Wikipedia defies an Indie game as one that is created without the financial support of a publisher. Indie games often focus on innovation and rely on digital distribution. Some Indie games are very successful and probably one of the best known is Minecraft created by an Indie developer called Notch.
The Indie Games field splits neatly into four areas:
• Web Games and Facebook
So we’ll look at these individually. First some figures on the UK games industry from the UKIE research. In January 2017 there were 2088 active games companies in the UK with nearly 70% founded since 2010. I’d imagine quite a number of these are “one man and his dog” outfits.
Without a doubt the most innovation has occurred in the mobile arena sector since 2008 when Apple founded the App Store. There were 500 Apps available at its launch but there are now over 2 million.
Compare this with the first generation of home computers. The C64 had about 10,000 published games, the ZX Spectrum 24,000 games.
Mobile Game development is a lot cheaper than most other areas except perhaps developing games on PCs. However the consequences of there being so many apps now is that it’s difficult to do well without spending a lot of money on marketing. That said there have been exceptions such as 2014’s Flappy Bird which was taking $50,000 a day until the creator pulled it. Though why it went viral still remains a mystery.
There have been a few publicised cases of developers pulling out of mobile development because they made little or no money and there’s probably a lot more we’ve not heard about. The App Store gold mine is deemed more of a casino. Doubtless the same is true of Google’s Play Store.
Over the last few years there’s been a noticeable trend that shops like Game seemed to be cutting shelf space for PC Games. Valve Corporation can take some responsibility for that because of their Steam distribution service. It started for commercial games in 2004 and by 2012 was extended to include Steam Greenlight, a service for independent games to be published. Games were uploaded for approval, but that caused problems as Steam didn’t want to be seen as gatekeepers.
Greenlight has had its successes: there are now over 100 Greenlight titles that have made at least $1 Million each. In 2017, a new Steam service Steam Direct will replace Greenlight and aim to rectify this but there will be a fee required.
Of course Steam isn’t the only game in town. Microsoft lets you submit games to the Windows Store as well as XBox Games (see below) and free to play games on Xbox.com and Bing.
For many years you had to be a major software outfit to be allowed to create and publish games on most Consoles. It’s a lot easier nowadays. Xbox One has a new program called ID@Xbox. It enables qualified game developers of all sizes to self-publish digital games on Xbox One and Windows 10 with Xbox Live.
Nintendo have their developer portal where everybody is welcome and you can self-publish on the Nintendo eShop. That’s for the 3DS and Wii U but no doubt will eventually include the Nintendo Switch.
Sony allows you to self-publish on the PS3, PS4, PSVita, and PSTV but according to their website, only if you are located in the US, Mexico, Central America, South America or Canada.
Although Facebook is a web site, it also acts as a platform for games though you still have to host the game on your own web server. Given their ability to have almost two billion people use their website, I’m surprised they haven’t offered commercial game hosting services.
According to their online games documentation, 250 million people play games on Facebook.com and Facebook connected mobile games.
That’s a massive market but be careful if your game takes off! Could your game infrastructure/hosting handle a million or so players trying to join/play at once? More importantly could your bank balance cope with a sudden overnight hosting bill for a few thousand £?
Web games have existed for many years, including the likes of Travian, Tribal Wars, and more modern games such as Evony, Clash of Clans and Grepolis.
A notable British success story is Torn now running for over 13 years that has made its creator Joe Chedburn a lot of money. He was self-taught in his teens and by 2009 was earning £50,000 a month from it.
I think it’s a great time to be an indie game developer. Many software tools are free or almost free. For instance if you want to do native mobile development, Microsoft Visual Studio 2017 Community edition is free and includes Xamarin tools free for developing Android and iOS games in C#. You need a Mac for iOS development and £70 a year to Apple to sell games but nothing extra for Android. There are plenty of free open source Web development tools and Microsoft have the excellent VS Code which runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. It includes tools and debuggers (as extensions) for many programming languages.