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srodrigo

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If thats what you feel is best for you man go for it. Im still gonna say this is driven by ego haha and theres nothing wrong with that.

I'd say it's backed by successful indies. I asked a few of them. Specially the ones that take this as a business, acknowledge the importance of knowing a bit of all the areas involved. For a business owner, this is important.

My intention was just to let you know it will take much longer.

We agree on this. That's why most areas just need a minimum knowledge, which doesn't take that long to get.

But looking at it from afar, lets say you spent a year focusing on nothing but music. Every day 4 hours a day learning the program for a couple months, learning how to construct a song, and then figuring out what music is best for your game and fine tuning the tracks to near perfection.

I actually spent 9 years studying music in a music school (was supposed to become a musician for a living, but changed my mind), and half of my life playing an instrument. I actually made some compositions in my youth, so there's obviously work to be done, but music is my second skill since I was a child, so why not refresh it and make the most of it? The digital part definitely needs time, for sure, but, as an example, I can live with making chiptunes music for the kind of games I have in mind for now. That doesn't even require much tuning, as there are software programs that are already focused on that kind of music. I'm not going for electronic or orchestral, which need much more work.

Thats a year and tons of mostly wasted hours to make something only decent, when you couldve paid a muscian (someone whose devoted 8+ hours a day for YEARS into their craft) to make you a song 10X better than yours for only $100. maybe a little bit more.

Yeah, looking back, I probably wasted half of my live on music.

The thing is, do we work every single waking hour on our projects (apart from Elon Musk, and only until he fell apart)? Even if we put 60 hours per week, there is still time for other things, and if someone enjoys learning stuff in their free time, why not learn stuff that can also be useful?

Leaving exceptions apart, you'd be surprised about how much a professional music composer who has devoted 8+ hours a day for years charges. More explicitly, about $500-$1000 per MINUTE of custom music, from what I've researched and seen recommended by some professional composers. A much cheaper option is to buy stock music, and that's totally fine if it fits your game.

Like I said im a illustrator and as much as I'd like to make all the art for my second game, im not going to. Most i will do is pass a few sketches over to a 3D modeler.

That's fine, as (I guess) you are not a 3D modeler and prefer to invest the time in something else, which is sensible. I wonder what you do with coding, though, as you said you already released a game. Do you outsource programming?
 

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NicholasCato

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Oh now i see what you mean. If youre just dipping your foot into each facet of game development I agree that is needed. I guess i sort of overlooked that since most of my childhood summers were spent picking up a new game engine and doing everything from art to coding myself so i probably developed a strong grasp of the pipeline from those little projects.

The coding for that game was pretty much done other than a few tweaks i managed to figure out. I have a pretty decent grasp of some aspects of coding so once i get into it, I can figure things out. Eventually I plan to hire a coder to finish my current project, but im going to get all the less complex stuff done myself to shake the rust off my skills.

I look forward to the progress you make on this and would love to keep in touch and share our discoveries
 

Comet

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Hi @srodrigo ,

I worked as a programmer in the gaming industry for almost a decade, and since quitting I considered taking the path of developing my own games as well.

I still hesitate about it as I'm worried it's the 'doing what you love' that MJ warns of in TMF and (elaborates more in) Unscripted .

I do believe, however, that it IS possible to provide relative value in this field and create a Productocracy, especially as an indie developer.

If you can provide that relative value, people don't care if the graphics is 2D and pixelated, 3D and voxels, if they can buy your product on GOG or on Steam or non of those and you couldn't get the minecraft.com domain as well so you just bought minecraft.net but people still find you.


I list below resources that I used when was doing research on taking this path and can help you, from the gifted designer and game developer, Jonathan Blow.

I'll just add a note here about the resources - They are video lectures on YouTube.
Which is good and bad. Here's what helped me to use them effectively:

- To tackle the YouTube trap, I download them as mp4 to my computer/device (there are sites that do it).

- To tackle the "I saw/listened to it, now I know it", I do the following:
Take my notebook, write the title of the lecture, when watch it I pause and rewind often, and write down notes. These would be highly useful when you want to refresh your memory on it - just spend 5 minutes reading your notes instead of watching an hour long lecture.

The resources:

1. How to code (games) efficiently:
Jonathan Blow, How to program independent games
How to program independent games – The Witness

2. How to design good video games:
Jonathan Blow & Marc Ten Boch, Designing to reveal the nature of the universe
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGSeLSmOALU


3. How to create good game prototypes:
Jonathan Blow, Indie prototyping
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISutk1mauPM


4. Keeping the spirit and motivation:
Jonathan Blow, Techniques for dealing with lack of motivation, malaise, depression (With a Q&A video)
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7kh8pNRWOo

(Q&A)
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECwHZlvvVH4


I hope it will be useful for you and others who decide to take the same path.
 

srodrigo

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Hi @srodrigo ,

I worked as a programmer in the gaming industry for almost a decade, and since quitting I considered taking the path of developing my own games as well.

I still hesitate about it as I'm worried it's the 'doing what you love' that MJ warns of in TMF and (elaborates more in) Unscripted .

I do believe, however, that it IS possible to provide relative value in this field and create a Productocracy, especially as an indie developer.

If you can provide that relative value, people don't care if the graphics is 2D and pixelated, 3D and voxels, if they can buy your product on GOG or on Steam or non of those and you couldn't get the minecraft.com domain as well so you just bought minecraft.net but people still find you.


I list below resources that I used when was doing research on taking this path and can help you, from the gifted designer and game developer, Jonathan Blow.

I'll just add a note here about the resources - They are video lectures on YouTube.
Which is good and bad. Here's what helped me to use them effectively:

- To tackle the YouTube trap, I download them as mp4 to my computer/device (there are sites that do it).

- To tackle the "I saw/listened to it, now I know it", I do the following:
Take my notebook, write the title of the lecture, when watch it I pause and rewind often, and write down notes. These would be highly useful when you want to refresh your memory on it - just spend 5 minutes reading your notes instead of watching an hour long lecture.

