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EXECUTION Building a video games business from scratch

loop101

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srodrigo

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He made a name for himself, and a brand for those type of games. Passage allow you to see how life-choices work out over the course of a 5 minute game. It made $0. Passage's spiritual successor, One Hour One Life, made $250k in its first week.
I didn't know he's making so much money with the game. He's one of the few people who tries to make unique games, so I'm glad.

He's an interesting case. He open sources all his projects (if I remember correctly), which is extremely uncommon in the games industry. Passage is an example of what that could lead to, but at the same time, One Hour One Life is making a good amount of money. Sounds like the typical "provide value first and money should follow", but the approach is unusual. Even more fun is to read the license of the game..

jasonrohrer/OneLife

This work is not copyrighted. I place it into the public domain.
Do whatever you want with it, absolutely no restrictions, and no permission
necessary.
Jason Rohrer
Davis, California
March 2018

I admire him a lot, but he's a proper outlier, and his business model sounds extremely difficult to make it work. There are good lessons to learn though.

EDIT: Found a post by the guy explaining how he designed the game to fit his view of marketing games in a crowded space. It's quite an interesting read. One Hour One Life
 
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srodrigo

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I'm struggling to come up with ideas for mobile games that I'm happy with. It gets harder given I don't usually play mobile games (I'm more of a console or even PC gamer). Even more challenging is converting an idea into something suitable for a mobile game that can be monetised, as it needs to be designed with this in mind and it's totally different from a traditional video game. I'll keep playing some of the top 50 ones to see what people like.
 

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As the first attempt, I would go for a simple puzzle game. These attract a broad audience, they are perfect for mobile, because the single levels can be beaten in a couple of minutes are they are great to monetize. You can show ads, or offer addition levels as IAPs. You can also create an in app currency: Users lose a life when not beating a level, and after loosing three lives they need to wait 1 hour - or pay.

Check out "Brain on!" on Google play as an example.
 
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srodrigo

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As the first attempt, I would go for a simple puzzle game. These attract a broad audience, they are perfect for mobile, because the single levels can be beaten in a couple of minutes are they are great to monetize. You can show ads, or offer addition levels as IAPs. You can also create an in app currency: Users lose a life when not beating a level, and after loosing three lives they need to wait 1 hour - or pay.

Check out "Brain on!" on Google play as an example.
Thanks for the idea! I actually had in mind a memory game, so sort of puzzle, but didn't refine it yet. I know that puzzle games are a bit easier to make a fit mobile quite well. The struggle is with me being unfamiliar with that kind of games, but I'm going to check all of them out and learn how their economies work.

The game you mention has +10 million downloads, not bad! It's not focused on a single mechanic, but on different kind of puzzles. They could serve as ideas.
 

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Thanks for the idea! I actually had in mind a memory game, so sort of puzzle, but didn't refine it yet. I know that puzzle games are a bit easier to make a fit mobile quite well. The struggle is with me being unfamiliar with that kind of games, but I'm going to check all of them out and learn how their economies work.

The game you mention has +10 million downloads, not bad! It's not focused on a single mechanic, but on different kind of puzzles. They could serve as ideas.
I believe the concept of the game is based on gravity. All objects fall downward and the player has to manipulate them in a way that leads to the desired result, which is usually placing a specific object in a specific place.

Other games that are similar (and in terms of graphic even less complex) are these archer-games:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.HappyDragon.TheArchers

There are many different versions, but they all follow the same concept.

I think a great way to keep player engagement high is combining the puzzle levels with a second gaming aspect. A popular match 3 game does that by giving players rewards for every level they complete, and then let them use the rewards to renovate a house. The entire renovation aspect is embedded in a cute story. This second "layer" of game mechanics offers many chances for additional monetization.
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.matchington.mansion
 
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srodrigo

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I believe the concept of the game is based on gravity. All objects fall downward and the player has to manipulate them in a way that leads to the desired result, which is usually placing a specific object in a specific place.
Just tried the game a few minutes ago, and you are right, it seems to be all about using gravity in different ways.

Other games that are similar (and in terms of graphic even less complex) are these archer-games:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.HappyDragon.TheArchers

There are many different versions, but they all follow the same concept.
Will have a look.

