I make games, but that's not all I do. And that's not all I have to do to make a successful game. I could get so much more done if all I had to do was make games. But for me and plenty of other indie devs out there, we can't just make games. This post is mostly directed at other indie devs, but feel free to read on if you don't make games and want to know about all the other stuff that indie devs have to worry about besides actually making games.
First off, if you're like me, you are probably making games as a hobby, so you are just learning as you go. I never went to school to learn how to make games, I had to teach myself. Before I even started making ReBeat, I had to learn where to even begin. So I googled around and found a couple video series that went over the C# language and how to use Unity. That got me far enough to start out, but even after completing ReBeat, I'm still learning. This week, I needed to learn how to make a tile set for a 2D game, so I went to the official Unity tutorials. Next week I'll probably have to google something else. It's a constant cycle of running into something you don't know how to do, looking up how to do it, and then running into the next problem until you finally finish that game.
With lots of time and dedication. And coffee.
But once you're done with your game, how do you get people to play it? So far, the only people that know your game even exists are you and people you've personally told. You're not going to get any downloads that way. So what do you need to do? Start an online presence. Most indie devs at least have a Twitter. You can also make a Youtube channel, a Facebook page, a blog, an Instagram account, a subreddit, a discord channel, and probably a few others I can't name off the top of my head. Oh, and speaking of that blog, it usually would make sense to also start a website so you can have all the information about your indie studio and its games in one place. (And wow does making a website take time, especially if you haven't done it before.) But those accounts aren't going to gain any followers on their own. You need to post, religiously, which can be a full time job on its own. I try to at least tweet once a day, and even then I often find myself scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for something to say. The best way to build a presence through social media is to keep posting along the development cycle of your game. Unfortunately, this will take away from the time you have to spend on developing!
I hate social media, but it really is a necessity for indie devs.
So now your game is at least being seen by more than a handful of people, but to most of the new eyes on it, your game is just another lame indie game in a seemingly infinite sea of other lame indie games. What you need to do is get people interested enough in your game to actually play it when it is released. To do this, you could try to get some people to review your game, or do some interviews. Now, you probably won't be able to go straight to IGN or GameSpot with your indie game. They have to worry about all of the AAA releases. (Maybe they'll cover an indie game here and there, but they pick their indies very carefully, usually going for the bigger name indie games.) So you need to do some research to find out who will review your game. And research takes time, especially with YouTube because you have to watch the videos of the channels you want to ask for reviews from. You have to make sure that they target the same audience as your game, that they play games from the same genre your game is in, and if it seems like they will like your game based on their previous videos. Then you have to spend the effort to contact these reviewers, most of which will never reply because like I said: a sea of lame indie games.
Another thing you can do to get people excited about playing your game is go to game shows. Just like with the reviews though, you probably won't be able to get a stage at E3 or Tokyo Game Show. You'll have to start small. If you're in a big city, great! You should be able to find a ton of smaller events meant just for indies. If not, you may have to drive a bit to the nearest city. Even if you're not driving though, events take a huge amount of time. You have to plan for what you'll be doing at the event, make any promotional materials you want to bring, make sure you have a stable build of your game before you show it off, and make sure you have enough devices for people to play your game on!
I'd be so nervous.
If this all seems like a mountain of things to worry about, you're correct. It's also probably not everything that can be done as an indie studio. I'm sure there are many more things other indie devs have to spend time on. All in all, we're lucky if we have any time at the end of the day to even work on our games. And don't even get me started on trying to maintain our social lives, or working our real-life day jobs. (Many of us wish making games was our job. It sure would be a lot easier that way.)
But, as crazy as things can get, all of this "extra" stuff isn't really extra. It's just part of being an indie developer, so don't worry. Sometimes it's hard to not get disheartened or bored because you have to worry about all these things that aren't actually what you love: making games. You just have to remember that at the end of the day, all of this stuff will pay off in the long run.
Thanks for taking the time to read this! If you're an aspiring indie dev, or someone thinking about starting to make games, this post isn't meant to stop you, it's more to let you know that most of us also hate this extra stuff. So just keep chugging on, and make that dream game! If you would like any advice or have any other words to contribute, go ahead and leave a comment! See y'all next week!