Common Mistakes Indie Game Developers Make

By
Fariha Akram Bhatti
February 6, 2024

The indie games industry is flourishing in 2024, and unlike AAA PC games, there is always room for more indie titles in this dynamic sector. But small mistakes can push your Indie game to the bottom of the barrel, where 50% of unsuccessful games are. 

Statistics say an average Indie game developer will invest between 4 months to 3 years on the first game. Now, imagine if that game tanks, since the odds of an Indie game succeeding in a billion-dollar market are low. In 2020, 50% of Indie games never surpassed $4000 in earnings, which is quite alarming.

So, if you're working hard to create a game of your dreams, make sure you avoid small mistakes that leave a massive dent. Your code could be impeccable, and the final product top-tier, but if you overlooked the pertinent focus areas, the likelihood of your game ending up in the bottom 50% of indie games is high. 

Mistakes to avoid as an Indie game developer 

Here are some mistakes you need to avoid before, during, and after the process of game development in order to make decent sales or set a solid base for your fast follow. 

Don't Go With The Flow 

Many Indie developers know how to get into game development and create a stellar game, but they rarely ever succeed in finishing a project. Knowing where to start with game development and setting goals and expectations is a big part of the process. In simple words, try not to go with the flow. 

Your first Indie game doesn't have to be the perfect amalgamation of everything you liked in previously played games. This is a mistake many developers make. By trying to squeeze too many concepts, larger-than-life ideas, and plots into their first Indie game, developers lose sense of the bigger picture. 

Instead of jumping directly into coding and development, form a clear roadmap of what you expect from this game and the investment size, and keep the goals as realistic as possible. You may want to write down the development process on a piece of paper. Everything should have a proper sequence, from coding and dialogues to art and music. 

Indie developers who start without a plan often fail to complete their first game. For your first Indie game, your goal should be to have a complete product you love at the end of the day. 

Over-investing 

Indie game development is a creative process, which means developers may also run into retrospective self-criticism. As you develop the game, you may start to dislike the initial code or how the game looks at the beginning. And trust us, this will keep happening until you finish developing the game. 

Rather than revisiting the game to enhance it with additional resources and time, treat your first game as a launch pad, not a final destination. Many Indie developers invest unreasonable funds and time in their first game to achieve the "perfect" product. It's worth noting that your first Indie game may not be a massive success despite doing everything right. 

Save your investment and time for the swift follow-up or your next project, armed with the knowledge and insights you've gained. Don't create a perfect game from the get-go because you may invest too much or never complete developing the game. 

Lack of Playtesting

Playtesting is a cornerstone in indie game development, ensuring technical stability and refining the player experience. To create a hit game, you need as much feedback as possible, not from your peers but directly from the target playerbase. 

You may have created a perfect game, but Playtesting helps iron out kinks that may miss the eye of a developer who innately loves their production. Additionally, playtesting contributes significantly to bug detection and is a valuable market research tool, helping developers align their games with player preferences and increasing the likelihood of commercial success in the highly competitive indie game landscape.

Your Indie game Playtesting should be divided into the following three phases: 

  • Alpha: Typically involves internal testing by the development team to identify major bugs and technical issues, and evaluate core gameplay mechanics. 
  • Beta: Involves a large audience, often including external playtesters or a select group of players.
  • Gamma testing: Includes wider playerbase and external participants to submit feedback and report remaining kinks. 

Ill-timed Marketing 

In 2022, Indie games accounted for 99% of the releases on Steam. Still, only 1% of those games managed to make millions in lifetime sales. There's something the majority of Indie game developers are doing wrong. 

Ask any gamer around you to name 10 Indie games released in 2023; they may fail to remember more than five. Part of the reason Indie games tank is ineffective marketing strategies for indie game developers or ill-timed marketing. Each year, Indie game developers churn out hundreds of games, but only 2 or 3 of them make it on an average gamer's radar. 

To ensure a decent launch, your Indie game marketing should begin a month after you initiate game development. Basically, as early as possible. Spend as much time on dropping teasers, creating a community, and networking with journalists as you would on the game development. This is crucial for the post-development phase. 

Use social channels like Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and X to connect with your audience. Create appealing marketing assets, posters, clips, and images to be posted on social media. This communication funnel is meant to spread awareness about your game. 

Before your game is fully ready for a launch, players should already be anticipating it and waiting for it. It's even better if your game is on a few players' wish lists. To achieve this, you must set up a stellar Indie game marketing strategy months before release.

Not hiring influencers and streamers

Influencer marketing is crucial for Indie games. AAA developers have several marketing modes, but most are either out of reach for an Indie developer or are too expensive. Hiring streamers to play your games is a page out of the AAA game marketing book that Indie developers may also afford. 

When creating a marketing budget, follow a 25-75 model, which means setting aside 75% of the funds for game development and using the remaining for marketing. Now, find streamers within your game niche and budget to play your game on live stream and then review it. The research may take a good chunk of your time, so consider using websites like Lurkit to find your perfect streamer match within your tight indie game marketing budget. 

Lurkit has hundreds of popular, new, and underrated streamers who would play your games at a reasonable cost, apt for an indie game developer. Use these sources to market your game to a broader audience. 

It's one of the most effective, tested, and tried methods in 2024. From Stardew Valley to Poppy Playtime, many Indie games became popular due to influencers showing interest in their gameplay and lore. 

Do not choose the wrong platform

Before you get started on game development, ask yourself a few questions. Is it a mobile game? Where do you want to sell it? Who's your target audience? If it's a passion project, do what feels right. But, in 2024, choosing the right platform is crucial if you want your Indie game to cover the cost of your next production. 

The mobile market is no longer lucrative for a first-time developer, so it's best to stick to PC. In the PC market, opt for a less saturated platform to increase the likelihood of your game capturing the audience's attention. For example, Game Pass makes getting noticed on Xbox much easier. Steam is also a good platform, but it's worth noting that 96% of games on Steam are Indie games. Still, it's less crowded than the Mobile Indie game market. 

Support the game post-release.

Besides struggling to finish developing a game, another challenge Indie developers face is supporting a game post-release. It's understandable, though. Working on a game for years and months, only to find it doesn't receive the attention and love you believe it deserves, can be a disheartening experience. But it's one of the grave mistakes Indie game developers make. 

Even if 100 players play your game, you should roll out updates for them. Take Among Us, for example. Innersloth continued to update the game for a small player base, which eventually blew up, roping in millions of new players. Your Indie game should continue to be a work in progress even after development. Keep accepting feedback and applying it to make your game better. 

This tip is highly crucial for developers who are confident they created a good game. A player base may not find you immediately, but your game will eventually reach the right audience if it's well-developed. Don't dismiss the years of hard work you've invested simply because it didn't have a grand launch.

First-time Indie game developers are often too focused on the technical aspect of their production that they overlook small details. Recognizing that game development is just one facet of the overall game production process is essential. When creating an indie game for the first time, it's crucial to steer clear of minor mistakes that could undermine the fruits of your labor.

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