Can you even measure success

So a fair section of the local indie development scene still hates me for reasons that aren’t crystal clear,  but they seem to be related to my definition of a thriving industry and how some of them are making money.

So instead of continuing this fruitless argument over twitter I thought we could try have a discussion with everyone in the comments section where you can write a solid response to questions posited below. 

I’ll start with my definition of what an indie developer is compared to a hobbyist and what I class as a successful indie developer. We have quite a large  and very active indie development scene locally with some titles making international waves, such as Desktop Dungeons, Broforce and Snailboy.

Hobbyist or Indie Developer

Now I wouldn’t classify any of these developers as hobbyists as each one has games as their main business, as far as I know. However there is a distinct difference in the business practice of the three.

Snailboy has gone the mainstream route of developing a game and releasing it onto the iStore within a year to start earning income. Broforce has gone the route of Steam Greenlight to gain their income and Desktop Dungeons went the route of early pre-orders with the promise of beta access and the game at a discounted price when it is released.

All three are valid business models but in my personal opinion I see pre-orders as different from crowd-funding and when something is pre-ordered there is an expectation that the game will be delivered in a reasonable time, which is different from say, Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Desktop Dungeons has now been in development for coming on 4 years now and quite understandably, some people are getting a little upset about its extended development.

Hobbyists on the other hand have day jobs and are creating games in their spare time either as a dream to go full time or just for fun. Either way it won’t make or break them so they have a lot more freedom. I’m not naming any of the prolific hobbyists in case someone else get’s their panties/boxers twisted.

When are you successful?

I mentioned the other day that Snailboy may be the first locally made game that breaks out internationally and I was then shot down by many people on twitter as many local games have been released worldwide already and dammit,  how could I say something that.

My classification of “successful” and “breaking out internationally” is when the average gaming fan knows the name of your studio and/or the game it made. They don’t know where you are or what your company is made of but if I were to say “Rovio.” “Epic,” “Mojang” or “Zynga” most people know it.

If I say “Angry Birds,” “Gears of War,” Minecraft or Farmville then everyone knows what I’m talking about. That to me is breaking out internationally.

Does this mean the guys making a decent living out of indie games aren’t successful? No it just simply clarifies what I meant.

So now the questions I have for you are simply:

  1. Is it fair to say people like QCF (Desktop Dungeons) have taken too long on their game and must now release it?
  2. Is there a time limit that we can reasonably expect an indie game by a non-hobbyist can take?
  3. What makes a successful indie in your eyes?

And a freebie to help our research (and see if t aligns with what we already have); Who are the top indie developers in the country and why?

Last Updated: October 3, 2013

1.1
was reviewed on PC

51 Comments

  1. John's better judgement

    October 3, 2013 at 12:11

    Going to raking in the comments with this one Gav…

    About the questions:
    1. We waited forever for Diablo III and that turned out be quite a mess. So rather take long and fix the bugs than give us something half-assed.
    2. I think it depends on the quality and the type of game. But setting a goal release date can help.
    3. I think good indie games in the end is much the same as any good game. If the hours fly while you’re playing it, it’s probably a good game.

    Reply

  2. Umar Jaeger

    October 3, 2013 at 12:12

    Recognition to me is what makes a successful indie game. This however does not rely on the quality of the game. Indie games usually fly under the radar as opposed to AAA titles. So when an Indie games is recognized by a huge chunk of gamers, I would call it successful. Then again, if the indie developer wants to make money off his/her game, and though it is widely recognized but doesn’t sell well, would it then be successful?

    Reply

  3. Bob the Zealot

    October 3, 2013 at 12:13

    Good questions. I would say:
    1. Maybe. I prefer a quality game with little or no bugs off the bat. Something that has been lacking in games of late. If it takes a bit longer then so be it. Just don’t make us wait 10 years for a triple-A pile of steaming…
    2. As long as the budget lasts? Either they make it and release it or they go broke and can it.
    3. I think your standard of success is quite high but not unrealistic. Putting myself in the developers shoes I think success would be turning a profit that is worthy of the development time. That being said, a $100 or R1 000 profit would not be what I call success.

