If anyone can do it, everyone will. July 11, 2020 cliffski Every now and then I come across a story about how mid-tier youtubers are making an absolute pittance, or that indie bands on spotify earn less than minimum wage, or that writers (like my wife!) can expect to earn a really trivial amount for what they do. This is totally and utterly expected, and its down to barriers of entry, of which there are a few. Barriers to entry is an economics term that refers to all the stuff you need to have to produce a certain product in the market. Some industries naturally have small barriers to entry (busking only requires a guitar, for example) and some have huge barriers (spaceships, cars, silicon chip production). Generally speaking, barriers to entry are very bad, from an economics point-of-view, because high barriers-to-entry lead to ‘abnormal profits’ by people in that market, as its difficult for newcomers to enter the market and bid down the price of the product. It might seem that this explains why indie game devs rarely make any money, because the barriers to entry for indie dev are tiny. You need an office chair, a laptop, an internet connection, and…a rudimentary skill in programming and game design. Thats a LOT of people, and its WAY more than it used to be, now you dont have to code your own engine and dev-tools are affordable. SIDE-NOTE: YES amazingly cliff is aware that there are millions, if not billions of people who cannot afford a laptop and broadband. Well done! 10 internet points for you! But this blog post isn’t aimed at solving inequality. Not everything on the internet is aimed at everyone, or is a political statement! Anyway… indie game dev does indeed have super-low barriers to entry and this should mean that nobody in that industry makes much profit, but hold on! some of them do! Jonathan Blow! Introversion! Me! The Factorio & RimWorld devs… how is this possible? Barriers to entry can include personal ones as well, not just financial requirements. Sure, anybody can buy visual studio (my dev tool of choice, about $500), the same chair as me (aeron, about $1k) and a decent PC (maybe $1,500 tops?). They can then decide to make an indie game. This will not be profitable, as there are a LOT of people in this green segment below… Some games are technically much easier to make a first-game in than others. Platform games come to mind, as do arcade games. If you are using unity or similar, maybe a primitive FPS. Some genres are harder. Strategy games are harder, as are RPGs, Simulation games can be really hard. By choosing one of the ‘harder’ genres, you are already putting up barriers to entry to prevent your market value being competed down. Of course your job just got harder, but thats to be expected. There are fewer people in the white segment below. Where it gets more interesting is in leveraging barriers than cannot easily be broken down by any means. That comes down to what makes you…YOU. Leveraging that unique venn diagram of skills and interests that makes you capable of making the game that YOU can make, but its unlikely any other dev can. In my case, studying economics at LSE, and the son of parents who were both trade union reps, someone who got taken on ‘fun trips’ to the Trades Union Congress and Labour Party conference as a child (yes really), plus an aptitude for maths and logic (and clearly being on the autism spectrum) means that my venn diagram screams MAKE COMPLEX POLITICS SIMULATIONS. There are a handful of people in the white segment below. maybe me and Brad Wardell and half a dozen others? Now in theory, anybody could try to clone Democracy 4 and force down my profits, but in practice its hard because you have to REALLY be a politics geek to spend the time and effort to make that sort of game, and the coding challenge is sufficient that it still gives me headaches after 39 (yes really) years of doing programming. Plus I have a special super-power that allows me to be even better suited to that exact project: I’m pretty much a centrist. Politically I’m slightly right leaning on economics and slightly left leaning on social issues, but generally speaking I’m a moderate. That means I can sit down and have a meal and a chat with a hardcore bernie sanders supporter OR a trump-supporter, and get along with both as people. That means I’m not trying to have a big political agenda with my politics game, which broadens its appeal. (I’m not going to attempt to add another circle to that diagram…) Every extra circle you can add to your indie game dev venn diagram of uniqueness™ is going to boost the probability of you earning decent money. Of COURSE…. you still need to work hard and make a great game, and make it appeal to enough players and do the other 999 things. This system only helps you maximise the returns WHEN you have an idea, and execution that results in something people want, and buy. I still think its worth keeping in mind.