Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Where is the market for indie services?

I’m surprised there aren’t more people targeting indie developers, for all platforms, with support services.

By this, I mean all those things that big development studios have dedicated staff for, but for which you can’t possibly employ full time people for as an indie. I already employ quite a few people on small or partial contracts to do this stuff. Such as:

  • An accountant
  • A company to host my websites
  • A company to host the domain name registration
  • A musician (often a different one for each game)
  • Several artists (also different, depending on the game)
  • Advertising management companies (google adwords etc)

I’m obviously pleased with having other people do all this stuff, because frankly, if I had to do all the art, my accounts, compose the music, run a linux web server, etc etc, then my games would be of much lower quality, or take even longer to make.

Like many ‘semi-successful’ indies, I’m now in the position where the bottleneck in terms of future game quality, and sales and success is quite simply ME. I just don’t have enough time to do everything. On the flipside, I don’t vaguely have the money to employ people full time. Nor do I have the inclination to deal with the myriad of bureaucracy and nonsense that the UK govt wishes to burden all companies with (sick-leave, employers liability insurance, pensions, national insurance zzzzzzz….)

However, I would be interested in making use of more people for some stuff in the next game. I’m a long way off needing anyone now, but as that game gets closer to completion, I can see myself seeking out and employing more people, short term to do additional stuff that I’d normally do myself. It just surprises me that there aren’t more companies providing a sort of ‘a-la-carte’ service for stuff like playtesting and balancing, web forum management, website design, art production, platform-porting services etc. It seems slightly inefficient to have to find all these people myself and deal with them individually. How come there aren’t indie-support companies yet?

9 thoughts on Where is the market for indie services?

  1. I have developed a localization software for RPG Maker, which came with a complete warranty and support, for commercial indie developers that use RPG Maker. My plan included a complete structure to support the existing and future business of those indie developers. The market is small but there are more than a dozen indie developers that use RPG Maker as their main development platform. Unfortunately, it did not turn out well for me. No offence to you, I am sharing my experience with those indie developers so far and you’re obviously not responsible for their actions.

    Some of the reasons behind my failure are:

    * Money, money, money. Each commercial indie developer complained they had no money. I understand money is tight but being in business is costly for everybody, me included. I do have to pay my bills too and it forces me to have a non-negotiable floor price! Selling at this price also means no profit, which in turns mean my business will not thrive.
    * Unrealistic Expectations. For example, indie developers that don’t have money feel entitled to have the utmost state-of-the-art GUI rather than writing 3 commands at the command line (see video), even though the command line was agreed for in the first place — to save money. More features means more development costs and time, and customers always pay for the costs.
    * No Future Plan. Those indie developers do not plan for the future and are not willing to invest money in their future. They live on a day-to-day basis. Developing softwares and services to those who do not plan for their future is extremely risky.
    * The Cool Factor. I’ve been told many times that I was not cool enough and that I should market myself in a better way. I am indeed a formal person and indie developers tend to stick to a close circle of friends. Somehow, developing the best softwares and services that they actually need didn’t make any difference to them!
    * Those indie developers use retaliation to get what they want, rather than building a purchasing power by pooling resources. I have been publicly and privately harassed by an indie developer and its fans for more than a year and still being harassed because I don’t want to give away my hard work for free. Others wanted a 80% off on my regular price on my localization software, on its launch date.
    * My understanding is that indie developers are more interesting to have low quality, low price softwares and services rather than a continuous business relationship that provides support and warranty.

    You can read more about my localization software on my blog and its brochure.

    My experience with commercial indie developers was horrible by all definition. I am not surprised there is no company investing in supporting indie developers. It does leave a bitter taste!


  2. Ian, you’re experience is interesting. What I understand is that the communities you’ve been in contact with might be “indy” but are more amateur than professional. Most of the interesting indies around are professional, like Cliff or those you can see winning at the IGF or even others that simply are professional in their way of mind.

    I hope you can find better clients for your product, but I think it’s hard to do with the RPG Maker community that is very very amateurish. There are some professionnal in the RPG Maker (like the girl I don’t remember the games she did that made here build here company) but they seem to be the exception.

    Anyway, I guess if someone whould make a text localisation tool targetted at indies, that would take into account game-specific needs, maybe with C++ api or something, then it would be successful in some “serious” indie circles.

  3. Indeed, that is what I was thinking. When I talk about a market for indies, I’m thinking of guys like Introversion, me, 2D Boy. people who will pay the odd thousand dollars for some work, and consider it a normal business expense.

    Obviously there are tons more hobbyist developers or people working on their first game, but they are probably not in need of those services yet anyway.

  4. You’re right Klaim but I am not judgemental of my customers. Nearly every company starts small. It would have been a great opportunity for both of us, those indie developers and me, to build a business relationship that spans over the years. I believe my softwares and services would have helped those indie developers to reach new heights.

    The girl you are talking about is operating Amarath Games. She is the most prolific indie developer in that specific market and she has released multiple games over more than 5 years.

    There is already great localization libraries such as ICU, available for C/C++ and Java. My software however has to extract and insert text by traversing a maze of data structures and recalculate them due to the nature of RPG Maker; it also includes a separated and fully customizable build system to prepare, localize and package distributable installers.

    Regardless, training programmers to use such libraries as ICU is no big deal. The challenge is not only technical but in localizing a game as a product, dealing with translators, quality assurance, etc.