The resources:

1. How to code (games) efficiently:
Jonathan Blow, How to program independent games
How to program independent games – The Witness

2. How to design good video games:
Jonathan Blow & Marc Ten Boch, Designing to reveal the nature of the universe
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGSeLSmOALU


3. How to create good game prototypes:
Jonathan Blow, Indie prototyping
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISutk1mauPM


4. Keeping the spirit and motivation:
Jonathan Blow, Techniques for dealing with lack of motivation, malaise, depression (With a Q&A video)
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7kh8pNRWOo

(Q&A)
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECwHZlvvVH4


I hope it will be useful for you and others who decide to take the same path.
That's awesome @Comet, thanks for the resources. This guy is an amazing (and a bit crazy) game designer. I actually watched the second video some time ago. I'll watch them slowly when I have some time (difficult, which only one day "off" a week).

Making games usually falls into 'do what you love', otherwise there are plenty of other (and easier) things programmers can do that have a higher chance of success. But you are right saying it's still fastlane. It looks a lot like writing books to me, or selling music online.

I'm curious about why you quit, if I may ask. Also, it sounds -if I understood well- like you did quit but didn't decide to go indie until later?

There is one thing that can be fastlane, which is making tools, and it *might* be easier if someone finds a problem. The Unity store was a nice way to add value and make money, but now it's probably crowded too. But I'm sure there's still some shovels to make for the gold rushers.

I'll leave a few resources as well. More talks than lectures in this case, but I found them either inspiring or instructive. There are some people here who might be interested. The guys are game devs who have been in the business for decades, so it's something to take into account.

This one is by an indie who's been making games since 1995. His approach is quite interesting... He works solo and makes games in a "cheap" way, reusing assets, and mostly buying stock ones or even for free.
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stxVBJem3Rs


This other guy has ben making games for 15 years and explains how he did it. The info is a bit dated, as he's moved away from match-3 games, but I still loved it. He provides a lot of data to back his reasoning.
How to Survive in Gamedev for Eleven Years Without a Hit

And here is another talk by the guy above, about the importance of not spending too long on a game. This is what really make me scratch my head, as I see it very difficult (although he talks about 3-6 months projects, not 1-3 months ones). Again, a good amount of data that he analyses.
You are spending too long making your game

EDIT: Forgot about this one too. He explains some success cases from an analytical side. And he's much more optimistic than all the "indiepocalypse" people out there.
How to Consistently Make Profitable Indie Games
 

Comet

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Thanks @srodrigo .

I'll reply on the quit question in a PM.

One point about 3-6 months projects - I think that's reasonable, if you do as MJ implied in TMF : "Commitment is to work on your business 7 days a week whenever time permits".

Think of the game Braid. It took Jonathan Blow just 2 weeks to create a prototype, which was almost the full game (Ref: his talk on effective coding and prototyping). IMO he continued to spend years because he wanted to perfect it (and also fought with the XBOX requirements).

I don't think you need to worry too much on getting the right art, sound effects, etc, either.
A bad game with good art and SFX will not succeed anyways. I would've focused on the design.

Thinking of the tiny details of the future will overwhelm you. Focus on now.
One (prioritised) task at a time.

You also don't need to have it perfect when you let people try it out.
Remember how Minecraft was released to the world? He added a few things every release.
Got some feedback from the market, improved, and so on.

Maybe it can work with your game as well?
(Can be a closed group for getting feedback if you worry about someone copying your prototype)

Looking forward to hearing your progress!
 

srodrigo

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One point about 3-6 months projects - I think that's reasonable, if you do as MJ implied in TMF : "Commitment is to work on your business 7 days a week whenever time permits".

Think of the game Braid. It took Jonathan Blow just 2 weeks to create a prototype, which was almost the full game (Ref: his talk on effective coding and prototyping). IMO he continued to spend years because he wanted to perfect it (and also fought with the XBOX requirements).

I'd like to make my games in the shorter amount of time possible while keeping a decent quality. Fast iteration is better than betting all on one big game that who knows whether people will want to play.

I'm not aware about the details of Braid, and haven't played the game (although I'm familiar with it), but even if it took him 2 weeks to prototype, I imagine it took him longer to design and implement all the final levels. One thing an indie who makes games solo in 6 months average told me last week is to beware of the content trap. A 2 weeks prototype can turn into a 2 years development if there is a lot of content that you need to add manually. This actually made me leave my first game for now, it needed a lot of -short- levels and needed to be crafted. I'll explore procedural generation as much as I can.

I don't think you need to worry too much on getting the right art, sound effects, etc, either.
A bad game with good art and SFX will not succeed anyways. I would've focused on the design.

You might be right. That's why my idea is to create sort of 8-bits looking games that don't need amazing graphics and sound, to start with (I have games in mind that need more advanced art and music, but have to start small and simple!). Focusing on game design is my main focus for now.

Thinking of the tiny details of the future will overwhelm you. Focus on now.
One (prioritised) task at a time.

It does, and it's daunting sometimes.

You also don't need to have it perfect when you let people try it out.
Remember how Minecraft was released to the world? He added a few things every release.
Got some feedback from the market, improved, and so on.

Maybe it can work with your game as well?
(Can be a closed group for getting feedback if you worry about someone copying your prototype)

It will depend on the kind of game. I noticed that a good amount of game devs are really hermetic at the early stages of making their games. I'm not that closed, generally (at least for the first few games), but still don't like to waste people's time with half-backed ideas. I have a good variety of family/friends with very different skills to test the initial ideas, and a few other people who are closer to final users. So for now I've tried to played with that to combine different kinds of feedback. Family and friends can be bad feedback because they are close to you, but at the same time some people (parents in this case) are far less skilled and are great testers to check whether your game is easy to understand, and they will forgive you if it's too early to ask for feedback. Feedback from the wild is useful later. And the "Minecraft way" is something I really want to study closely.
 

masterneme

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Good luck with your ventures, I'm following a similar path as you, in fact while I was reading I saw you liking my last post on my progress thread hahaha. And I use the Pomodoro Technique too, I find it very effective.

If you want to focus on PC I will tell you that Steam is still the way to go, Itch will give you feedback but is mainly a platform for indie devs, not many potential buyers there. The same thing happens with Gamejolt, Kongregate or IndieDB.

At the same time if you find supporters and fans there they'll be REALLY supportive and friendly.

