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This month we are starting a new workshop series, one that deals with the creation of a full game. Many of you have requested this workshop series, being interested in seeing how the entire process flows step by step, starting with the design phase and going on to the final game details. This series is going to cover game creation from an independent game developer's (indie) perspective - it's what interests us, after all. As you might know, an indie is somebody (an individual or a team) who provides his own funding. If you don't have a publisher that pays you to create a game, you are an indie.
But who are you?
If you are reading this article, you need to ask yourself these questions:
- Am I a programmer?
- Am I an artist?
- Am I a sound / music guy?
- Am I a game designer?
If you are none of the above, then you have to become one for sure. Let's explore each profession:
- If you are a programmer, you should be able to bring your game ideas to life using your horrible programmer's artwork, which can be replaced with proper (bought) graphics close to the end of the project - that's what I do! As an alternative, you can partner with an artist and get the best of both worlds. Well, if you plan to create a tetris clone, you might get away with your own artwork.
- If you are an artist, you can create levels and / or models and / or graphics and hire a programmer later (or, even better, you can get into a partnership with a programmer). As an alternative, you could learn some programming.
- If you are a sound / music guy, you'd better strive to be among the best in your field. The availability of so many great libraries of sound effects and music makes it very tempting for indie game developers to simply buy what they need at very low prices. But you are different! You know how to add a lot of character to an action scene by simply playing a few silent guitar chords. Your sound effects are nothing short of amazing! And your orchestral music? John Williams would consider you one of his worthy apprentices.
- If you are a game designer, you have the skills and the ability to "see" how the game will look, feel and play in your mind. You are a very organized person who knows how to work within limitations (be them technological and / or financial). Oh, and you are able to inspire and motivate people!
A few words of advice for the wannabe game designers: we all know that from time to time you can read posts like these at Conitec's "Jobs Offered" section of the forum:
"Hi! I'm Joe / John / Jane / etc and I have this great idea: let's combine WOW and Quake7 into a single game! I am looking for 5 programmers, 3 modelers, 3 concept artists, 10 level designers and 4 musicians. We will create a killer, next generation MMORPG and we will split the profits (I'll get over 51%, of course)".
As you know, these posts aren't too well received by our community. In fact, these posts aren't well received by any community. Almost everyone wants to wear the game designer hat, because you are the man / woman with the ideas and the rest of the team has to work hard, in order to turn your vision into reality. The sad news is that good, great and killer game ideas are very cheap: you and I could produce a few of these ideas each day. If all you have is a great game idea, it won't help you too much.
In the real-life indie world it's probably better to be a programmer or an artist. Or, even better, a bit of both. Or to create a team that includes a programmer and an artist. Most of the time the indie game developers will also be their own game designers and will buy for cheap (or get for free) their sound effects and music. Nevertheless, if you are a great game designer or a killer musician, there's room for you as well, especially if you are working at bigger projects.
I got into game development 12 years ago, thinking that it would be a nice, fun, well paid job. A year later I was having a team of 6 volunteers and a Quake killer game demo (or at least that's what we thought we had). Surprisingly, the publishers didn't want to invest money in our game, even though it had some revolutionary ideas (some of them would still be revolutionary today!). From what I recall, the biggest advance payment offer we've got was 5,000 U.S. Dollars. We rejected the offer, thinking that we can get a much better deal for our great game and then (a year later) we have dumped the project for good because we didn't get any other investor to fund our game.
These two wasted years have thought me that we can't compete with the big boys: they've got budgets of millions of dollars, teams of 20 to 200 talented people, and so on. Working as an indie game developer is a nice and fun job, but not necessarily a well paid job. If you are thinking to get rich quickly, going to the law school or becoming a doctor might be a better alternative.
So how much money can you make as an indie game developer? There isn't too much information on the internet, but I have managed to compile some stats (most of them come from the GameProducer's website).
1. Pure Sudoku
Developer: Glowing Eye Games
Development time: 3 months, part time work.
Latest version released on: December 2008
Demo downloads: 250,000.
Total sales: 640 copies
Total income: $6,393
2. Magic Stones
Developer: Winter Wolves
Development time: 8 months
Latest version released on: End of 2006
Demo downloads: 30,000.
Total sales: 1375 copies
Total income: $27,500
3. Su Doku Live
Development time: 6 months part time + 6 months full time, 2 people
Latest version released on: 2007
Demo downloads: not available
Total sales: 100
Total income: $27,000 ($2,000 through direct sales, $25,000 through exclusive publishing deal)
4. Kudos: Rock Legend
Developer: Positech Games
Development time: 6 months, 4 people
Latest version released on: May 2007
Demo downloads: not available
Total sales: 1088 copies
Total income: $22,500
5. Winter Tale
Development time: 1 month, 3 people
Latest version released on: December 2006
Demo downloads: 100,000
Total sales: 640 copies
Total income: $9,945
6. Gish, IGF Prize Winner
Developer: Chronic Logic
Development time: 6 months, 3 people
Latest version released on: May 2004
Demo downloads: not available
Total sales: 4521 copies
Total income: $121,000
More information about the best seller indie games on Steam at the beginning of this year can be found here:
Back to our stats: I'd say that we can see a pattern here, with small teams working fast and making a decent amount of money. Some of them make more, some make less and some won't make any money, but since they didn't work several years at a single project, they can pursue several game ideas until they strike gold.
The conclusion is logical: start with a small project and finish it. Fortunately, GameStudio is the world's fastest prototyping tool I know of. I have played with several engines (including one that costs about $300,000) and I don't know of any other engine that allows you to have your idea turned into a playable demo in only a few days. I have managed to build a full puzzle game in only 2 weeks working by myself, 12-14 hours a day. On top of that, I don't know of any other game developing package that allows you to start from scratch and have a game demo running with only 100-200 lines of code.
This was the introductory part of the workshop. Next month we will explore different types of games and discuss how we should choose the proper one. Nevertheless, I want to give you a few links that should keep you busy until we meet again:
http://www.indiegames.com/ - Showcasing the best in independent games
http://www.experimental-gameplay.org/ - The Experimental Gameplay Workshop
http://makeitbigingames.com/ - Jeff Tunnell’s articles about making and selling games
http://2dboy.com/ - The creators of World of Goo, still one of the best selling indie games out there
http://www.kloonigames.com/blog/category/games - Kloonigames’ Monthly Experimental Games
http://positech.co.uk/cliffsblog/ - Creator of Democracy, Kudos and so on
http://www.polycat.net/tag/game-design/ - Great game design blog
http://rampantgames.com/blog/ - Blog covering the design of RPG games
http://www.gameproducer.net/ - Game sales statistics and more
http://gamejobhunter.com/blog/ - Find a job in the gaming industry (in case that my article has discouraged you :)