I think a great way to keep player engagement high is combining the puzzle levels with a second gaming aspect. A popular match 3 game does that by giving players rewards for every level they complete, and then let them use the rewards to renovate a house. The entire renovation aspect is embedded in a cute story. This second "layer" of game mechanics offers many chances for additional monetization.
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.matchington.mansion
Didn't think much about that, but now that you mention, this has been used successfully by some indies on casual games. I'll see if I can make something like that fit into my game.

Also, I've noticed people value a good story, even in games you wouldn't even think they have one. An example of this is Data Wing https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.DanVogt.DATAWING (which I checked out this morning). Many comments mention the story (which is quite fun and has personality), even more than the game itself, which is some sort of racing game. But this is probably a bit out of scope for a first small mobile game.
 
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srodrigo

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Weekly update 7

11.43 pomodoros average, 7 days. A bit lower than usual, but more days. It was a productive week though, I prototyped some ideas and finally started implementing one.

Tried the remaining tools for making mobile games. (Hopefully) Found an amazing framework: Corona SDK. It looks great because:
- It comes with Built-in Ads, IAP, etc. integration, which are obviously vital for mobile games and I imagine a bit of a pain to integrateon your own (specially Ads and mediation).
- The development workflow is great. Not only "making stuff happen" is fast, but you save a file and the game reloads on the simulator or on a real device. This is massive compared to most tools, specially on mobile because Android takes ages to compile and re-run stuff.
- It got open-sourced recently. This doesn't mean I can modify it (GPL license..), but at least can have a look at the code to figure out workarounds if needed.
- It's code-only (no editor), which suits me better.

I'm going to make Game 2, a mobile game, using this tool. Followed a tutorial for a few hours to have an idea and was quite impressed. If someone has used it in the past and has any concerns, please let me know, but looks great for mobile games so far, and Game 2 should be small enough to mitigate risks. This means that I'm not playing around with Unity anymore for now. I'll go back to it if Corona doesn't work out well.

It's hard to come up with mobile games ideas that satisfy me. The hardcore gamer inside me dislikes most mobile games. But this is obviously irrelevant, as we have to serve player's tastes, not mine :)

Game 2 is going to be a mobile game about solving mazes. Sounds typical, but seems to be a kind of puzzle that players like (from the downloads/comments of other games), and I want to introduce some stuff I haven't seen in this kind of games. This is cool, although will make the development longer, as I need to customise existing algorithms to accommodate the extras, but I think it's worth it.

I have no idea about how long it's going to take me, but I'd say probably between one and two months, unless I get the maze generation stuff right very quickly. I already have a prototype with he main mechanic after a few days, but there are other things I still need to implement for the game screen itself (apart from the maze generation mentioned earlier, which is the other big chunk).

I didn't do any Pico-8 this week, didn't have the extra bandwidth and would have distracted me, but I want to do more small stuff and consider writing a first book targeted at beginners and kids. This has been attempted already, but wasn't finished and people where asking when would be done, so there is some demand.

I'm going to try to work for as many days in a row as I feel like. Forcing myself to take a day off or two a week is not working great, because some times I can't stop thinking about the work I'll do next day but I'd rather do it right away. Let's see how it goes.
 
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srodrigo

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Every time I take a day off, my brain starts coming up with SaaS and mobile apps ideas unrelated to game dev :) I've had 5 today so far, all written down for some day when I'm free. But tomorrow I'm back to Game 2.
 

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Flybye

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Thanks, one more thing... Can I develop an IOS game on Windows using Unity? I don't have a Mac
I used to use VMware Player to run the Mac OS virtually. It is really best to have at least 24+GB of ram. You want to be able to run the Mac OS comfortably, so 8GB there. Then you have things like Unity, graphic editors, etc, and it all quickly eats up 16GB of ram.

Good luck, srodrigo!
 

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Hi @srodrigo ....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 feel the main reason MJ warns about doing what you love is due to people getting lost in what they do love and not paying attention to what the customer wants. A business is about providing a service or product to a consumer, and you have to be willing to change as the market changes. They will not buy it if it is not up to their standards and/or is not what they need or feel they need. Passionate is a dirty word around here because too many people blindly follow their passion vs paying attention to #1 which is your customer.

