The amount of indie studio closures we see in the industry that most never hear about is heartbreaking. It’s utterly morale-destroying.
Talented, intelligent developers with incredible ideas, working on their first independent titles, who on release achieve minimum to moderate success… but not enough to stay afloat.
This is the majority of developers who go indie. You’ll never hear about them. You’ll never know who they are, their stories, their successes as well as their failures. And it sucks. It means the prevailing narrative around independent development is success. I can’t even begin to talk about how damaging this is, because that’s a whole article to itself, but the short of it is: GAHHHH.
The reality is your first game, as an indie developer, is statistically very likely to fail. You don’t have the experience you need in order to succeed on the sort of scale required to survive and at this point, you probably don’t even know what that means for you. You’re just finding your feet in the waters of whatever it is we find our feet in, you’re learning the ins and outs of running a business on top of making an entire game from top-to-bottom and then publicising it and creating an audience and frankly, it’s a wonder you’re not having anxiety attacks on the regular. Maybe you are! Join us, the club is huge and there’s plenty of room.
This shit is HARD, yo.
Despite that, we’re expected to succeed on our very first try. In order to continue making games, we NEED to succeed. Isn’t that utterly ridiculous? When we are least likely to succeed, when the stakes are highest, we’re most likely to fail due to inexperience.
There are many ways to mitigate this. Start small. Remove as much personal financial risk as possible. Collaborate. Market your game properly (that is, find an audience and create a game for it — rather than the other way around). Share. Test, test, test. Soft-launch.
For the most part, these are things we can learn through research. If you’re going independent, you should be doing as much research as possible, talking to as many people who’ve succeeded (and failed!) as possible, gaining the widest possible variety of perspectives and opinions and attitudes to try to give yourself the biggest possible chance to succeed.
At the end of the day, though, no matter how much research you do, how many conversations you have, there’ll be things you’ll miss because it’s your first time, and you’re new to all of it.
Even if you’ve put in the work and managed to secure external funding for your first game, there’s an extreme amount of risk. For you, for your publisher or investor, any collaborators — for everyone involved. Most companies that provide funding require success, and will drop you like a hessian bag of knives as soon as things go south.
That’s why Raw Fury Games’ continued funding of Clifftop Games is so important, so worth talking about and so very worth encouraging.
The long game is going to be key to our success as independents in the games industry. We should all be thinking about the long game. When we hire people, we should be thinking long-term about how we can help them grow and succeed. When we run events, we should be thinking long-term about how we can direct and influence the industry to grow and succeed. And when we fund games, we should be thinking long-term about how we can help new studios grow and succeed — and a part of this is being willing to fund them through their first experience.
This is not a new idea. Sustainable funding and growth is not new. It is, however, something that we need to keep talking about and moving towards.
If we can as an industry move towards a world where your first attempt need not be tied to your ultimate success and failure as an independent developer, and can instead become an opportunity to learn and grow, we’d be far stronger.
If we can as an industry move towards models and conceptions of success that take failure into account, there’d be much less heartbreak, and a lot more romance.
And what’s better than romance?
Full disclosure: I haven’t played Kathy Rain yet, though it’s high on my to-check-out list. Also, I have bought drinks for (and had drinks bought for me) by Raw Fury Games, because they’re great.