Simple tips all indie devs can use
No you won’t find here tricks on how to make money, how to find that great idea that will become hugely popular or how to run a successful business. Even if I thought I knew these things I wouldn’t even bother posting them as chances are I’d only be fooling myself thinking I’m right.
There are however a few things one can do to feel a tiny bit clueless. Things that are not even exclusive to indie game development. Very little of these things I actually figured because of game development in fact and most are just common sense.
Learn to search
Information is so easily accessible these days that there are very few things you actually have to figure out of thin air. Thousands of people have gone through before you whatever you are going through so there’s no need to try reinventing the wheel.
They say ignoring the law is not a valid defense, well the same could be said about ignoring what is easily accessible through a 30 seconds search on Google. Learn to identify keywords that will help you to search. Learn to spot editorial content vs actual facts backed by data. Find multiple sources of information and oppose them to try to find the useful bits.
I can’t remember the last technical challenge I had to face that didn’t have a solution on the web or at least hints that would tell me that maybe I was doing things the wrong way to start with. I never posted once on websites like http://stackoverflow.com/ because it seems all my questions are already answered there. The amount of time I save by learning from what I find on the web is incredible.
Nothing too good to be true is true, there are no shortcuts
Don’t you find it strange that your last game that completely went under the radar suddenly is noticed by some Russian YouTuber with millions of subscribers? Well it’s always possible for such thing to happen I guess but in my mind it raises a very big red flag. I can’t recall any story that goes like this: “My game suddenly became a success because I received an email from someone I never heard about”.
Before sending your hard work for free to any stranger on the web just take a few seconds to check who you are really talking to. Receiving an email asking about your game might be good for your ego but when nobody you know is legit is doing the same then chances are that someone is just trying to take advantage of you. It’s sad but the moment you release a game there are many people who are only interested to mess with you. Fake YouTubers, marketing companies, business strategists, etc.
If there were shortcuts then we’d all be taking them. Don’t you find it strange that not everyone is trying to trade free copies of theirs games in exchange for votes on Greenlight? Well maybe you should research why it would appear you’re the only one with this great idea.
Talk to people
It’s true that sometimes it’s harder to find an answer to a specific question or that this answer you’re looking for is hidden in a sea of information that would take too long to explore. In that case why not ask others that might know the answer? More often than you’d think other indie devs are more than happy to answer you and share their experience. Even these highly successful people you might think will ignore you are often quite easy to reach.
The worst possible thing you can do is to ignore what happened before your time. Learn from others but also learn to not to take for granted everything they tell you. If you’d ask me for advice on some matter then the last thing I’d want you to do is to just take everything I say without questioning it. My experience can’t be applied to everyone else so trying to pretend that what I’m saying is the absolute truth would be a mistake. But maybe my experience or my point of view can still help to figure what’s right for you.
Be careful with people pretending to know it all
This includes this post as well otherwise I’d be contradicting myself. If there was some recipe everyone could follow to get to a given state of success, then once again we’d all be following it. Each case is particular and must be adapted to what one likes to do, can do or is willing to do.
I can’t count the number of times I felt clueless as an indie dev while everyone else appeared to know how to do things the right way. Well, they often don’t and are often as clueless as me. If you do a postmortem about your not so successful game then you’ll see many people commenting on your story telling you what you did wrong and how obvious it is. Too often these people don’t even have any experience releasing anything and while it doesn’t automatically dismiss their opinion it should at least be a sign to take what they say with a grain of salt.
It’s tempting to take advice from a successful indie dev and consider what they say as pure gold but success can be particularly hard to explain and many people do a very bad job at trying to explain it. Success often have this effect of bringing more success so at some point it might be difficult to figure if you’re successful because you’re an exposed personality or because you have followed a specific plan.
It’s like how I like to describe how to get many followers on Twitter. It doesn’t start with Twitter itself. First you need to have some success and then you’ll have an easier time fueling more success through the Twitter followers you’ll have gathered. From there are you having success because of your great Twitter strategy or because you gathered enough followers to have a decent impact due to your initial success. From there the line starts to blur a bit. It’s easy to start giving advice about how to deal with Twitter once you already have the followers to make such strategy a valid one to start with.
Nobody has a magic wand to solve all your problems as once again, if such thing existed then we’d all be sorcerers.