I believe there is a balance. A balance in finding what the customer needs and having a passion for exactly that.
 
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srodrigo

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Nice @srodrigo - do you have a website or portfolio set up yet?
I've got a page on one of the indie platforms, and I've got a website with a blog but still need to set up a games page there too.
 

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Feel free to post your links to the game in the iOS and android stores. We will be more than happy to test out. :)

And in regards to your #2 with making a more difficult game after the initial first easy one, always keep in mind to try to have a library of small games. It is tempting to get into a better game, but you want exposure. And one of the ways to get exposure is to keep pumping games out no matter how simplistic. And you never know. One of those simplistic games might become a heaver hitter if it is addictive enough.
 
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srodrigo

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Feel free to post your links to the game in the iOS and android stores. We will be more than happy to test out. :)
I take your word :) Probably not on this thread, as it might be considered spam, but cool by PM.

And in regards to your #2 with making a more difficult game after the initial first easy one, always keep in mind to try to have a library of small games. It is tempting to get into a better game, but you want exposure. And one of the ways to get exposure is to keep pumping games out no matter how simplistic. And you never know. One of those simplistic games might become a heaver hitter if it is addictive enough.
Totally agree. It's difficult to postpone those cool games I'd love to make that would take +6 months, but for now I'm focused on smaller things.

Game 2 is totally different from Game 1, even different platform. The second one might take longer (I expect 2 months at most, which is not massive) because it has more complex algorithms and need to integrate all the mobile stuff for the first time in ages, but that was the only mobile game I was happy enough to make without requiring good art or 3D. I want to leave out some cool features until I see whether people play it or not and it's worth the extra effort, because some features would probably require a good amount of effort...

I'm still committed to take as short as possible to ship decent games, specially on mobile, which is better suited for MVPs + fast iterations compared to PC games. And if they get downloads and start generating continuous revenue, no matter how small, then I'll feel freed up to carry on and build on top of that. I try to be quite lean and leave a lot of stuff out to not take too long.
 
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srodrigo

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Weekly update 8

10 pomodoros/day average, 4 days. Worst week yet I think. I've had some unavoidable distractions this week, but I'm not going to put any excuses, I haven't done my work as usual. Shame on me.

Main logic of the main game screen of Game 2 almost done. It was a bit simpler than I expected, so I'll have more time for other things. Also, polishing polish the UI as well, it's "programming UI" at the moment.

Need to work on the maze generation and start creating levels and make a full game that's fun, engaging, and refine how the game economy is going to work, before I start placing final IAP, Reward Ads, etc..

I'm struggling with being patient, and getting distracted with many things. I need to focus again on making good games as fast as possible, and stick to it. Plan B can come later if needed.
 
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srodrigo

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I was having a look at this during lunch break. It's a discussion about what kind of markets are financially more attractive for solo devs.

Which market is financially sounder for a solo dev - mobile or desktop? : gamedev

Some people mention HTML5 games as a less saturated market than mobile, and something worth looking into. When I had a look, the market share of HTML5 was very small compared to mobile, PC or consoles though. But as an experiment, maybe it's worth trying for a later game.

Some quotes from the thread:
Perhaps not, I have served my HTML5 games to 50,000,000+ players over the past 5+ years. The audience is certainly there and it's far easier to reach than native.

and

I agree that making HTML5 games is something that new devs should try. I myself have released games on both mobile and HTML5.
Base on my own experience, I'm getting far more responses on my HTML5 game compared to the mobile counterpart. The difference is so much that I pretty gave up trying to break into the mobile market.


@loop101 already mentioned HTML5 on this thread.

I'm not sure with route is "better". What I'm more and more convinced now, compared to when I started a few months ago, is about making small games instead of bigger ones (at least for a while). Both mobile and web games suit this better than PC or consoles.
 

Flybye

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And the more games you make, the more ideas you get for future games. :)

HTML games kinda makes sense. Memory runs out on a mobile device, an elementary school computer, developing countries with limited bandwidth (I think I read most try to keep HTML5 games under 10MB), etc.

