Indie Game Business Cong 2021 best bites
- Starting as an indie
- Nathan’s indie growth story
- Funding an indie studio
- From banks
- From venture capital
- From user acquisition capitals
- Game Developer Funds
- Launching on Steam
- Get your game wishlisted
- Nathan’s first paycheck
- Marketing matters
- Kickstarter tips
- Social media
- Social media managing at among us
- Building community before release
- GamHERs on the business of building a business
- First steps for a startup
- Building IP and brand
- branding (company/franchise and game content)
- characters & world
- Sound design
- Localisation QA
- Formations jeux video
- Kickstarter tips from the Trese brothers
Starting as an indie
Nathan’s indie growth story
- Modding is a good way to get started on very diverse aspects of game development
- 10 years of gameplay programming on AAA gets you familiar with overcoming technical hurdles but provides experience in a very narrow area.
- Doing everything by oneself as an indie will still require to learn a tom of stuff.
- Having savings to burn through or a part time job to pay the bills while shipping indie games: the vast majority of games will not sell well (or only as a long tail)
- Do game jams! on itch.io, ludum dare etc. Have fun with it!
Funding an indie studio
- Banks in different countries have different understanding of games business - making it easier or harder to get mortgages
- You can borrow money as a company or as an individual, gives you options
- Credit cards can help with cashflow if your bills/sales get paid out a few months late
- Debt needs to be paid back on a schedule regardless of revenue, which is a risk.
From venture capital
- Various series of funding rounds for different stages of development
- Angel investors can fund very young studios/early projects, whereas series A rounds will likely require some preproduction done.
- A very tiny world: don’t burn any bridges!
- Downside is that you trade cash for a control over your company/studio - they join your board, and can mentor you: make sure
From user acquisition capitals
- Gives paycheck advances to reinvest in user acquisition campaigns: solving cashflow challenges helps keep momentum to accelerate growths
- Requires a shipped game with 3 months of sales data and revenue in the 4 digits.
- Funds for a fee, need to be reimbursed as a % of revenue
Game Developer Funds
- IGDA Foundation Diverse Game Developer Fund
- apply with student prototype projects that have an online monetization component - either in-game or on a related website. Open to students in any country. Pay attention to what’s required in terms of income/taxes for you locally.
- How to pitch to a publisher
- It’s better to use it to fund your studio than your game to avoid potential terms of service breaches with mobile distribution platforms tht require all game income to go through their store.
- Funds projects, not studios
- Requires a pre-existing following and at least 50% complete game with a demo representative of the final result.
Launching on Steam
Launching an indie game on Steam (take aways from Nathan Wulf’s talk about his first indie paycheck)
Get your game wishlisted
- Shipping the game too fast didn’t give players enough time to add it to their wishlist. Getting the game on the new and trending list is a hurdle, but without it the game is hard to find organically. If you’re not on that list, only people you interact with will find you. Delaying release until you have enough wishlist can be worth it. But making a high tier indie game is a high risk because if it fails, it will hit that much harder.
- Half the folks who wishlisted his game converted to a sale.
- Doubling his base price didn’t impact his sales, but may draw conversion
Nathan’s first paycheck
- 130$ minus Steam’s 30% fee and 100$ upfront fee to list the game…
- On kickstarter, building a community is key to run a succesful campaign, as only 30% of backers will come organically from the platform on your first campaign. That organic percentage goes up as you run more successful campaigns and deliver. If you don’t have a community, take 6 month to build one up. For games - the recommendation was to have double the followers across channels compared to how many lowest tier pledge’s you’d need to fund our project.
- The other key thing is having 30s to 1min of gameplay, to show off both in a compelling trailer and gif tiny bites in your project description and posts.
- It’s relatively easy to build a following on tiktok but because the platform is optimized to glue folks to their feed, these followers don’t convert as well as on other platforms. Your first ever post has a potential to go viral in particular, so make it a nice trailer!
- Since Covid, there are many new Discord servers created for all kinds of niches and communities, they’re a good place to interact with potential fans.
Social media managing at among us
Social media doesn’t help with conversions but being accessible to the audience helps with keeping players engaged. For a young audience like among us’s:
- tiktok has the biggest following
- twitter is doing well
- dev log on itch
- facebook is used too, despite low personal preference
- merch also contributes
How do you chose what to respond to and set boundaries e.g. not responding on Sundays etc.
- There’s a voice attached to among us, (design persona) which relies on values that are sustainable to maintain: in the case of among us wholesome, positive, spitey: kind, silly, chaotic sometimes with a focus on educating how to interact properly with each other on social media. Those values need to be positive for the community and won’t drain community manager’s energy.
Among us had moderate success in specific areas (korea, brazil) before it spiked in north america/western countries. Marketing efforts for that relied on giving streamers keys, apply for events, little marketing and PR done. After V.Tran joined: we really need this, but it still also takes time to do. Prioritizing is hard.
