The Plan

I’ve canceled my first game that I’ve been working on for around two years, but this isn’t the end! I still want to release a game and do this for a living someday, but it’s going to take longer than I thought. The games industry is tough, especially for indie developers lacking the vast resources of a big publisher and success won’t be found just by blindly smashing out a game and hoping for the best. I can only hope to be successful if I make a plan and follow through with it, and even then there will be no guarantees of success. This post is dedicated to what I plan to do over the coming years to try to make it as an indie. I hope it will prove useful to some of you out there, or at the very least that it will be interesting to see it play out over the coming months and years.

The goal of my plan is to build up the skills I’ll need to make better games. My programming skills are already more than strong enough to make games. That gives me a good head start compared to approaching this without any skills whatsoever, but it takes a lot more than programming skills to make a game.

My artistic skills are far better than they were two years ago, but still not great. I can do pixel art, but not much else:

Alpha Strike pixel art
An example of Alpha Strike’s art

I like pixel art, but it’s a bit overused and shouldn’t be used simply for it’s own sake. If I make a pixel art game and want it to be successful, either the art has to be outstanding, or the rest of the game will have to carry it. Experimenting with new art styles will be an important part of this process, though not necessarily right away. I can get away with doing pixel art for the next little while if I need to.

Marketing is another thing I’ll need to work on. Not many people like to talk about marketing, but if I want to have the best chance of shipping a successful game then it will be critical. I won’t be able to afford much, if any advertising for my games, so I’ll have to make the best use of social media to get as many people playing them as possible. Social media isn’t something I’ve made a lot of use of in the past as I’m a bit of an introvert, but if I can learn to use it effectively and build a bit of a following I’ll be far better prepared to one day launch a game. Getting feedback on my work in the near future will also be very valuable.

Sound and music are an entirely different challenge. I have no experience creating sound effects or music. I’ve dabbled with composing chiptunes in the past and I’ll put some more effort into it, but this is one area where I may end up needing to hire someone to do this for me. Buying sound effects is something I’ll have to do as well. I’ve already put a huge amount of work on my plate without adding sound and music to the mix, though I will still make an attempt at it as I’m sure buying sound and music isn’t cheap.

This isn’t going to be easy, and it’s certainly not going to be fast either. Over the next one or two years, or maybe even more, I’m going to start creating games for sites like Newgrounds and Kongregate. I’ll start out making very small games, and I don’t want to increase their size much as I go. Alpha Strike clearly shows I need to get a better grip on scope for my games. Making web games certainly isn’t glamorous, and I don’t expect to make much, if any money off of it. What I want is to improve all of the skills I mentioned, and build up a reputation as someone capable of putting together a decent game before I try to make a living off of my games.

Alpha Strike Menu
The main menu in Alpha Strike. There’s way too much stuff in here.

Right now, it’s impossible to say how many games I’ll have to make before I’m ready. It could be five, or it could be twenty. I do have a few goals in mind that will help tell me when I should move on though.

First, I want to create one or two games good enough to get into the featured sections of at least one of the websites I put them on. This is a bit of a lofty goal, and I may not achieve it, but it would be a strong indicator that I’m ready to start a larger project.

Second, I want to get a solid following online. I’m not sure how large of a following that will be, or on what sites, but as I get more experience using social media I should be able to feel out what a reasonable goal is.

Lastly, I need to get the process of taking an initial idea and turning it into a finished game down to a science. Knowing how to go from start to finish on small games won’t prepare me for everything I’ll face with a much larger project, but at the very least I’ll have a much better idea of how to go about it.

Even with these goals, knowing exactly when I’ll be ready to work on my first commercial release isn’t easy, but I think it will become clearer as I make more games.

There is one last thing I need to be ready for, however. My first commercial release will have absolutely no guarantee of success. I’m not going to make a game with the intention of it failing, I’ll put my best effort into it. Even with all of this preparation though, the gaming industry is not going to be any easier to break into, but I will have the minimum amount of skills needed to have a chance. I just need to be prepared to make two, three, or maybe more games before I start to support myself.

This is as detailed as my plans for the distant future are going to get for now. As I move along with this plan, I’ll stop every so often and take a look at how far I’ve come, and see if I should change my goals or plans at all. For now, I’ll be focusing on the nearer future.

My first web game is already started, and I’ll be writing about my progress on it soon, so stay tuned!

4 thoughts on “The Plan

  1. Good read.

    Consider trying to budget for art and sound. Pixel art can be relatively cheap (especially if buying non-exclusive art). People see art first and consider quality based on that first impression. Of course if this is a skill you want to develop then you’re best getting all the pratice you can 😀

    1. Thanks! Before I start work on a game I want to sell I’ll budget as much as possible – sound, music, my living expenses, art, advertising, software, new hardware if needed, website costs and so on. For now while I’m working on small games though, my own art will work and I can just focus on having fun with it!

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