So my suggestion is to use every free resource you have available until you find a game with potential and put that game on Steam ASAP. You can create a Coming Soon page and you'll start receiving traffic and some people will add the game to the wishlist.

2019 is going to be a good year for indie publishing, AAA companies are becoming more politiced and gaming journalism too, people are tired of this, they just want good games.

There is a massive demand for good quality, 1 to 4 hours long, at 10$ to 20$ range games. And also it's estimated that there're around 1 million Linux & Mac gamers that everyone is forgetting.

And also Switch has become a gold mine for high quality indie games...

It's just a matter of creating that one little gem that provides the valuable entertainment people want and build on top of that.
 

srodrigo

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Good luck with your ventures, I'm following a similar path as you, in fact while I was reading I saw you liking my last post on my progress thread hahaha. And I use the Pomodoro Technique too, I find it very effective.

If you want to focus on PC I will tell you that Steam is still the way to go, Itch will give you feedback but is mainly a platform for indie devs, not many potential buyers there. The same thing happens with Gamejolt, Kongregate or IndieDB.

At the same time if you find supporters and fans there they'll be REALLY supportive and friendly.

So my suggestion is to use every free resource you have available until you find a game with potential and put that game on Steam ASAP. You can create a Coming Soon page and you'll start receiving traffic and some people will add the game to the wishlist.

2019 is going to be a good year for indie publishing, AAA companies are becoming more politiced and gaming journalism too, people are tired of this, they just want good games.

There is a massive demand for good quality, 1 to 4 hours long, at 10$ to 20$ range games. And also it's estimated that there're around 1 million Linux & Mac gamers that everyone is forgetting.

And also Switch has become a gold mine for high quality indie games...

It's just a matter of creating that one little gem that provides the valuable entertainment people want and build on top of that.
Thanks, man. I'm watching your thread, I hope you can release your game soon and it does great.

That technique for soft proof on Steam is something some people are trying out. I remember there were some people discussing about that, and apparently Steam wasn't very friendly if they notice they create a lot of those pages. But if it's only one, it should be fine. I agree that Steam is the way to go. Other stores, specially itch.io, are just for soft launching. itch.io amounts for maybe a 10% of the revenue of indie games, according to some indies.

The Switch is a good platform for indies, as Celeste has proved. But I think it's really difficult to compete with games like Celeste, which took quite experienced game developers and I assume quite a lot of money invested, as the credits screen is quite large. I'd love to be there one day, but as someone just starting out, that's not my competition at the moment.

I hope you are right about 2019 being a good year, there's a lot of negativity from most indies (as usual) in the atmosphere. The % of Linux and Mac users it's just decreasing more and more AFAIK though, I don't think I'll be supporting them.
 

masterneme

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I hope you are right about 2019 being a good year, there's a lot of negativity from most indies (as usual) in the atmosphere. The % of Linux and Mac users it's just decreasing more and more AFAIK though, I don't think I'll be supporting them.
The % decreases because the number of total players has gone up, but the number itself remains fairly stable at around 1 million.

And the negativity, yeah, there's still people telling Valve to increase the fee for Steam Direct. I don't think they realize that the days when just being on Steam guaranteed selling 100k units are long gone. Having a higher entry barrier won't do sh*t.

I find it hilarious because then most of them find insulting spending money on advertising, while I think: "If you can afford 1k to publish on steam, why don't you just spare a couple hundred for some Youtube campaign while paying the actual fee? That will still give you a huge advantage against the asset flippers and low effort devs!"

Check these videos out, they talk about posible strategies to market your game:


 

srodrigo

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Weekly update

Game 1 is going well. 11 days into it (actually 9, took Saturdays off), and I've got something that could even be shipped with a bit more polish, but I'm spending more time adding stuff, and polishing, so I'll probably consume the whole month I set as a limit. I decided to sell the game instead of releasing it for free, even if it's for only a few bucks. There is a big difference when you release something you are going to charge for, the quality tends to rise a lot. Keeping scope creep under control is challenging though, there's always more you can add and polish. But this first game wasn't even going to be a full game, and I made the commitment to not spend longer, so I'll keep it simple and short.

12 pomodoros/day (avg.), in the last 6 days, making the actual game (didn't track other related stuff). 1 POM higher than last week. I expect to keep it when just coding, and increase it when I'm doing other stuff that requires less brain power.

I pinged a few more people who've been making games solo for years. They say they spend at least 3-6 months, using stock assets for free or cheap, or outsourcing stuff. I like the idea of games made in one month, but there is a minimum quality bar that's hard to meet in such a short time. They make PC games though. I'd be interested in success cases with consistently making 1-2 months games (single person or small team), if someone knows of any case study. I'll keep thinking about it, but it doesn't look like a common case (at least on PC).

Planning to try Unity again when I have some time. I'm happy with my tools and I feel I make good progress, but it's good to keep options open, specially because Unity (apparently) makes (ex)porting to multiple platforms easier. Even just for game jams it would be worth it (I can't export to web with my current tool). Also, it might open the door to freelancing, as many people use it out there (at least more than MonoGame). I'll try to schedule some learning time in the evenings/nights.

I haven't decided what I'm going to make for Game 2 yet, but I still have a few weeks even if I'm lucky and Game 1 doesn't take longer than planned, ha. I have a few vague ideas, but it depends on how long I want to spend.
 

srodrigo

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In case some other devs here are interested, someone explaining (again) why indie development is doomed and we are going to see it in 2019 (this time for real, not as the previous gazillion years).
'people are going to remember 2019 as the year indie died' - Damn, this must be the time for real!
Megan Fox on Twitter

The fun thing is how most of them end the thread with "here is my game" with a link to their Steam page. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Jokes apart, I take it seriously, although we've been hearing this since ages ago from people who don't leave the boat at all, so I take it with a grain of salt. On the other side, the reasons some indies provide to explain why they think this is going to be a tough period are arguably quite solid, talking about business/market cycles, which makes sense as we are both at the end of a consoles generation (apart from Switch) and the PC games stores are getting interesting, with new stores showing up, but still with just a few games.

This might be indeed a terrible moment to join indie development. But, as other people have said before, it never was a great moment apart from those golden 2008-2012 years, and many people have been making at least a living for long, so there are niches where you can make money.

