The Gametrepreneur Ten: 10 things I thought about making indie games until I tried it


The Gametrepreneur10 is a companion piece to our podcast The Chicago Gametrepreneur Show. If you’d like more game and business stories and insights, please consider subscribing

This week on the Gametrepreneur10, we share a list based on Anthony Burch’s Kotaku article, 5 things I didn’t get about making video games until I tried it ( The article made some great points, so we decided to do a similar article, debunking common misconceptions about making indie games.

With many thanks to @bobbylox and @sinisterdesign for their collective insight (and @reverendanthony for inspiration), here are ’10 things I thought about making indie games, until I tried it’:

10. It’ll be less stressful than AAA games – in almost all cases, no. If you’re serious about making a living making indie games, it will consume your life. You will spend every free second thinking about something related to your game, company and where the money is going to come from. Even if you choose to work on your game part time (a popular option here in the Windy City), say goodbye to your free time.

9. It’s easier than building a AAA game – not necessarily true. Your game may not require as many total man hours as the next Call of Duty, but it will require more of YOUR hours. And you will have to cover a much broader range of tasks than one person on a big team (even if you have good help). Making a great game requires a lot of effort, period.

8. It’s easy to make money on Indie games – no, no and no. Just because everyone can point to a couple outliers that sell millions of copies does not mean it’s easy to make money. A lot of indies hope to just break even on development costs, not even counting their time. Speaking of which…

7. It’s cheap to make Indie games – even assuming your time is free (which it’s not) the costs are going to stack up faster than you think. If you’re making a living on it, you gotta pay the bills. You’ll have to pay for software & hardware. For pre-made assets. Regardless of how talented you are, you should find some people to help you (see #10 and #9). And you should pay those people. You should do as much of your marketing for free as you can, but you’ll probably spend some money on that at some point as well. And no matter how much runway you think you have, it’s always shorter than you think.

6. You will get paid on time – Cashflow is a problem that plagues small businesses in general and indies are no exception. Your portal will only pay once a month. Or only once you reach a certain number of sales/credit. Even after that, you’ll have to wait for the check to show up. Or the money to clear Paypal. And then it has to make it to your bank account. At the very least, give yourself 30 days from the time you sell something until you get the money.

5. You can get venture capital for your indie company – Hahahaha really?? From a serious business perspective, any venture capitalist is going to be very wary of a hit driven industry, and even more wary of a company without a history of successes and without a strong existing IP to leverage. And even if they are interested, the terms are likely to be very unfavorable for you. On your side, you should be careful to take any outside money in general (even angel investment), and especially if it comes w/strings attached.

4. If I work hard enough, my game will succeed financially – probably not.  The universe does not owe you a hit indie game.  Though you are guaranteed to meet your artistic goals with enough hard work, the gaming public might not share your taste, or the right players may not hear about your game. Which leads us to…

3. If you build it, they will come (indie marketing fallacy) – This includes many other misconceptions, such as ‘I don’t need to study how to be good at marketing’, ‘I can run a fast marketing campaign’ and ‘My game is good enough that it doesn’t need marketing’. Even Call of Duty needs to market their game. Everyone sucks at marketing at first (mostly because the general public is very wise to bad marketing). Any type of marketing takes time, especially if you are trying to establish your brand. And while building an awesome product helps your marketing, the indie world has many awesome titles that were financial wrecks due to bad or missing marketing.

2. I can get away with using cheap art – There is an assumption that you can invest less in art when you’re making an indie game. While it’s true that you’re probably not going to be pushing as many triangles as the latest Assassins creed, the degree to which you successfully implement your art style will be a huge part of whether you’re successful or not. Remember all that marketing you’ll have to do? More than any AAA title which can leverage large marketing budgets to create elaborate promotions, you’re going to be showing just your game as is. And you won’t have many second chances to influence potential customers. A lot of people are going to judge your game by the 1-2 screens or videos they see. Your art needs to at least be at the point where it doesn’t actively detract (harder than it sounds) and ideally is unique enough to intrigue your viewers.

1. I have the freedom to make whatever I want to make – As with most things in life, you’ll never get to do exactly what you want. Yes, you’ll have more creative freedom without having to answer to a big publisher or IP owner, and can attempt to be as risky/ambitious as you please. But you’re still going to have constraints. You’ll have a budget and a timeline, and nobody gets unlimited time. You’re still bound to technological limitations just like everyone else. And if your goal is to make money, you’ll still have to find strategies and partners for that. If you haven’t been introduced to just how difficult it is to finish a game, a good rule of thumb is to write your desired list of features and then cross half of them off (that’s probably optimistic). No one builds a game in a vacuum.

There are few better feelings in the world than releasing a game you dreamed up and built and having people pay real money for it – just remember that making any successful game is going to be a huge challenge. Making a great indie game is the hardest job you’ll ever love.