    Reply

    • Gerhard Davids

      October 3, 2013 at 12:27

      If we look at the most successful company not giving any shits about the dev time it’s Blizzard. They don’t often disappoint and I chalk that up to the insane amounts of polish and forward thinking that goes into their titles.

      What they do though is keep the beta cycle short. To not kill expectations or the experience before their vision has been achieved. I don’t care how long you dev after I pre-purchase or whatever as long as you deliver something that makes sense given your timescale.

      Having a 3 year beta is all well and good but forcing me to play that beta via my web browser…. not so much. One of the things that I loved was playing DD(alpha) on the plane and while I was in less connected countries like India.

      Reply

      • John's better judgement

        October 3, 2013 at 12:29

        I assume this excludes the Diablo III debacle

        Reply

        • Gerhard Davids

          October 3, 2013 at 12:34

          I was going to mention that but to be honest until we see what happens after the removal it’s all speculation. But yes, likely their biggest mistake regardless of right or wrong so far.

          Reply

      • Bob the Zealot

        October 3, 2013 at 12:41

        It’s difficult to draw a line in the sand with the beta phase as each developer will be different. Perhaps the reason some games aren’t successful is because of poor beta decisions, like your web browser example, actually putting players off.

        Reply

  4. Sir Rants-a-Lot Llew

    October 3, 2013 at 12:16

    Lol. Header. Lol. Hehehehehe

    Reply

    • John's better judgement

      October 3, 2013 at 12:17

      Don’t go home now and check to see if you’re “successful”

      Reply

    • John's better judgement

      October 3, 2013 at 12:17

      Don’t go home now and check to see if you’re “successful”

      Reply

    • John's better judgement

      October 3, 2013 at 12:17

      Don’t go home now and check to see if you’re “successful”

      Reply

      • Sir Rants-a-Lot Llew

        October 3, 2013 at 12:22

        I’m more than

        Reply

  5. Sir Rants-a-Lot Llew

    October 3, 2013 at 12:16

    Lol. Header. Lol. Hehehehehe

    Reply

  6. Pieter Kruger

    October 3, 2013 at 12:25

    Getting bought out for millions of $ by a large developer, SUCCESS AT LAST!

    Reply

  7. Sir Rants-a-Lot Llew

    October 3, 2013 at 12:32

    Gotta agree on most points there. However, to me breaking out means that it’s being paid for on a large scale in a released state. It doesn’t mean it has to be known by everyone though.

    So not being kickstarted or in pre-order phase. But actually out on the market and being played and paid for.

    So Snailboy in my books classifies but Desktop Dungeons does not. Reason? There is no set release date for DD but Snailboy is out and being paid for.

    Everyone knows the name of Desktop Dungeons and are waiting for it in anticipation. But in my books it hasn’t made it yet. In fact it could launch and fail miserably.

    So yeah. I believe it needs to be making a current success with an actual product.

    Reply

    • Umar Jaeger

      October 3, 2013 at 12:38

      I’m confused, I thought DD was released already?

      Reply

      • Gavin Mannion

        October 3, 2013 at 12:46

        No it’s still in beta

        Reply

        • Umar Jaeger

          October 3, 2013 at 12:49

          Oh then I was playing the beta version…Still addictive as hell. didn’t know the story behind it

          Reply

  8. Megan Amy Hughes

    October 3, 2013 at 12:38

    So, basically, a successful indie game is one that is well marketed? Thoopid was created by people who used to work in an ad agency so it’s a lot easier for them to know how to get their name out there compared with other equally skills designers who have no marketing experience.

    Reply

    • John's better judgement

      October 3, 2013 at 12:40

      Point made. Advertising is usually one of the biggest costs and it works well to overstate something that isn’t that good.

      Reply

    • Gavin Mannion

      October 3, 2013 at 12:46

      Valid point, but not only marketed. Released and being sold actively.

