Dev Talk: Expert Advice on How to Make It as an Indie

Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to interview a number of leading indie iOS game developersDuring these interviews, I always like to ask each participant some variation on the following question: “What advice would you give to fellow indies who may be struggling or trying to break into the mobile game development scene?” Since the responses I receive are invariably well thought out and filled with first-hand wisdom and solid tips, I figured it might be useful to gather them all together in one place…

Fabian Schaub, Navel (Mimics, Globosome: Path of the Swarm)

Start small is probably the go-to advice in a small studio/starting environment. Finish a few small projects and get the hang of how things work in every department. By collecting that experience, you can gather the expertise, perseverance and foresight to pull off something bigger.

Lukas Bahrle, Creatiulab (The Mesh, Rhom Bus)

I always say: have fun doing your job. Try to create something you really love. It doesn’t make sense to create something you are not really convinced of.

You will need to work very hard and polish every single detail, but if you have fun while you are doing it, the journey will be much easier.

Nik Mihaylov, Rinikulous Games (Lonely Sun)

This may sound cliché but my advice would be to create games that you personally would want to play — make games for yourself.

Games are experiences no matter the platform. Think of your gameplay, art direction, sound and interface design as mini experiences that contribute to the overall message you’re trying to convey. And keep things simple. Every game should be self-aware of what’s trying to be/achieve.

Tomas Pelak, Joint Custody (Scéal)

It all boils down to one thing — quality. You can have all the money in the world to spend on advertising (or no money) but quality ultimately shines through. Quality generates word of mouth and positive responses from Apple and the media. Remember, Apple sells hardware. They look to promote and support games that help them showcase their devices and sell more of them. Also, far too many developers make ‘me too’ games and don’t consider how their game is going to stand out against the millions out there. This isn’t to say that all quality games make a lot of money, but quality gives you the best chance of success. It may sound obvious but the amount of crap out there tells us otherwise.

Pete Akehurst, Popcorn Entertainment/Perchang (Storm Rush)

Don’t do it for the money! I’ve made four games as an indie now. One of them, Storm Rush, was featured. But overall it hasn’t exactly been a money spinner. I definitely would have been better off financially if I’d carried on making AAA games.

Being an indie is cool because you get to make your own decisions and because you get the chance to make the games that you love.

So that’s my advice I guess: make something that you really want to make and that you’ll be proud of… because you probably won’t make a ton of money from it!

Ben Murch, Rodeo Games/Perchang (Perchang)

Yes, it really shouldn’t be about the money! For me, it’s very similar advice. Find a subject or game idea that you’re really passionate about and make it. Figure out as much as you can before you start production (although, plans will always shift a little), learn as much as possible about everything, and make something YOU love. Hopefully, other people will have similar interests to you and be interested in what you’ve made. Oh, and don’t delay. Lots of people procrastinate too much and never actually get started. Dive in, be passionate and make something you want to play!

Rocco Salvetti (Sara and Death, Clockwork Clara)

Be into something else, not just games development. History, poetry, engineering, theatre, whatever. Arts are always about something else.

Jonny Severn, Pixel Blast (Super Powerboy)

Be brave and make the games that you would love to play and don’t let other people drown out your inner creative voice!

Enjoy what you are doing — as there is no better feeling than making something cool with people you like!

Do not fear failure and don’t leave it too late before having a go!

Niall Muldoon, Pixel Blast

For people who’ve never made a game before, the main piece of advice I can give you is simply to make stuff and keep making stuff! Make an entire game yourself with a FrontEnd, main game loop and results screens etc. It doesn’t really matter how small the games you make start off, it will give you a really good grounding in what actually makes a game tick and help you decide if it’s something you actually want to pursue as a career.

We’re hoping to make ‘Dev Talk’ a regular, ongoing feature here on iFanzine. Each instalment of the column will address a current “hot button” topic related to iOS game development and feature a rotating panel of indies. If you would like to get involved, please drop us a line.