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

Musing what positech games could do for new indies…

With steam announcing that they are greenlighting 100 new games today, it seems that ‘securing distribution on big name portals‘ is a task for new and upcoming indies which just got a bit easier. That’s good news, but there is only so much scope for people to sell games, it probably just means that the things indie devs might need help with haven’t reduced, but just changed. This has got me thinking about the medium term future of Positech, and what I’d like to do, and what maybe I *could* do for indies. If I’d made the list a few years ago it might be this:

  1. Provide web-hosting
  2. Process payments
  3. Handle mailing list stuff
  4. Take care of PR
  5. Provide funding for development
  6. Sort out contracts and admin/businessy stuff like contracts with artists/sound/music people
  7. Provide general business advice
  8. Take care of advertising

Some of these are maybe less of a need now than they used to be. I know it’s possible to do *all* of this yourself. I do. But I’ve been doing this for decades. if you are 18 years old and programming your first game, do you want to do those 7 things too? Aren’t you busy debugging? :D. For some people, no doubt the answer is yes. And of course some people could do it all, but may choose not to. I quite like looking at sales charts and advertising stats, but few game designers really do.

Certainly 2) is something that has been kinda dealt a blow if it’s easy to get on steam. But has it really? Firstly not everyone gets on steam, even now, and secondly, they take their cut of the sales, which is a non trivial amount. You can use a payment provider and sell direct, but you need an account with them, and need to learn how they work, and then handle currency conversions etc etc. Maybe that is still something people would rather not do?

5) Would normally be a HUGE big deal, but now we have kickstarter. Had this made funding for indies easier? or just for established indies? Something that has not got any easier is likely to be 7) and maybe 8). I’ve been around a while, and know a bit about the games market. I might be able to provide some value there perhaps.

So I guess what I’m thinking about is whether I should be looking for the classic ‘first time indie’, that has great programming skills, great game design skills, but doesn’t know where to go from there. Could turn into a storefront for games not just made by me, but also games developed (like redshirt) by other developers but published by me? I think it’s definitely something worth considering, in the medium term. I just wonder how many developers fall into that category. if you are working on your first game, would you pay a cut to someone to handle all this?



12 thoughts on Musing what positech games could do for new indies…

  1. I guess it depends on numbers. What kind of financial support could you give and at what long term cost to the developer?

    I think the biggest struggle for first time indies is ecposure. Id happily piggy-back off one of the big names were it to means more exposure for the game. What Devolver did for hotline miami is the best example of this.

  2. So… wait.

    If you take in an indie developer, give them a bag of money and say “I’ll handle the business-y stuff”, how are you *not* a publisher? How is the indie developer still… indie? They will have a publisher! And soon they will have milestones and deadlines and sales targets. That’s because the publisher (that would be you) would like a modest return on investment and wants to know how the project is going.

    So, I do think it’s a good idea, but this is *exactly* what publishers like EA Games, Activision and Zenimax *do*: here’s a bag of money, go make a game, we’ll handle advertising and PR.

  3. Oh absolutely, that’s being a publisher, albeit of indie (small budget, niche, more interesting) games rather than AAA. I don’t think the concept of publishers are inherently evil, it’s when they start squeezing royalty percentages, lying about marketing costs and insisting the female characters wear less clothes that it all goes wrong.
    I think you can still be an indie developer and take funding from other people. In many ways, that’s what kickstarter does.

  4. As someone currently developing their first game, numbers 4, 6, and 7 would be the most interesting to me. I don’t know the best ways to promote a game, build an audience, etc.

    I’m also struggling with the contracting piece – how much to expect to pay for art and where and how to search for talent.

  5. As someone not working on my first game, but the first one designed by me that has a real chance of getting finished/released, I think the most pressing needs of new indies are:

    1) Art/music (probably covered with 5)
    2) Promotion (which you cover that with 4 and 8)

    Help with the business things (6 and 7) would also be appreciated, but you’d probably have to focus on the UK for that to really make sense. There seems to be an overwhelming amount of country specific stuff.

    I guess the term “publisher” matches what you intend to do quite well. A different angle would be to be more of an “advisor” – not providing any funding, but giving advice in all the areas you’re experienced in.

    I’d be willing to pay a cut for the advice, I think. Don’t have a pressing need for funding, luckily.

  6. Well. I’m an indie developer making my first game. Not technically first, but first as an indie – I have several years of experience in “bigger” gamedev. And I’ve been seriously considering contacting you and asking for some sort of publishing deal and/or advice. What bothers me most is that you’re in UK and I’m in Russia. Business practices must be pretty different here.

  7. I guess another angle for all this is people who are published by steam/GoG etc, and are happy with that side of things, but can’t be bothered with the perceived hassle of having direct sales. Effectively letting me handle direct sales on their behalf (for a small cut), so they don’t have to deal with payment providers and web hosting etc.

  8. As a first time independent developer who’s time-rich and capital-poor, the most appealing element on that list is #5; and I know of several other independent developers in the same position.

    Getting my head around marketing, business, hosting and processing is certainly intimidating; but with enough time, it’s a manageable set of problems. The one thing I can’t solve just by chucking time at the problem is funding — which would allow me to work on the game full time and contract out elements I’d have real difficulty doing well myself, like art and music.

    As you mentioned, there’s always Kickstarter or IndieGoGo to solve that problem; but a first time developer has little-to-no chance to get funded, even with the comparatively mediocre amounts I’ve seen asked for by first time indie developers.

    All that said, the idea of of spending less time on the business/marketing/sales side of the game—and more time making the actual game its self—is hella appealing. Those elements alone would be worth a reasonable revenue-cut.

  9. Hi Cliffski! Sooooo… you want to be the ‘not evil’ publisher. I wonder if that’s how the ‘less not evil’ publishers got started? Slippery slope and all that…

    Anywhoo, I’m guessing there’s plenty of interest in what you have in mind, and that would be the problem. How much of your day do you really want to spend reviewing submissions, holding hands, answering questions that could be googled in less time than it took to call/write an email, defending your decisions on all of the above (1-8)?

    You’ll probably have to hire people to help, then you’ll have payroll, rent (gotta put them somewhere), taxes and probably a lot of things I haven’t thought of too.

    On the other hand, I’d bet you’d be good at it and make a lot of money. You’d probably still have a little bit of time to code too…

    Damn, when did I get to be such a (insert favorite explitive here)?

  10. As someone producing a first game, all of these things would be incredibly helpful. I would be interested in paying to have a publisher, particularly if it was not a large company but a fellow indie game developer. Advertising in particular, is the item I see as the biggest hurdle.

    On a related note, I’ve been considering the idea of establishing an advertising network for single and small-group game developers. The basic idea is that each would host on their own site a rotating ad for other members. I’m curious if something like this is already in place, or what your thoughts on it are.

  11. Lots of people have tried establishing that sort of thing in the past, but the trouble is you end up with an audience of mainly other indie game devs. What you really need, tor each a wider audience, is to grab peoples eyeballs who read RPS, Kotaku, Reddit etc.

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