Is romance really possible without a budget to break into gamedev?

We are used to the fact that development, especially game development, is long and expensive. It takes a lot of people: backend, testers, designers, marketers … And millions to promote. But many indie projects are developed even by solo programmers, and some just blew up the market at one time.

Let’s see if it’s worth going to indie at all. Let’s show right away a great example – the game RimWorld, while our course on development on Unity

RimWorld is a hardcore colonizer simulator. You arrive on the planet and build a base, trade or fight, develop the economy. It’s a sandbox with no clear purpose, but there’s always something to do.

At first, the game was developed by one person – Tynen Sylvester. He worked as a game designer on large projects, so he understands well how to build games so that they like them, and most importantly, he was eager to create something interesting. That’s what he is tells in his interview.

Ideas came by themselves, uncontrollably, I felt pressure from within. Expressing ideas in the form of play is a pleasure for me, and it helps to maintain my morale. Saying that I like game development is like saying I like breathing.

Tainen is burning with games, so he managed to withstand a long development: more than 5 years have passed from the playable version of RimWorld to the full release.

The game is developed entirely in Unity and uses libraries in C # and C ++. The graphics are primitive – they are 2D with a top view, but the content is much more important.

Tynen planned to create something like a clone of Jagged Alliance 2, so the engine is very competently used both in the economy and in the warhead, it shoots from cover, flanks, finds a gap in defenses, takes into account the environment … Unity allows you to rebuild the logic and interaction of AI at the highest level. You can master this engine on our courses

Another feature is literally hundreds of random (and non-random) events. The more difficult the game, the more these events shake the colony. Hundreds of interconnected mechanics affect the development of the colony, and the player does not have absolute control. He can set the preferred tasks and types of work, but “ordering” is possible only in a very limited form. Stress can cause the settler to break loose, refuse to work, and even get into a fight. It is this uncertainty that gives the game its unique charm.

Tynen had a development blog from the very beginning, which attracted a lot of users. It was paid for a completely raw game at an early start to support the creator. For 5 years of development, the community not only did not cool, but even supported the developer.

There was enough money from presales to open a small studio and focus on RimWorld completely, and the game cost a lot – $ 40 per digital copy. This is nonsense for an indie.

Now it costs the same, but there is a lot of new content in the two DLCs. The sales went well thanks to the positive feedback from the active community. Many were waiting for the release, it excited the whole igrostroy – only the lazy did not write about it.

The result is the ninth place in the Steam rating and the highest user rating. More than half of the games in this ranking are indie.


Until the 2000s, game development was still a quest. It’s not enough just quality – a publisher was needed who was ready to invest in a release on discs, which is expensive, which means that independent studios simply did not have a chance.

Development and publication of the legendary Mortal Kombat II in 1993 cost a fabulous $ 60 million, 10 of which went to marketing. By contrast, the 1995 feature Mortal Kombat cost $ 20,000,000. Adjusted for inflation, the 1993 game was worth more than the 2021 Mortal Kombat movie.

Sonya Blade, Mortal Kombat (1995)

Indie and Network

In the 2000s, broadband Internet began to supplant Dial-up, so Diablo 2 took not twice an eternity to download, but 8 hours. The gamer adjusted quickly. By 2010, game development was no longer a monopoly of large companies. With no budget or experience, a small team of enthusiasts could create a game and release it to a wider audience.

The experience of Soviet Games and Four Leaf Studios is indicative. These brainchilds of the 2ch and 4chan imageboards are very similar: the idea to create a “visual” appeared in the threads about anime and visual novels. The teams had no experience in developing, writing a script and producing games in general, so the novels took a long time to create. Soviet Games worked for 5 years, and Four Leaf Studios for 4 years.

The result is Everlasting Summer, one of the most famous and beloved visual novels in the Russian-speaking space, and Katawa Shoujo, a thoughtful story that raises sensitive social issues and consistently ranks in the top 10 best short stories in history. After this experience, many participants in Soviet Games and Four Leaf Studios went into game development completely.

The heyday and (is) the apocalypse?

Indie is not only gaining immense popularity, but also making a profit. The indie legend – Minecraft was developed by just one person, a playable version was released in 2009. News of it spread through word of mouth, and five years later Microsoft bought the game for $ 2,500,000,000.