I also think that if the new generation of consoles are indie-friendly, there might be a great opportunity to reach players in new markets.
 

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Anakalypsi

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I don't get why Steam / Other Platforms would want Indie games having removed. Therefore I don't understand why they should be dead?
 

srodrigo

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@Anakalypsi no idea either, but it seems like many indies had a drop in sales because of a change on Steam algorithms. They complained, and Steam didn't seem to care much.
 

NovaAria

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Interesting thread.
I had this idea in the back of my mind for a while now but I always kept it in the backburner.
I don't think that a one-man team can pull off multi-million wonders unless its a very specific niche. Look at Rimworld, that game came when the market most needed it. Not many games of its kind are out there, and AAA publishers wouldnt dare build a colony simulation.
This is the strength of indie studios, filling a need that big publishers wont play in because the market isnt big enough to warrant multi-million $ investments.

So, honestly, my advice for you is to steer away from metroidvanias or other "uninspired" genres because everyone is working on those (Easier barrier of entry). Look at games like Kenshi or Oxygen Not Included. In Kenshi's case, the guy worked on it for years, but mostly out of stubborness and trying to do everything on his own. The result? He made a unique game like no other and got the praise he deserves for it.
 

srodrigo

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@NovaAria I agree that metroidvanias are being made to exhaustion. That's not the kind of game I would get into though, as it requires lots of content and, if you make it all by hand, you are going to take ages to ship.

Your point about niches that are too small for big publishers is what I have in mind. There is no other way for indies to compete I think. I'm trying with a genre that's too small/old for big companies to create new games in (they just keep re-releasing old stuff in every new platform ad infinitum). If that one doesn't work, I have some others in mind (although by that time maybe the trends have changed).

I have played neither Kenshi nor Oxygen Not Included, although I'm pretty sure the guy who made Kenshi worked solo for a few years but later build a 6 people team. It's very difficult for one person to complete that kind of game. I think indies can either focus on smaller things, or invest good money when they have some validation from the market (like a successful crowfunding campaign, or an Early Access version that is selling well) to build a larger team to finish it.
 

MHP368

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I can always outsource some stuff once the thing is making some revenue though.

Definitely outsource the art. If you aren't already capable it would be senseless to bother. You can get great art for cheap from places like upwork.

Good luck
 

srodrigo

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Weekly update (week 3)

13.17 pomodoros/day in average, 6 days.

Game 1 is starting to look like a game. I added things like menus, fonts, more content, and fixed some bugs. The last week is going to be focused mainly on polishing before asking final testers to have a proper look and then make the improvements/fixes. The schedule to release in less than 2 weeks is a bit tight, but I'll stick to it as planned.

Had some ideas in mind for Game 2, but probably too big for a second game. I'll have a look at my ideas list and see what I can make in 1-2 months. I think sticking for small games for a while will be better than making a big one, although I still find it tricky to make something interesting/with quality in such a short time, that people would like to pay something for.

On the 'hands-on side' I'm enjoying making games a lot. Some parts of finishing a game are not fun, as expected, but still better than making apps or backends, which I'm pretty sick of.

Failed to bother making something in Unity. I open the editor and don't feel very excited. Maybe it's just not for me.

Thinking about an alternative to Unity as a possibility for freelancing, which probably means C++. But this would involve a good amount of time building something to showcase, and I'd like to stick with C# for some games at least, as I feel productive with it and have already some code to reuse. I'm spending 1-2 hours per week learning Rust for fun and personal improvement, although I keep it as a possibility. Some people are building expertise in Rust for game dev, but at the moment it looks like there are few people using it and I doubt it would be useful for freelancing.
 

masterneme

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Oh yeah the infamous Indepocalypse...

Of course indies sell less than before, everyone is making metroidvanias, 2D puzzle platformers or cloning each other and give up after their first release not doing very well.

Then someone makes something a bit different, does marketing and promotion from the start engaging the community, sells 100k units and these guys are surprised.
 

srodrigo

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Indeed, I think there is part of truth, but also part of a general negativity trend for the sake of it. That's why I take there dark forecasts with a grain of salt. I'll be thinking about my plan B in case things get really bad, so I can make money with other things while keeping game dev on the side until the indie market recovers, but I want to see the thing really blowing up before that.

We are competing in game design, not so much in tech anymore, or even graphics. Many games are clones with better graphics. I'm personally taking the opposite approach, trying to at least mix mechanics to make something different to the game I'm inspired to, even if I take long experimenting and end up having less time for looking for great graphics. We'll see how it goes...

One interesting thing about how people make video games is that there are 2 kinds of person:
1) makes the games they want to make and play
2) makes the games they thing people want to play ("business oriented").
You can see success stories with both approaches. I don't know which one is better. The problem with 2), apart from being wrong (which is easier than it seems, as soft-proof is quite time-consuming here), is that, if you take long to make the game, the trends have changed by the time you finish. The problem with 1) is, apart from probably taking a long time to make, better be a masterpiece or it will probably flop.

EDIT: Lost part of the message.
 

srodrigo

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Weekly update (week 4)

12.71 pomodoros average, 7 days. Did some research for publishing on itch.io and other stuff that I didn't track though.

Done with the beta version, handed it over to beta testers. Waiting for feedback.

Planning to publish the game on itch.io next week if feedback is good. Then, I'll look into Steam or other suitable stores.

Have been working every day since 2 weeks ago. Leaving the (self-imposed) pressure apart, I enjoy it.

Learning: basically some Rust. Not related to my games yet, but useful to remind me I'm a software developer, and to improve my coding skills.

Had a brief look at what freelancing looks like. Still haven't done proper research, but looks like people want games for peanuts (or shared revenue, which usually means peanuts too), and there are much more lucrative kinds of freelancing programming (webs, apps). Not a big surprise. I'll keep digging though. People mostly ask for Unity stuff.
 

splok

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Had a brief look at what freelancing looks like. Still haven't done proper research, but looks like people want games for peanuts (or shared revenue, which usually means peanuts too), and there are much more lucrative kinds of freelancing programming (webs, apps). Not a big surprise. I'll keep digging though. People mostly ask for Unity stuff.