- moderation reporting to create kinder communities and keeping them accountable.
- launched official twitter account to centralize conversations and explain decisions.
Working with 5 people makes communication easier (and harder!). For example, easy to know who to ask for help and get immediate answers, but often everyone’s busy! Culture fit is extra important when hiring in such small setting.
Building community before release
- when it’s ready to be announced
- you need something that will get people excited about
GamHERs on the business of building a business
GamHERs is a for profit business to develop community diversity in games. There are non profits that helped us be here through advocacy and scholarships. Our mission is to elevate the fact that women in gaming is the norm, deserving to be recognized and taking part in the employment in the industry too. Being for profit enables us to create jobs to hire and pay women and diverse workers. First gamer awards event by women for women, got lots of traction from going viral thanks to not only inform nominees but also provide them (spoon fed, ready to go) resources to share the event, call for votes/support etc.
Freelancer rates are not as universal as I used to believe. School doesn’t teach you about starting your business, network and charge, and actually get paid for your work. Is it ethical to undercut other people’s rates? Are you fair to yourself? to your competition?
- e.g. 20$ for an emote. Someone else will do it for 15! Well, but I’ve studied for this, I have experience and I do it quickly and right the first time. Women are often uncomfortable with valuing their work fairly. Having to justify your worth is part of the process because you will get pushback.
First steps for a startup
- There is space for everyone, you can still start a company even if there is another similar company already existing.
- Talk to potential customers. Reach out to other professionals, 5 a day! Build a community.
- Just do it, every week, consistently.
- Check out what your role models are doing, follow them, check out the vibe and learn from the experience.
- The smarter (not just harder) you work, the luckier you’ll get: make your own luck.
Very income redbubble > not, art gets stolen streamlabs if you have good art that ges on tshirts or socks, do it! review other people’s products if you can afford it order one of your own stuff threadthis for tshirts society6 is more expensive but products are much better quality threadless is good, easy to share revenue/sales Make your own laser cut stuff
- scope down!
- get a job to pay the bills
- get support from a rich family member or partner
- reuse assets
- make a smaller game to fund the big one
- work little things at the time and cut what you don’t need anymore, go with the flow / direction not restrained to a single design doc
- build a community and make the game later
- fund your studio through patreon, not your game (esp mobile store policies will be problematic if you gain revenue from patreon for a game, as stores want 100% of game revenue to come through store)
Building IP and brand
This was 70% of the value of IO (hitman) when they sold
- people prefer things they are already familiar with, trusted (we buy the same experience again and again)
- the difference between getting rich and getting wealthy
- investors thing 10 years out, one shots are harder to fund
- you can’t protect features, so you don’t want to compete on features!
branding (company/franchise and game content)
- immediately recognizable visuals
- represent the key emotion and gameplay
- strong statement to stand out among other images
- consistent across ads, posts, sites and landing pages etc. each interaction will build a little more familiarity
- consistent colors, typography
- competitor research to position yourself close enough to be identifiable but uniquely distinguished
- consistent artistic intent
- e.g. forbidden knowledge is dangerous, blind trust leads to destruction, we die as we are born: alone. To go far, go together.
- Important that you actually have a thing to say and believe what you’re saying
characters & world
- define emotions that your audience can relate to
- characters you can relate to
- memories of time spent with the character
- needs to look unique enough to be protectable in a court of law if necessary
- unique style of clothing
- interesting / deep enough to last
- backstory, mythos, world bible
- why are these people enemies
- why was this city built there
- internal consistency is key etc. The perception of what your game / brand / IP is is hard to change afterwards - need to test that it conveys what you want! Don’t build your brand for your first customers you get! The people coming into early access are not the same people as in the mainstream audience - that’s where you can build a sustainable audience. Early adopters are completely different, if you build a brand they really like, mainstream is unlikely to.
- Audio makes up half the experience, it’s as important as art
- Budget at least 15 - 30% of total budget
- Decide to hire a full time employee vs. freelance depending on needs and budget
- But involve one as early as pre-production to work alongside art direction
- FMod said it’s free for indies up to an income threshhold. This may extend to Audio tools: alise works with indies, but closed mouth don’t get fed - you need to reach out and get in touch Humble bundle has pre-done art music assets etc. Always the concern that it’s not going to be good or a good fit. When assessing any audio pay attention to the sonic identity that needs to occur. Do you believe in your project enough for players to love your game with that audio? What are bundle licences? sound quality? how customizable is it?
“If you compare yourself to others you’ll be bitter. If you compare yourself to yourself, you’ll be better.”