And isn't HTML5 also partially supported by IE9? Certainly by IE10. My point being is at least you do not have to worry about updating as crazy as you do with an iOS device I think. And many developing countries are still using XP and W7 and never upgraded their browsers.
 
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srodrigo

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And the more games you make, the more ideas you get for future games. :)
Sure! I'd even like to come back to coding some small stuff (prototypes) on the side, but as I'm having trouble to focus, I don't want to split my attention.

HTML games kinda makes sense. Memory runs out on a mobile device, an elementary school computer, developing countries with limited bandwidth (I think I read most try to keep HTML5 games under 10MB), etc.

And isn't HTML5 also partially supported by IE9? Certainly by IE10. My point being is at least you do not have to worry about updating as crazy as you do with an iOS device I think. And many developing countries are still using XP and W7 and never upgraded their browsers.
HTML5 sounds great on paper. We'll see whether it takes off.

I was going to leave this for the weekly update, but I'll post it now that is fresh. I just bought and read a short book about HTML5 games from the guy who runs True Valhala, which left me with even more doubts. BTW the book itself is not worth the 20-30 bucks it costs, at all. Anyway, some interesting points there:
  • Low rates for non-exclusive licenses, and low amount of quality publishers to work with (a.k.a. sell a license). This doesn't look very lucrative, not to mention pretty anti-fastlane, as there is a low ceiling.
  • Rental and revenue share licenses. I was expecting this to be the largest amount of the income, but then he mentions they are "rare", and also the monthly fees are quite low.
  • Ads are mentioned, but then you need to remove them if you sell the game via non-exclusive license. Great.
  • Apparently, most publishers require integration with their APIs. This can be a one off task, but still another issue given the low rates.
  • Some publishers require localising your games, another cost.
  • IAP are not common on web games, so less potential revenue.
  • Given all the above, I'd say branding/re-skinning the games is where most of the money is made? This is not even mentioned/explained on the book. Sigh.
Funnily enough, the guy mentions the bright future of HTML5 games, but a good amount of publishers from the list he includes have ditched web games in the last few years and the market keeps decreasing year after year (can't decrease much more though, as it's only a 3-4% of the total market).

I'm not saying HTML5 games are a waste of time, as it looks like some people are making money from them, but it's not well explained on that book at all, and leaves a lot of open questions. I'll keep digging.
 

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srodrigo

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Here's a game 3 friends and myself are making. Took us about a year, will be at the end of this month, to get to this point! Looking forward to following your journey.
Wow that looks awesome! Best of luck with your launch.
 

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Here's a game 3 friends and myself are making. Took us about a year, will be at the end of this month, to get to this point! Looking forward to following your journey.
That looks great!
Are you going to have 1st person view, or are you stuck in 3rd person?
 
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srodrigo

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Weekly update 9

10 pomodoros/day, 6 days. It's been 2 weeks since I haven't put as much time into work as I used to. I wasn't very motivated for a while, mainly doing boring UI stuff. I've been making progress though.

Got the game screen UI functioning (although needs polishing).

Just started working on maze/solutions generation this week, and it's almost done. I just need to try different parameters to generate mazes increasing levels of difficulty, but I think it's going to take far less than I initially thought. While I would have appreciated to be a better artist for other projects, for this one I'm glad I'm a programmer, there's a good amount of algorithmic stuff. Generating 300 levels in 10 minutes by running a command saves a lot of time and pain :)

Causes for the drop in time spent working:
  1. Game 2 is not as exciting as Game 1 was, and I struggled to get started making the UI (buttons, boxes, menus, etc.). Not liking mobile games doesn't help either.
  2. Too much social media and Fastlane Forum :)
  3. Let leisure activities disrupt my work.
  4. Got distracted with some ideas (mobile apps and SaaS) and HTML5 games investigation. I'm actually thinking about branching out and make mobile apps, but I want to stick to games for the 6 months initially scheduled. Discipline!