Look into "work-for-hire" instead of freelancing. Wfh contracts are probably the most common way that game studios earn money really. You're probably not going to find reasonable contracts via freelancing sites though. It's more about networking and having a reasonable portfolio to prove you can actually complete things. Being a single person limits the range of projects you can take on of course, but they're out there, though for most things that a single person could do, a studio would probably prefer to just hire you as a normal employee. However, nothing is stopping you from making friends with devs in other disciplines who agree to cooperate for projects if the right contract comes along. This is probably how most successful studios actually start.
 

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srodrigo

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Look into "work-for-hire" instead of freelancing. Wfh contracts are probably the most common way that game studios earn money really. You're probably not going to find reasonable contracts via freelancing sites though. It's more about networking and having a reasonable portfolio to prove you can actually complete things. Being a single person limits the range of projects you can take on of course, but they're out there, though for most things that a single person could do, a studio would probably prefer to just hire you as a normal employee. However, nothing is stopping you from making friends with devs in other disciplines who agree to cooperate for projects if the right contract comes along. This is probably how most successful studios actually start.

Just to make sure I understand the difference between "work-for-hire" and freelancing, is it about not owning vs owning the copyright of the work done? That's what I've understood after some googling, as I'm not used to the term "work-for-hire" (maybe it's similar to UK contractors?). Does the amount or the length of the work matter?

I agree that freelancing sites are not great for this (I'd say, for programming in general). Networking and getting people contacting you is how some game devs I've read about found their best gigs. I definitely have in mind that I need to build a portfolio first, so I'm focused on that for now. Build something interesting, and people might contact you to hire you. That's worked well in the past. That's why I like the idea of more smaller projects, as you suggested on your first post. Working on a game for X years, you can show stuff, but that's not complete work.
 

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I'm focusing on PC at the moment. After exploring both PC and mobile, I decided against mobile, as it looks heavily focused on free-to-play and hooking (a few) users to spend money. That's not something I'm really interested in and I'd try to stay away for now, as you also need LOTS of users (1+ million) to make enough revenue to even make a low salary.

I haven't explored web games much to be honest, maybe I should. I read a recent article, talking about how web games might take over other platforms. It's something I'm keeping in mind for the future.

Interesting thread. As I worked as a marketing manager for a mobile games company, let me add my 2 cents:

First of all, I think your estimations about earnings on mobile are not accurate. Of course, it depends heavily on the kind of game you develop and its quality, but it is absolutey possible to make a living from mobile games, even without a company of thousands behind you.

The company I worked for started with 3 people and had 50 employees at its peak. We had one successful game, one of those freemium MMO strategy games. The game has about 100,000 MAUs, so not really much, but it makes around 1,000,000 EUR a month.
And the game really is not a high end top quality product. Graphics are shitty, basically static jpgs/pngs with almost no animations going on. But it has some very unique features that keep players engaged. The key to its success is the loyal community. Many players stay with the game for 5+ years (that is an eternity in the mobile world), and some of them spend amounts equal to a medium-sized car for in-app purchases.

But even if you do not make an MMO (which needs a backend, 24/7 maintenance and customer support, etc.), you can be successful. Remember the asian guy who developer "Flappy Bird"? Arcade game, pixel graphics, really simple gameplay, but highly addictive. He made up to 50,000 USD per day just by showing ads in the game. And he did not spend one buck on marketing, his success was completely viraly.

Of course, these examples are not what is normal. But they proove what is possible.
In my opinion, mobile has some big advantages over desktop:

- Bigger audiences. Hundreds of millions of people, especially in Asia (and Asians are crazy about games) do not own computers or have no access to (landline) internet. But they own phones and have access to mobile networks. And their numbers will grow for years, unlike the number of computer owners will.

- Marketing on mobile is easier. App Store Optimization (ASO = keyword research + conversion rate optimization) is free and if you do it in a smart way, you can create a steady stream of downloads without spending a dime. In addition, user acquisition costs as little as $0.50 per download in emerging marketings and around $3-5 in developed countries. Also, you can easily create a community if you implement social features into your app (something that I have not seen in desktop games to this extent) and benefit from viral marketing.

- Free to play / freemium games have higher revenue potential. I understand if people say they do not like the micro transaction stuff. But that is the way to make money, given you do not have AAA-titles. An indie game on steam will make you about $10 - $20 USD per user, if it is of decent quality. And people will be hesitant to buy it because they can not test it upfront. Free to play games allow users to test, and if people like it, they will be more likely to spend money on it. And good games can create lifetime-ARPU of way more than $20. Besides you can generate extra cash from non-paying users with ads, or with offerwalls (they download an app from a list, you earn ad money, and users get a share of this money in in-app currency).

For those reasons, I would recommend to reconsider mobile games. I would go for it if I had programming skills.
By the way, depending on the technologies you use, it can be possible to create cross platform games, that work on mobile as well as on web browser with only small adjustments. Might be a smart approach as well.
Feel free to reach out if you have further questions about the mobile games market.
 

srodrigo

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Interesting thread. As I worked as a marketing manager for a mobile games company, let me add my 2 cents:

First of all, I think your estimations about earnings on mobile are not accurate. Of course, it depends heavily on the kind of game you develop and its quality, but it is absolutey possible to make a living from mobile games, even without a company of thousands behind you.

The company I worked for started with 3 people and had 50 employees at its peak. We had one successful game, one of those freemium MMO strategy games. The game has about 100,000 MAUs, so not really much, but it makes around 1,000,000 EUR a month.
And the game really is not a high end top quality product. Graphics are sh*tty, basically static jpgs/pngs with almost no animations going on. But it has some very unique features that keep players engaged. The key to its success is the loyal community. Many players stay with the game for 5+ years (that is an eternity in the mobile world), and some of them spend amounts equal to a medium-sized car for in-app purchases.

But even if you do not make an MMO (which needs a backend, 24/7 maintenance and customer support, etc.), you can be successful. Remember the asian guy who developer "Flappy Bird"? Arcade game, pixel graphics, really simple gameplay, but highly addictive. He made up to 50,000 USD per day just by showing ads in the game. And he did not spend one buck on marketing, his success was completely viraly.