- Localization QA contributes to overall game quality perception and can avoid PR disasters
- Good Loc starts with UI design: plan space for different languages, even if you translate only to a few at first
- Work with the same team if you can to avoid knowledge loss, each different team needs to build familiarity with your game
- Onboard your Loc QA team on whatever communication tools you use for the rest of your development: good communication saves time and money, especially when it comes to providing context on a particular jargon/idiom/word that isn’t fully explained by the QA glossary or context.
- Loc QA billed hourly between 35 and 60$/hour depending on experience and language vs. translation billed by the hour
- Plan in some margin for mistakes and iterations
Formations jeux video
- AIV à Milan
- Vancouver Film School
- University of Washington (user research)
Kickstarter tips from the Trese brothers
- Building community. (Small change of going viral)
- Building hype.
- Raising money. the money will go, but the hype and community last longer.
Kickstarter is a long cycle with pre and post-campaign. Best practices need to be applied throughout.
Cost: 15-25% of campaign funds go towards cost of the campaign, including marketing material and rewards… Mony needed: ask what you need, stretch to what you think you can get, have extra stretch goals in case it does unexpectedly much better than the rest. Don’t make your backers worry that it’s not gonna fund. Don’t plan a campaign you think will fund on the last day, aim for mid-campaign.
Commitment: 5 to 6 years per campaign
It’s a wild ride: second full time job, doubling hour commitment during the 30 day fundraising window. Plan no other work can be done while the game is live.
- Pre-writing and recording updates for your campaign can help mitigate some of that time crunch. esp gives you the ability to seize opportunities (e.g. invited to pax)
- Tell your community a year in advance you’re planning a campaign, get feedback on the campaign, rewards etc. Give them time to save up to support you. You want everyone to be waiting and be the first to fund.
- Plan rewards that scale: know the full cost and make sure you can afford it even if you get 1000 backers in that tier instead of the 10 you expected. Use reward limits to protect yourself - esp. physical rewards.
- Content rewards can be way more expensive that you’d expect. e.g your face on a model.
- Note: you can’t change rewards after someone backed that tier - you’re locked in, so prep them carefully.
- Curve balls from the community: platform requests, crasy ideas etc. Don’t agree to “out of scope” ideas - make sure to stick to your vision.
- You can go to kickstarter too early (e.g. concept art, vision, reduces funds), but you can’t go to kickstarter too late (to finish the story, add content etc.) Backers are savvy, you need to gain their trust “prove you can do this”
- Hold content back for the updates, don’t reveal your stretch goals. Stretch goals is like a fresh campaign start! Showing things later lets you tune it to your audience.
Have partners: don’t go alone. Video team for great trailer, PR team to expand reach and message (not post with twitter bots)… Backerkit to help with post campaign phase
Backer happiness: make a good game. Set bounds and clear guidelines esp for in-game content e.g. revise that head, backer wants a giant mission, not a small one etc. Stuck between rock and hard place. Some people you just can’t make happy, don’t take their money.
Key success indication: how many people upgrade from their pledge to higher tiers is what you want to aim for. You can’t do that if you reveal everything upfront.
Having a really good first day: successful campaigns have a strong beginning (from you), a strong end (from kickstarter) and middling middle. - Prep your backer list before you start, cause only 30% of funds will come from kickstarter organically. That will earn you places on the featured / high discovery list. BYOB (bring your own backers)
Don’t go big for your first campiagn: make a small first project, be successful, build your successful track record! Don’t spend 3 years building your first million dollar campaign off the bat! Deliver on your promises. Aim for 5000 dollars if that’s a viable thing to do!
Never go silent at any time, be consistent in pacing and messaging.
- 20 updates over 30 days during the campaign.
- stuff your backers get excited about
- stuff they’ll want to share (make sure to have formatted versions for each update/content you want to share, and you want people to share)
- dedicate an update to each stretch goal content to create hype
- This is even more important after the campaign is done. Stopping updates after the campaign is n1 reason for failure. Stay transparent, at least update once a month on progress. Backers are with you on a journey.Silence drives backers crazy.
backers check: 1/ video 2/ funding status, are other people excited, can it fund? 3/ description/art 4/ updates, is it active
Keep your rewards simple, extremely clear what the differences are
- easy to understand
- ask your community what they want, heavily depends on the game
- avoid middle tiers entirely: focus on entry level and super high level 5 tiers: 2 starters, 2 advanced, limited 5 VIP you can always add higher tier rewards. Up by significant amounts every time e.g. 10/20$ differences
Have a launch procedure: step by step for launch day, it’ll be crazy and require so many things, communication with partners etc.
- 120min: do this
- 60 min: do this t0: do this
- 6h: do this
Cybernights had 120 items, make sure to pre-plan it, it’s less stressful to just punch down each lien in the list.
Don’t discount pre-orders through an early bird pricing. They are many other aspects you can give to your most excited supporters. Back in the day, pre-orders were more expensive.