      Reply

  9. Rags

    October 3, 2013 at 12:40

    1. Blah blah blah release ‘when it’s done’
    2. What? ‘when it’s done’
    3. A successful indie is one that can continue to develop games either full or part time.

    Celestial Games, Bazooka Games.

    Reply

    • Gavin Mannion

      October 3, 2013 at 12:46

      A successful indie can’t be one who can develop it part time.. that makes everyone on the planet a successful indie

      Reply

      • John's better judgement

        October 3, 2013 at 12:48

        Like being a part-time musician. You’re a musician, but you’re not a successful musician.

        Reply

      • Rags

        October 3, 2013 at 12:49

        If your objective is to create games and not have a negative impact on your financials by doing it either full or part time you are successful.

        Reply

        • Gavin Mannion

          October 3, 2013 at 12:50

          I can’t agree, that is to loose a measurement..

          If you aren’t looking to make enough money from it then you are a hobbyist. But everyone gets their own opinion.. thanks for sharing

          Reply

          • Rags

            October 3, 2013 at 12:53

            Running two businesses at once? Both can be done with success and both are done part time? Bazooka games do other applications too (cash cap), yet they have one of the largest mobile games on the continent. Both are successful, both are part time.

          • Gavin Mannion

            October 3, 2013 at 12:57

            I didn’t say it can’t be part time… I said if you aren’t making any money or planning on it then it’s more a hobby

          • Rags

            October 3, 2013 at 13:10

            I suppose I got confused when you said. “A successful indie can’t be one who can develop it part time…”

            They way I see it that my measurement is the borderline. Anything below it you are unsuccessful. You never said financially successful. Because asking that would be meaningless.

            Errr? 😛

          • Gavin Mannion

            October 3, 2013 at 13:15

            Well finances have to be looked at if were are talking about professional indies as bills need to be paid… so at a bare minimum you need to break even but then you need something special to be successful after that?

          • Rags

            October 3, 2013 at 13:27

            Sure, I guess the measurement of financial success is the same arbitrary goal every business venture gives itself? Maybe an interesting question to ask is if an indie game development studio has a different measurement of success than any other venture? hmm.

          • Gavin Mannion

            October 3, 2013 at 13:31

            Would be awesome if they posted in here instead of on Twitter… but I can’t force that

        • Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

          October 3, 2013 at 12:54

          I would say that’s pretty rad, but I wouldn’t call that “successful,” unless that was your sole aim.

          Reply

  10. Uberutang

    October 3, 2013 at 12:47

    1, Not unless you have paid for it and now want your money back. No investment = no say.
    2. No. Some games take years to craft. Not all games are equally complex.
    3. Hitting the front page of Steam/Humble/etc sales, awards and reviews by reputable sites.

    If a million people download your mod, you have made it.

    Reply

    • Gavin Mannion

      October 3, 2013 at 12:51

      I like your answer to three actually. So not only money but by a certain amount of people using your product.

      However if you make no money and it’s a once off success does that still count?

      Winning an award but then failing in retail, is that success or failure?

      Reply

      • Uberutang

        October 3, 2013 at 12:58

        If you are in it to just make money, you are in the wrong business… (as an Indie)

        Usually Indie devs tend to make waves with a game and then go on to be part of a larger team / dev house, make some more money, get fed up, start over as an indie.

        The goals set by the guys developing the game is what is going to matter most in the end. Do they want to make another game? How many years/failures can they carry?