Of course, these examples are not what is normal. But they proove what is possible.
In my opinion, mobile has some big advantages over desktop:

- Bigger audiences. Hundreds of millions of people, especially in Asia (and Asians are crazy about games) do not own computers or have no access to (landline) internet. But they own phones and have access to mobile networks. And their numbers will grow for years, unlike the number of computer owners will.

- Marketing on mobile is easier. App Store Optimization (ASO = keyword research + conversion rate optimization) is free and if you do it in a smart way, you can create a steady stream of downloads without spending a dime. In addition, user acquisition costs as little as $0.50 per download in emerging marketings and around $3-5 in developed countries. Also, you can easily create a community if you implement social features into your app (something that I have not seen in desktop games to this extent) and benefit from viral marketing.

- Free to play / freemium games have higher revenue potential. I understand if people say they do not like the micro transaction stuff. But that is the way to make money, given you do not have AAA-titles. An indie game on steam will make you about $10 - $20 USD per user, if it is of decent quality. And people will be hesitant to buy it because they can not test it upfront. Free to play games allow users to test, and if people like it, they will be more likely to spend money on it. And good games can create lifetime-ARPU of way more than $20. Besides you can generate extra cash from non-paying users with ads, or with offerwalls (they download an app from a list, you earn ad money, and users get a share of this money in in-app currency).

For those reasons, I would recommend to reconsider mobile games. I would go for it if I had programming skills.
By the way, depending on the technologies you use, it can be possible to create cross platform games, that work on mobile as well as on web browser with only small adjustments. Might be a smart approach as well.
Feel free to reach out if you have further questions about the mobile games market.


That's interesting. The numbers I made a few months ago were about just Ads, not microtransactions. I based them in things like the first answer on this post https://www.quora.com/How-many-downloads-does-a-mobile-game-need-to-be-successful

Now let's say we have 2 active million users per month.

This gives us 200,000 advert clicks per month.

Lets say the average cost per tap (the amount you get paid for a user tapping on an advert) is 2p. We base the cost off actual taps as some advert systems do not pay for impressions.

So this gives us 200,000 taps * 2p = £4,000 per month.


I'm not sure that's accurate though, but as an idea. Do those numbers make any sense to you? If so, we'd need about half a million downloads to live of Ads at £1,000 per month (which is not even the minimum wage in the UK).

For microtransactions, I found this:
Mobile Apps' Average Revenue per User Benchmarks for Q1 2018 - Marketing Charts

Globally, the report reveals that combined in-app purchases and in-app advertising revenue totaled $1.70 per user over the 90-day period of analysis

So, $1.70/3 per month, which equates to $0.57 per user. We need to subtract a 30%, so the remaining revenue is about $0.40 per user per month. If we want $1.000 monthly revenue, that's about 2500 users needed. I wonder though if that average is realistic, as I doubt a game with 2500 users would even be visible on the stores.

The MMO example you put is interesting, at least it was making 10x compared the MAU.

The Flappy Bird example is an outlier. I wouldn't even consider the game to be any good or fun, but regardless of that, it was released in a complete different moment, with a far less saturated market. And the game just went viral after some time, for apparently no reason. Sounds like a lottery ticket to me. I would say that game wouldn't have any success today. People often talk about Flappy Bird and Minecraft, as if they were the same case, and they are outliers but miles away in both quality and deliberate work to make the game great and build a community.

About user acquisition, you say user acquisition costs as little as $0.50 per download in emerging marketings and around $3-5 in developed countries. If that's accurate, given the average monthly revenue per user is around $0.57, you need the game running and making money for over 6 months to just break even. Are you sure that ASO can bring enough users for free? In 2016, there were 500 new games released to the Apple Store PER DAY Over 500 games now submitted to iOS App Store every day
I imagine that's increased in the last 2 years. Is the ASO on those stores good enough to bring your game to your user's eyes? We are talking about Steam games getting buried, and there are "only" about 25 games released per day.

You can also make your paid game testable by releasing a demo. If people don't bother downloading a free demo to try a game they are supposed to be interested in, I doubt they will play the same game for long even if it was for free.

Maybe I'm getting the wrong impression, but the combination of games designed to hook players with addiction problems (instead of adding value by making a good game), the expensive user acquisition, and the extremely over-crowded stores, makes me very reluctant.
 

splok

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Just to make sure I understand the difference between "work-for-hire" and freelancing, is it about not owning vs owning the copyright of the work done?

The "work-for-hire" terminology comes from the typical IP assignment contract clause that the company would use for hiring external parties. From Wiki:
"It is an exception to the general rule that the person who actually creates a work is the legally recognized author of that work. According to copyright law in the United States and certain other copyright jurisdictions, if a work is "made for hire", the employer—not the employee—is considered the legal author.

The difference is mostly just the terminology, since I can't imagine any IP-oriented company would sign a contract without very clear IP assignment.

Working on a game for X years, you can show stuff, but that's not complete work.

That depends on what you're trying to get paid to do. Someone who makes character models doesn't need a portfolio with entire games. You basically just need to show that you can do (or already have done) the specific thing that you're pursuing.

For microtransactions, I found this:
Mobile Apps' Average Revenue per User Benchmarks for Q1 2018 - Marketing Charts

Globally, the report reveals that combined in-app purchases and in-app advertising revenue totaled $1.70 per user over the 90-day period of analysis

So, $1.70/3 per month, which equates to $0.57 per user. We need to subtract a 30%, so the remaining revenue is about $0.40 per user per month. If we want $1.000 monthly revenue, that's about 2500 users needed. ...
The MMO example you put is interesting, at least it was making 10x compared the MAU.

First, did you read the actual study or just the article about another article about the study? Not trying to be snarky, but many "studies" are crap to start with, and every layer between you and the real study just takes it farther and farther from reality. Until you've read and the source material and agreed that its methods are both sound and relevant, then you should assume that the article writer is literally just making things up (which is often the case).

Second, even assuming that the numbers are good, there are BIG problems with this comparison:
You're comparing ad revenue to microtransaction revenue.
You're comparing "average" revenue to a successful MMO.
You're comparing your potential game to both a successful MMO and the "average" game.

But even disregarding that, is it surprising that a successful game makes 10x the average? The average is only as high as it is because the top few games are pulling that number way, WAY up. The median revenue on the app store is probably $0.