Minecraft is the best-selling game in history today. For all the time it was bought by more than 200 million people, add-ons and mods have been downloaded more than a billion times. There are other strong money projects that gamers love: World of Goo, Super Meat Boy, Braid, Terraria, Factorio. In the wake of their success, many teams came to the game industry.

Until 2008, there was a guerrilla, free marketing in indie – forums, thematic groups in social networks, and already since 2014, in threads and on specialized resources, opinions have been heard about “indiapocalypse”, that the industry of low-budget projects is oversaturated. Steam statistics partly confirm this.

Steam Direct launched in 2017. To launch your brainchild, you need to fill out a couple of documents, pay $ 100 as a contribution and wait 30 days. Result? Released on Steam:

Competition grows and more and more projects fail. Here story abouthow a programmer created a game for 10 hours a day for 9 months, because he developed models for the game himself, and he earned only 330 dollars.

Most often, indies take 5-10 hours for the whole game, gamers are repulsed by this. A good game without an advertising campaign will remain unknown – it is almost impossible to break into the “Recommended” Steam without additional promotion.

How to avoid mistakes?

Enthusiasm is not enough to make a good game that will be bought and praised, so we have collected common developer mistakes and ways to solve them.

  • Money. Indie is most often a hobby. Out of 30,000 indie games on Steam, a maximum of a couple of hundred projects received more than $ 100,000 in profit. Half of the projects did not raise $ 1,000. If your only goal is to make money, don’t go indie. Better get a developer to a large company.

  • The desire to do everything better than everyone is wonderful. But at first, it’s better to limit yourself to a stack of technologies with which you are at least approximately familiar. Learning a programming language from scratch and immediately trying to apply it in a project is not a good idea. More attention should be paid to the unique idea, plot, presentation of the game.

    Darkest Dungeon is also an indie, the special atmosphere and non-standard gameplay of which almost guaranteed its popularity. Therefore, most indie games come out in 2D. It takes a big team to make 3D graphics look good. You don’t want to play a shooter with Quake III level graphics in 2021.

  • Don’t write a game from scratch… Especially it takes a lot of time and effort to write the engine and model objects. A self-written engine is the maximum freedom, but, to be honest, it is not needed. Models, backgrounds, graphics can be purchased – there are many offers. The enthusiasm of most beginners from scratch dries up on the basic code and logic of the world, but even when indie is a hobby that is not designed for income, you want to see the game, and not lines of broken code.

  • Marketing is more important than development. An awesome game like Kenshi can be made alone, but if no one knows about it, then no one will buy. Large projects like Raid Shadow Legends can afford aggressive campaigns – they have enough money and specialists to handle negative reviews. But the challenge in indie is to get people interested. Not to sell at any cost, but to stir up curiosity, motivate to play, gather a loyal audience that will wait for the release and follow the success.

The developers say that it takes about $ 5,000 to promote indie, but there are ways to save money:

  1. Development blog. It takes time, the ability to write is interesting, but the game will gather a small audience, and there will be buyers among several thousand readers.

    The most popular sites in Russian are DTF, Pikabu, but in English – Reddit… Twitter and Facebook won’t hurt either. Readers will write honestly about the ideas, implementation, and features of the game. Of course, there is a risk of defeat. Nobody will regret a bad project.

  2. Streamers. Not always a free option, but right after the game is released it’s great. For example, the sharp jokes of Dmitry Kuplinov, who streams low-budget indies, attract viewers to the most ordinary-looking projects.

  3. The price of the game. Basically, the more expensive a game is, the harder it is to promote it, so a good price is $ 1–2. It’s not a pity to part with such an amount, random people will open the page, be interested in the game, and the chances of buying will be much greater. Nobody will buy a game from an unknown developer for $ 10 when you can buy something verified. Witcher 3 with two DLCs at one time could be purchased for $ 10 – not counting Gwent, there was a different gameplay for 300 hours.

The rest is done for money. And, whatever one may say, the more money invested, the greater the chance to earn.

Finally, I would like to say: if you can not write games, do not write. Indie is for romantics and creators. Money is secondary, but if you want to get at least some income from indie, you have to do marketing at least at an average level. Ready? Then welcome!

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