        If you look at the Sniper Elite and Sniper Ghost warrior games, they do not sell COD numbers, they are not by media standards ‘AAA’ but they are bringing out game 4 and 3 based on the sales they managed to get. That to me is successful. (they are not really indie, but it brings the point across)

        Reply

        • Gavin Mannion

          October 3, 2013 at 13:16

          Yes but a lot of mainstream gamers have heard of those games whcih goes to my measurement of success

          Reply

        • Rags

          October 3, 2013 at 17:07

          They are indie. 🙂

          Reply

  11. creative630

    October 3, 2013 at 12:53

    ” My classification of :successful” and “breaking out internationally” is when the average gaming fan knows the name of your studio and/or the game it made. ”

    … I think this is a pretty big problem with mainstream views on independent games and small studios (like mobile game studios). There are just so many games, and of those most are niche games that do really well with a particular target audience. I feel like you are holding huge-mass-market ideals to small independent games who have probably made almost all of their money internationally (like PocketRPG and Desktop Dungeons), who still might not be household names (in the gamer sense) while still being successful.

    Also, Broforce is also doing early preorders… http://www.freelives.net/broforce-game

    1. No, did you see the success of the 4 year old fez? Also they are in open-beta and are developing the game with the community, so if you want to play it *now* just preorder it?
    2. Nope, hold the same standards to indie games as well as AAA please *HL3, Duke Nukem, Diablo*. If anything Indie games should get more lenience due to the size and capital weight of their studios.
    3. Something that appeals significantly to a target audience, whether that be an interesting free flash game that gets played through once by a few hundred people (like a gamejam game that does something interesting) to a game that sells billions and takes over small countries.

    Reply

    • Gavin Mannion

      October 3, 2013 at 12:56

      on 2, HL3, Duke Nukem and Diablo all got massive amounts of negative press before (and sometimes after) they were finally done… so by that measure we can poke fun at DD

      On 3, I can’t see how a game that does something unique but is only played by a few people can be classed as successful to anyone other than the developer. You see I’m not talking about what they or the team feel but rather how the community at large can and will classify them

      Reply

      • creative630

        October 3, 2013 at 13:06

        So you can bully someone because everyone else is bullying similar people? Also were *any* of those games built with the community like DD is? DD is being made with and for the people that want to play it…

        Well the community you are talking about is the target market. If its a game the developer wants to use as a tool to tell a story to people who would actually like to listen, then why can’t it be considered successful? Also why does success have to be fore anyone other than the developer and the community of people who like the game? Why does the broader context have to apply to the overall success of the game?

        Reply

        • Gavin Mannion

          October 3, 2013 at 13:17

          No one is being bullied…

          Success has to be measured externally if you are doing it has a profession as then media coverage is part of the deal. If you are taking people’s money for a product you are subject to scrutiny. If it’s free then I agree with you.

          And it’s not about the game being successful rather than the developer/team who get measured

          Reply

          • creative630

            October 3, 2013 at 13:36

            Some might argue “poking fun” to one person is bullying to another 😛 Just a thought.

            Scrutiny from the people who are paying for the game or from the external community who don’t know nearly as much about the game and its development as those involved in the community?

            I think its fair for the external community to have an opinion about the game, but they should still concede that they can’t be the sole judge of the success of the game (or at least be careful about it). Especially when its a naive comparison like the success of pick and pay vs a farm stall…

          • Rags

            October 3, 2013 at 15:42

            You make some valid points. It is unfair to measure success of an indie game with a retail price of R50 with a big budget game. If you are a small studio even a few thousand copies are enough for you to start funding a new project and live off. It does not need to be a household name to be a success. But for an indie like Epic Games with massive studios they need to be popular and sell in large quantities to survive. It is all relative to the size and income expectation of the studio.

            Snailboy does not meet the criteria to be classified as a ‘breakout game’ or ‘successful game’ given to us imo. And even though Zynga is massive to call them successful is troublesome, the same can be said about countless large studios, THQ etc that while massively popular where hardly a success.

  12. Rincethis

    October 3, 2013 at 13:09

    I have seen many responses to your tweets Gavin, and many others too. I find that people become extremely sensitive over their babies when they don’t fully understand the question. Not sure why asking ‘Is your game a successful indie game’ is such a hard thing to reply to without screaming. I would lose my bloody mind if I had put money into something and had to wait for 4 years to see the fruits of it. People will wait in this situation when the return is MONEY. Snailboy is a great example of indie success because both the game, which his awesome, and the return were within the same time-frame as the term of service of an English Prim-minister!