Also, keep in mind that you're not making the "average" game. What's the average of Clash of Clans, Candy Crush, and Monument Valley? You're making a specific game with a (hopefully) specific target audience. Different kinds of people play different kinds of games. The different groups are different sizes, have different ways of finding games, react differently to marketing, will cost different amounts to attract, will behave differently once attracted, etc. etc.

You need to be able to be profitable with your game and the types of people who play games like it. Average data is useless for this.

Is the ASO on those stores good enough to bring your game to your user's eyes? We are talking about Steam games getting buried, and there are "only" about 25 games released per day.

The only reasonable answer is that you need to be able to supply your own players. Any organic users should be considered icing on the cake.

You can also make your paid game testable by releasing a demo. If people don't bother downloading a free demo to try a game they are supposed to be interested in, I doubt they will play the same game for long even if it was for free.

What % of apps on the top grossing lists have a demo?

Maybe I'm getting the wrong impression, but the combination of games designed to hook players with addiction problems (instead of adding value by making a good game), the expensive user acquisition, and the extremely over-crowded stores, makes me very reluctant.

Mobile is just a platform. You want to build something and get it in the hands of people who value it enough that they'll pay you enough money for the building to have been worthwhile. Will that be easier on other platforms? Depends on your game and its audience. Do you know what the cost of user acquisition will be on each platform for your specific users? At the very least, that's one metric that you can test for before building your game.
 

srodrigo

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The difference is mostly just the terminology, since I can't imagine any IP-oriented company would sign a contract without very clear IP assignment.

Thanks, now it's more clear.

First, did you read the actual study or just the article about another article about the study? Not trying to be snarky, but many "studies" are crap to start with, and every layer between you and the real study just takes it farther and farther from reality. Until you've read and the source material and agreed that its methods are both sound and relevant, then you should assume that the article writer is literally just making things up (which is often the case).

Good point, I read the man-in-the-middle, not the original source. Will do ;)

What % of apps on the top grossing lists have a demo?

I was more thinking about console games, where is more common. I haven't measured the % though, but I'll have a look on both consoles and PC.

You're right about researching and measuring the specifics of the niche, not average data. I'll keep that in mind :)
 

Vaughn

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That's interesting. The numbers I made a few months ago were about just Ads, not microtransactions. I based them in things like the first answer on this post https://www.quora.com/How-many-downloads-does-a-mobile-game-need-to-be-successful

Now let's say we have 2 active million users per month.

This gives us 200,000 advert clicks per month.

Lets say the average cost per tap (the amount you get paid for a user tapping on an advert) is 2p. We base the cost off actual taps as some advert systems do not pay for impressions.

So this gives us 200,000 taps * 2p = £4,000 per month.


I'm not sure that's accurate though, but as an idea. Do those numbers make any sense to you? If so, we'd need about half a million downloads to live of Ads at £1,000 per month (which is not even the minimum wage in the UK).

For microtransactions, I found this:
Mobile Apps' Average Revenue per User Benchmarks for Q1 2018 - Marketing Charts

Globally, the report reveals that combined in-app purchases and in-app advertising revenue totaled $1.70 per user over the 90-day period of analysis

So, $1.70/3 per month, which equates to $0.57 per user. We need to subtract a 30%, so the remaining revenue is about $0.40 per user per month. If we want $1.000 monthly revenue, that's about 2500 users needed. I wonder though if that average is realistic, as I doubt a game with 2500 users would even be visible on the stores.

The MMO example you put is interesting, at least it was making 10x compared the MAU.

The Flappy Bird example is an outlier. I wouldn't even consider the game to be any good or fun, but regardless of that, it was released in a complete different moment, with a far less saturated market. And the game just went viral after some time, for apparently no reason. Sounds like a lottery ticket to me. I would say that game wouldn't have any success today. People often talk about Flappy Bird and Minecraft, as if they were the same case, and they are outliers but miles away in both quality and deliberate work to make the game great and build a community.

About user acquisition, you say user acquisition costs as little as $0.50 per download in emerging marketings and around $3-5 in developed countries. If that's accurate, given the average monthly revenue per user is around $0.57, you need the game running and making money for over 6 months to just break even. Are you sure that ASO can bring enough users for free? In 2016, there were 500 new games released to the Apple Store PER DAY Over 500 games now submitted to iOS App Store every day
I imagine that's increased in the last 2 years. Is the ASO on those stores good enough to bring your game to your user's eyes? We are talking about Steam games getting buried, and there are "only" about 25 games released per day.

You can also make your paid game testable by releasing a demo. If people don't bother downloading a free demo to try a game they are supposed to be interested in, I doubt they will play the same game for long even if it was for free.

Maybe I'm getting the wrong impression, but the combination of games designed to hook players with addiction problems (instead of adding value by making a good game), the expensive user acquisition, and the extremely over-crowded stores, makes me very reluctant.

Regarding ARPU:
First of all, AppsFlyer (the company that delivered the ARPU study), bases their findings on their own data. They are a tracking provider and gather their data from apps, that have their SDK implemented. That means, publishers need to choose their service willingly, and the data is not a reflection of the entire industry. In this context, it is important to know, that AppsFlyer is a Newcomer. Competitors like TUNE or Adjust are in the market way longer. In the last years, AppsFlyer ran a very aggressive marketing campaign. To gain new customers, they offered their services for free. As a result, their SDK is implemented in about 70% of all apps, but most of them are indie apps or owned by start-ups. Many successful apps (and I know some employees who manage those apps) work with competitors. So AppsFlyer data reflects rather the lower end of the success ladder, and I do not consider their findings an accurate reflection of the market.
Besides that, average data is never a good indicator. ARPU differs massively from country to country. Many apps are simply crap. Many set stupid pricepoints (f.e. there is no point in creating a premium currency package of $0.99, because the majority of buyers would also purchase more expensive packages).
So if you aim to create the next average connect-3 game for India and Pakistan, you will have a hard time making money, for sure. But if you create a quality app with a quality product page, if you target the right markets with proper translations, if your IAPs add value without being pay-to-win, if you show the right ads at the right time, then it will be no problem to outperform the average numbers.
Of course, the number of organic users will be low for the start. But with proper ASO, additional marketing measures (especially social media marketing and PR), you can create a steady stream of downloads.