Solutions:
  1. Learn how to love mobile games, to keep motivation high. Also, I'm getting to less boring stuff on Game 2, this should help too.
  2. Limit the time spent on distractions before the evening (or whenever I finish work on a particular day).
  3. Need to set up a better/more strict routine, but still a flexible one to account for days that just don't fit into the routine for any external reasons. This would help not only getting more focused work time again, but also allocating time for the main distractions, making them harmless as they'd be part of leisure time. Also need to allocate proper exercise, apart from walking. And bring meditation back... it was quite useful, but stopped the habit a month ago.
  4. Stop looking at other things, just write down the ideas and forget about them for now. Maybe I should start a small side project, but I'm actually avoiding that as I'd rather invest that extra time on the current one. Having so many different interests and hobbies doesn't help with avoiding distractions; sometimes I wish I were less brain-active.

Also, thinking about focusing on weekly goals, instead of daily ones. Missing the "minimum hours/stuff done" goal early in the day is demotivating (it feels like all or nothing). Focusing on weekly goals instead, any small amount of work done on a day that's been messed up still adds up and feels useful.
 

NC Bidniss

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Hi there, I decided to create a progress thread, so I'll have to feel ashamed if I don't make good progress :)

A bit of context: I'm a software developer. I quit my job a few months ago to work on personal projects and move back to my country, after saving enough money to survive for some time (I couldn't stand working on a day job any longer anyway). My original plan was to make a SaaS platform, but I did a better market research and my idea didn't look as good as I thought.

So I decided to go for making video games, which I also like a lot and was postponing it for very long.

The video games industry is huge (more than films + music combined), so there is money there, although at the moment it breaks the commandment of Entry (also Control, if you think about how distribution works, mainly through third-party stores). Professional tools are available for peanuts, and anyone taking a course on Udemy can make and publish sh*t games (many don't even qualify for "game"), so it's also a saturated market. It looks kind-of self-publishing books. A difference (after reading a few threads by authors here) is the amount of time it takes to make a good game in average, compared to a good book. But it's not impossible to succeed, there are independent developers making good money.

The important stuff:

Goals

Even if this is a potential Fastlane business, my first goal is just to make it a viable business. Ideally, it would remain as a one-man shop for a while until it gets traction. From there, I would see how to make it Fastlane, which might involve spending longer (a few years) or good money making something really great; a.k.a. shooting for a "hit". But that will come later. I'm aiming to make at least a minimum wage income within months 6-12, and a mid-class income within months 18-24. Not sure whether this sounds conservative or not, but given how long it takes to make this kind of products, it even sounds optimistic to me.

Current skills

I have no experience in shipping games, although I've made a few half-backed ones. Current skills more in detail:
  • Programming: good
  • Game Design: ok, and getting better
  • Music: have a background, although not in composition, but still better than nothing
  • Art/Graphics: this is the fun one. I've been working on it for a few hundreds of hours for a year already, but still far from looking great
  • Marketing: have some notions (read books and other stuff) but have only shipped one mobile app before, so still learning

These are the bared minimum skills required to make a video game that makes money. Quite a lot of things, and very different between them. It's been a few months learning the last 3 while working on a game, and felt really overwhelming, because things like art can take years and years to master and I'm quite behind. I can always outsource some stuff once the thing is making some revenue though.

Plan

I started making a game two months ago, and realised that it would take far longer than I was expecting (specially due to being slow making graphics). I'm parking this to start with the plan below, but probably reusing the tech I built, so it wasn't a waste of time.

1) Make a first game for free in less than one month: this should take me through the whole process of releasing a game, not just making it. I'll probably use free stock assets and music. It doesn't need to be a full game, just the bare minimum that you can ship for people to play.

2) Make a second -commercial- game in less than three months: this one should be small, but still a full game that I can charge for. Managing scope will be critical to reach this goal, 3 months is quite a short time to make something decent.

3) Make a third -proper- game in less than 12 months: this should be the one that starts making some money. Ideally, a 6 months project, but might take longer.

I don't want to make longer plans for now, there's a lot of work to do above, but as an idea each game from game 4 should ideally give more traction while trying for find out what can be a hit one at that time (trends change quite fast).

Freelancing (either in the same industry, or any other kind of programming stuff) will be considered if things don't work out as expected, or if I need to get money to pay freelancers.

Difficulties so far

I felt quite uncomfortable with taking long to ship stuff. This is the main reason to step back and do 2 small pieces of work first. This way, I'll get something done and iterate from there.

