Cliff Harris is a one-man, totally independent game developer for PC gaming. Recently Cliff took on game pirates and caused quite a stir
. Today he's writing for SPOnG about the trials and of tribulations of his trade.
Find out more about Cliff and his PC games over at Positech Games
Indie gaming on the PC probably has a higher profile than ever before. With big name developers leaving the PC to make money-hats from console profits, and the average Triple-A game now taking 5,000 years to make, it seems that each month a bigger proportion of the 'new PC games' are made by Indie developers. But what is it really like for these developers? and can anyone found their own games company?
By means of introduction, I should state that I'm one of them. I'm an ex-industry programmer (Lionhead/Elixir) who now runs his own one-man company (Positech Games). A lot of Indie devs are 'refugees' from the mainstream. They are often frustrated game designers who finally realized that the only way to get your
game idea made is to roll up your sleeves and make it yourself. It's also the best way to ensure you work on games you actually play, as opposed to all the hardcore Counterstrike
players currently coding the user interface for Barbie expansion packs.
Although there are a lot of Indie devs and dev teams making games, the sad reality is few of those games will get finished. Fewer still actually make enough money to make a sustainable business. I tried and failed to go it alone once in the past (about eight years ago), so I know how the story goes.
Your awesome game idea sounds like a surefire hit, but nine months later you realise your life's savings have evaporated - and no matter how many times you click refresh on your inbox the sales figures for today don't go any higher. I'd say the chances of someone making a success out of their plan to make games from home for a living are about 1-in-30. That's for someone with industry experience and a good understanding of games programming. For someone with neither, it's maybe 1-in-300. That sounds harsh, but that's a genuine guess from my own experience.
So why is it so hard?
The main reason is that you need to do a LOT of different things to be a success as an Indie, and that your success is a factor of ALL of them. At my last job I was a jack-of-all-trades programmer. (Except 3D, still crap at that...). That already puts my chances ahead of the dedicated 3D or Sound or Online coders. I already knew a bit of everything. But coding was all I did! No real game design, certainly no marketing, no business management, no tech support, no accountancy (thank god!), and of course, no art. As a lone-wolf (one-man) Indie dev you need to do all of these things.