Regarding ASO:
Creating visibility even for new games on iTunes or Google Play is absolutely possible. It is not easy though, because the algorithms are very complex. But if you invest the time learning about it, you will probably make it better than 90% of your competitors. By the way, I am currently writing a book about this topic. So if someone is interested, I will let you know as soon as it is ready for publishing. Maybe we can figure out a discount or a free chapter ;-)

Regarding Ad Revenues:
Honestly, I do not see much truth in your example. Click conversion is typically calculated based on impressions, and the assumption, that 2 million MAU create only 2 million impressions is... well, let's call it "debatable". So the first assumption already is not realistic.
Ad revenue depends strongly on the price model but also on the ad format. Video (and in particular incentivized video) creates better conversion rates than interstitials and interstitials outperform smaller banners. CPC is rather unusual for mobile apps. Most campaigns I ran, were CPI or in some cases CPM.
Typically, we saw eCPMs around $10 (for industrial countries). And we did so, although we blocked direct competitors from the strategy genre, who tend to be the high spenders in advertising, from running ads in our games.

Regarding Demos for Paid Apps:
I don't know one single example for this approach. For apps, the common way is to publish a free app and offer additional levels as an IAP.

Last but not least, I think the claim that freemium apps target players with addiction problems is over the top. Sure, there might be some people, who do have problems with their spending behavior. But it is only a very small portion. Most people spend money because the purchased goods add value to their experience. Actually, I was surprised that many players of our games had very strict limits (like XX EUR within 4 weeks) and stick to them consequently.
I consider the freemium model to be fairer than paid apps, because players can decide for themselves how much money the game is worth to them.
Besides that, PC and console games also can cause addictive behavior. If you want to be 100% sure to avoid harming someone and focus totally on value, the safe way might be to write a book instead of programming a game ;-)
 

srodrigo

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Regarding ARPU:
First of all, AppsFlyer (the company that delivered the ARPU study), bases their findings on their own data. They are a tracking provider and gather their data from apps, that have their SDK implemented. That means, publishers need to choose their service willingly, and the data is not a reflection of the entire industry. In this context, it is important to know, that AppsFlyer is a Newcomer. Competitors like TUNE or Adjust are in the market way longer. In the last years, AppsFlyer ran a very aggressive marketing campaign. To gain new customers, they offered their services for free. As a result, their SDK is implemented in about 70% of all apps, but most of them are indie apps or owned by start-ups. Many successful apps (and I know some employees who manage those apps) work with competitors. So AppsFlyer data reflects rather the lower end of the success ladder, and I do not consider their findings an accurate reflection of the market.
Besides that, average data is never a good indicator. ARPU differs massively from country to country. Many apps are simply crap. Many set stupid pricepoints (f.e. there is no point in creating a premium currency package of $0.99, because the majority of buyers would also purchase more expensive packages).
So if you aim to create the next average connect-3 game for India and Pakistan, you will have a hard time making money, for sure. But if you create a quality app with a quality product page, if you target the right markets with proper translations, if your IAPs add value without being pay-to-win, if you show the right ads at the right time, then it will be no problem to outperform the average numbers.
Of course, the number of organic users will be low for the start. But with proper ASO, additional marketing measures (especially social media marketing and PR), you can create a steady stream of downloads.

Regarding ASO:
Creating visibility even for new games on iTunes or Google Play is absolutely possible. It is not easy though, because the algorithms are very complex. But if you invest the time learning about it, you will probably make it better than 90% of your competitors. By the way, I am currently writing a book about this topic. So if someone is interested, I will let you know as soon as it is ready for publishing. Maybe we can figure out a discount or a free chapter ;-)

Regarding Ad Revenues:
Honestly, I do not see much truth in your example. Click conversion is typically calculated based on impressions, and the assumption, that 2 million MAU create only 2 million impressions is... well, let's call it "debatable". So the first assumption already is not realistic.
Ad revenue depends strongly on the price model but also on the ad format. Video (and in particular incentivized video) creates better conversion rates than interstitials and interstitials outperform smaller banners. CPC is rather unusual for mobile apps. Most campaigns I ran, were CPI or in some cases CPM.
Typically, we saw eCPMs around $10 (for industrial countries). And we did so, although we blocked direct competitors from the strategy genre, who tend to be the high spenders in advertising, from running ads in our games.

Regarding Demos for Paid Apps:
I don't know one single example for this approach. For apps, the common way is to publish a free app and offer additional levels as an IAP.

Last but not least, I think the claim that freemium apps target players with addiction problems is over the top. Sure, there might be some people, who do have problems with their spending behavior. But it is only a very small portion. Most people spend money because the purchased goods add value to their experience. Actually, I was surprised that many players of our games had very strict limits (like XX EUR within 4 weeks) and stick to them consequently.
I consider the freemium model to be fairer than paid apps, because players can decide for themselves how much money the game is worth to them.
Besides that, PC and console games also can cause addictive behavior. If you want to be 100% sure to avoid harming someone and focus totally on value, the safe way might be to write a book instead of programming a game ;-)
It's pretty clear that you have experience on the topic. Thanks for the valuable information. I'm basing my opinions on either other people's experience, or data from the wild, which can indeed be inaccurate.

I'm not sure we are talking about the same thing regarding to demos. I meant demos of console games or PC games, and there are plenty there from both big companies and indies. In case you meant mobile apps or games, then I agree that's not a common thing.

I'll keep my door open to mobile games, although I want to carry on for a while with what I started and see whether it gets traction.
 

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Thank you, Vaughn, for the insights. This is extremely interesting.

I am studying the market as am planning to work on a gacha game soon. Consider me interested in your coming book.
 
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srodrigo

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An article about what @Vaughn and @splok explained about average mobile games data: A bunch of average app revenue data… and why you should ignore it

Thinking about this, I guess this applies to any market. If you take the average money that e-commerce websites make, Amazon will be an outlier that increases the average, whereas your one-person e-shop will probably miles away from that average, so you need to compare yours with similar ones.
 

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MARKETPLACE Fox Web School "Legend" Group Coaching Program 2021
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MARKETPLACE You Are One Call Away From Living Your Dream Life - LightHouse’s Accountability Program ⚡
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