It can feel overwhelming as hell when you have to learn about so many different things (which I have to do anyway, learning at least a minimum about each is vital). I struggle with art, which means I'll have to either buy it (stock art) or outsource it at some point if I want to go fast, although I'll keep honing my skills here and in other areas.

Anyway, I've started 1) today, I'll post updates. :)
Quick question: why waste your time on the first two games? Don't you think it would be better to focus all your energy on making one good game versus 3 mediocre ones? Look at Stardew Valley, for example. The person who made that game spent a ton of time and developed the whole thing himself. It is now one of the highest rated games available on the market today, and he gets all the profit.
 
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srodrigo

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Quick question: why waste your time on the first two games? Don't you think it would be better to focus all your energy on making one good game versus 3 mediocre ones? Look at Stardew Valley, for example. The person who made that game spent a ton of time and developed the whole thing himself. It is now one of the highest rated games available on the market today, and he gets all the profit.
For a few reasons:
  • Smaller games give you some initial experience in shipping a game, which is different to make a few prototypes. I didn't ship any games before, and betting a big release for your first game is a bad idea.
  • Smaller games doesn't mean mediocre ones.
  • It's difficult to get any traction unless you make games more or less consistently.
  • For each Stardew Valley, there are dozens or hundreds of studios that spend years on their masterpiece and close shortly after the flop. You don't hear much about them though, press focus more on the outliers who make millions.
  • In 2019, there is a general opinion that making big games is a huge risk, due to the current state of the market. Unless you are targeting new consoles, which might be a fresh niche, but that's a few years away.
  • Even well known indies have shipped games recently that didn't have the success their previous games had (see the creator of Binding of Isaac and his latest game).
There are probably more. Anyway, I've changed the original plan a lot based on the feedback provided here. Now I'm focusing on small games that take 1-3 months, and trying the mobile market.
 

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For a few reasons:
  • Smaller games give you some initial experience in shipping a game, which is different to make a few prototypes. I didn't ship any games before, and betting a big release for your first game is a bad idea.
  • Smaller games doesn't mean mediocre ones.
  • It's difficult to get any traction unless you make games more or less consistently.
  • For each Stardew Valley, there are dozens or hundreds of studios that spend years on their masterpiece and close shortly after the flop. You don't hear much about them though, press focus more on the outliers who make millions.
  • In 2019, there is a general opinion that making big games is a huge risk, due to the current state of the market. Unless you are targeting new consoles, which might be a fresh niche, but that's a few years away.
  • Even well known indies have shipped games recently that didn't have the success their previous games had (see the creator of Binding of Isaac and his latest game).
There are probably more. Anyway, I've changed the original plan a lot based on the feedback provided here. Now I'm focusing on small games that take 1-3 months, and trying the mobile market.
The VR market is probably ripe.
 

Flybye

Bronze Contributor
Feb 19, 2018
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Cuba v2.1 (Miami)
Quick question: why waste your time on the first two games? Don't you think it would be better to focus all your energy on making one good game versus 3 mediocre ones? Look at Stardew Valley, for example. The person who made that game spent a ton of time and developed the whole thing himself. It is now one of the highest rated games available on the market today, and he gets all the profit.
I used to attend bi-weekly and monthly aspiring developer meetings in my town. Their #1 mantra was "Release something. ANYTHING!" Most studios and single-man operations start out small. They release small game after small game to have a library of games while also expanding their skill set. This helps to ensure they are 100% ready when they get to that one big game they dream about. I think every studio has that one big game they all want to publish. The last thing you want is to be learning new tips and tricks while making your big project. Then the game gets stuck in development hell.

I once read about a guy who decided he didn't like any of the game engines in the market. As a good programmer, he decided to just make his own engine. Great. He spent years and years and years making his engine, no income, frustrated family, and he ended up giving up his dream in the end.

My developer meetings all agreed on one thing. Start small and pump out as many games as you can. Each game becomes a learning experience. And any good coder can also recycle part of his code without anyone even knowing it. Art work, not so much, unless it is the continuation of the same game.

I got out of being a developer on the side because of getting a nice severance package which allowed me to start something I had always wanted. I will eventually get back in the game. After all, out of the 7.7 billion people only 2.53 are using smartphones. ;)
 

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