    The Game Localization and Deployment Manual available with my software is particularly interesting because it educates indie developers on how localization works, its process with a suggested checklist in order to ensure high quality translation — including from languages that the indie developer does not understand. It’s a excellent for those without experiencing in localizing games.

    RGSS Player for MacOS X is another great project of mine, porting the core engine of RPG Maker to MacOS X. The Mac market is absolutely amazing and full of opportunities for game developers. How well GSB do on that market, dare I ask?

    Cliff, is there a specific definition of what an indie developer is? I believe to have read on the web by one indie developer that there is no such a thing. I’d be ecstatic to read more about your needs as an indie game developer. With specifics, indeed! You could either contact me at the email with this comment or write an article. Whichever you prefer. :)


  5. I wouldn’t be surprised if the “professional indie” market simply wasn’t big enough. How much money can you spend on such services in a year? I would guess a few thousand euros. How many “you’s” are there, worldwide (and I mean business entities rather than individuals)? Probably no more than a few hundred.

    That said, there are several kinds of services already in existence. Middleware is an obvious example, but I also have friends working for a company that specializes in porting and localisation. From what I heard they have big customers as well as small ones. I also heard it’s a fairly good business.

    I think one obstacle may stem from the fact that there are actually two kinds of services a game developer might need. There are generic services, like accounting, website hosting, legal support – and those are already available, generally speaking.

    The other kind is when you’re looking for talent. Suppose you need to record voiceovers for your game’s main character. You can’t just ask someone competent to record the lines. You need an actor with specific qualities that fit this particular role. Same thing with graphic artists, or sound, or programming, or design, or whatever. You may need an AI specialist for one project and a network code wizard for another. Even testers work best when they are in a familiar territory.

    Talent is, by its nature, non-generic. In most cases, any two programmers, two concept artists, two designers are not fully interchangeable. Therefore, you cannot just hire a programmer and book them for a large number of small projects. Any single programmer (or concept artist, or musician etc.) will only be able to fit the needs of a relatively small portion of your potential customers.

    In order to provide talent in a service-like fashion, you need a talent agency, i.e. a small company of agents, whose job is to seek and maintain contact with a large number of freelancers. Those agents can’t really do any actual job for you, but they know someone who can. Problem is, there aren’t that many freelancers in the game development industry. Most people are full time employees working on-site for large studios, and they usually have non-competition clauses in their contracts. So there isn’t much of a market for talent agencies, either.

    In other words, we’re stuck with the makeshift system of hiring one’s friends and acquaintances for now, because the community is too small and too segmented.

    I’ve been actually thinking a lot about setting up some kind of forum or message board for those looking for and offering small contract work. I’ve been asking around, but most people I asked were not interested. Not only do we work in a studio-oriented system; we also tend to have a studio-oriented mindset. Most people I know simply want a stable job that will reliably cover their real estate loan, their sick leave, their future pension, their health insurance etc. I can’t blame them.

    For what it’s worth, let me know if you know someone with a need for a designer / gameplay programmer / tester. I could use some income, but every mainstream job I’ve had so far was more or less soul-crushing. I wouldn’t mind a change of pace.

  6. Jacek, voice work is perhaps an inappropriate example, as its already pretty straightforward and easy to arrange independently. Actors are used to short work for adverts etc. and can be hired for an hour or two (easily enough for a lot of games) surprisingly cheaply. There really is no excuse for poor voice work, given how inexpensive it is to do it properly.

    Programming, however, it seems you’re stuck with. Getting up to speed with someone else’s code usually takes at least a day, making very short term work not worth it, sadly.

  7. Andy – ideed. Voices have many uses outside of games, which is part of why I used them as an example. There is already a working model for hiring the kind of voice talent that suits your needs. There is no such model for more game-specific specialties, such as programming or concept art, but following the existing “talent agency” model may be one way to change that.

    I don’t think it makes sense to hire a programmer just for a week or two, because if you can do it in two weeks, then you’re better off doing it by yourself in most cases. One important exception is when you can’t program at all, in which case the hired help will do all the work from scratch. Also, if you can do a complete programming job in a week, then you can probably spend another week (or month) to create a generic solution, i.e. your own piece of middleware.

    I think the minimum reasonable contract time would be a month, maybe two – but that doesn’t seem like a huge issue to me, given that typical project scope for anything bigger than a Flash game can be anywhere between six and sixty months. I think it actually works in our favour, because it means our hypothetical freelancers would spend more time working, and less time looking for another assignment. A freelancer who only works eight, or six, or two months in a year, still has to eat 365 lunches, so their hourly wage becomes that much higher.

    Familiarizing oneself with a larger work that you’re going to participate in is a universal challenge. For instance, one of reasons why voiceovers in computer games are often so poor is not game developers’ inability to hire good voice actors, but their inability to provide actors with context, and not just dialogue.

  8. I think that there’s a market for it, but like any other market, it’s very difficult to separate the good from the bad.

    I think that there are also markets for people to display their portfolios. I find my artists on deviantart. I find my professional organizer/assistant people on twitter because they retweet like a flock of birds. I find my web hosts and sysadmins on webhostingtalk and linkedin.

    But… I’ve spent days, hours, and months watching these people. Most independents, seeing a need, don’t have the time to find the individual resources that will guide them to these marketplaces.

    I can’t think of a solution that would work, unless we go back to a guildhall sort of thing.

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