because is what I was paying with the previous vendor (BMT).
      So from 30% to 8% there’s a lot of difference 🙂

  9. camelotcrusade says:

    Thanks for everything you’ve done for us… your games have added a lot to my life, and I’ve enjoyed each one that I’ve played so much. They always make me smile, think, and appreciate the time I spend with them. I hope you can continue to make games, but if you can’t, I wanted to tell you that you’re already a star. ?

    And in case you decide go off Steam, I just signed up for the newsletter. Good luck! I’ll be cheering for you. ?

    • camelotcrusade says:

      Lol there are supposed to be emoji from emojipedia.com in my post, but instead of a glowing star and a grinning face it put ?. Oh well! I didn’t want you to think I was questioning either of the statements I made. I can’t edit the post to remove the missing emoji so I’m saying it here. Sorry!

      • admin says:

        Haha no worries! Thank you for your nice words. It’s thanks to fans like you if I am still here doing what I do. /thumbs up

  10. candesco says:

    Congrats with the 15 years. I think the 20 will also be made and probably even longer.
    The switch to itch.io instead of bitmicro was also a major change that was be made. I’m not a fan of patreon though. And yep, there has been made some changes to steam. Not sure if all those changes are something positive and what they especially mean for the indiemarket. I think you might also look around to other platforms, maybe try gog again, as they also have changed. There has been alot of indies released on GOG and still are. Factorio for example. Even Hanako’s Long live the queen is there.
    Well, so far i play the desktop games and not switching to mobile. I play a few mobile games on my phone (i use android), as i don’t have a tablet. But not those of winterwolves, as i find those better be played on the pc.

    • admin says:

      Well when I first asked many years ago, Gog refused saying that my kind of games aren’t a good fit for their platform. Then more recently (still a few years) they didn’t even answer. I guess they’re right, plus mantaining yet another platform is a pain. I’m happy with itch.io for now (beside Steam that is almost required nowadays).

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