    Reply

  13. Sarelseemonster

    October 3, 2013 at 13:11

    Successful is what you think as a developer, to be your end goal with a particular project. If you achieve it you are successful.
    Games takes a long time to create or a month depending on what you want to make.

    Feature creep and doing too much is where Indie devs falls into a trap often. I know. I’ve been there got the shirt etc.
    Any game that gets finished and achieves what you set out to do, to me is a successful indie game. So whether you are a Indie company, full time or hobbyist part time it does not matter.

    Reply

    • Gavin Mannion

      October 3, 2013 at 13:18

      “Feature creep and doing too much is where Indie devs falls into a trap often” I can’t agree with that more

      Reply

      • Gerhard Davids

        October 3, 2013 at 14:33

        Indeed. Stroll around the general indie dev communities and see what the answer is to how to be and indi game dev. More often than not that answer is. Finish a game, anything, pacman, anything. Get something done and out there. Start a new version or another game after.

        It is said everywhere among indie dev’s for a good reason.

        Reply

  14. Rincethis

    October 3, 2013 at 13:22

    As for 4 years development time, if your game has changed a considerable amount, then the people who invested in it are not going to be getting, well, something they actually invested in now are they? “You see this, now look down, now look up, what you see is not what you saw, now look to your right, look to your left, look back at me, was I the MAN you were looking at before, no because now I am a First person Shooter, shoot, reload, what do you see? YES, I am now a JRPG. Cast a spell, swell, now what is in your hand, YES, it’s a SONY wand, wave it, not the wand, your HAND Kinect 2.0 says good job…” *too much time on hands…

    Reply

  15. BATMAN

    October 3, 2013 at 16:51

    Urggggg, serial?

    This article is literally just an excuse to rip on DD isn’t it.

    Or are you trying to gauge how successful Broforce, DD and Snailboy are? I am confused.

    ER, you ideas of success are Farmville, GOW, Minecraft? Seriously? ANGRY BIRDS. ROFL. This is a joke. You assume you readers are fucking morons don’t you.

    Go have a look at, Capy Games, Vlambeer, Cactus games, Double Fine … The list is endless. ROFL, Zynga. You sir, make me laugh. You obviously are clueless about what Indie games are.

    1) No its not fair. The things they have done is 4 years (Out of South Africa) deserves your support and praise not whiny bitching. Updates every 2 weeks, IGF award, a huge community, They ARE STILL ALIVE. Companies fold all the time in South Africa. They know what they are doing better than you, I’m sure.

    2) No. Good games take time. Games that make Lots of money and ARE SUCCESSFULLY TAKE TIME.

    3) They make good games. Those good games make money. They stay true to their fans. They own a jacuzzi. They are in a music video.

    I bet you are one of those guys that is like, “What’s the big deal, its 2D pixel art, how long can it take?”

    When are you a successful games journalist?
    Nice work on getting traffic.

    <3

    Reply

    • Nick de Bruyne

      October 4, 2013 at 17:30

      As somewhat of an innocent bystander just peering into this whole story, I must say that this comment of yours seems quite unfair (and it seems you possibly misunderstood a few things he was saying).

      As someone who knows people from both sides of LG and DD, I must say that I wasn’t happy with the way either side was handling it, but I think this post is fair enough and leaves a lot of power to the commenters to state their view. I did take a look at ‘that’ forum thread earlier today as well that had a ton of indie people bitching about this, but what use is it if the indies all huddle together and complain and the other side of the fence does the same.

      Need to get some decent debate going, and this post looks to be a pretty decent place to do it.

      P.S: All these Indie people saying that LG is just trawling for traffic with these posts, I assure you as someone who used to work at LG, they could take a quarter of the effort to drop a 2 min video of some babes in cosplay or a GTA V funny stunts video that would easily surpass the traffic of a post like this, so please just drop it, it’s nonsense.

      Reply

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