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Indie Game Development Part 1: Educate Yourself

Indie Game Development Part 1: Educate Yourself


An important thing to keep in mind when reading this multi-part series on game development is that I’m still quite new to this myself. I don’t have all the answers! My career has been in feature film visual effects, and before that I got a certificate in fine art, and a degree in animation. I’ve been working on a couple of games in my spare time for just over a year now and have learned a lot of lessons in the process. I have a thirst for knowledge and I feel confident that what I have to say will be a boon if you’re interested in getting started with a career in making games.

The first thing you should be asking yourself is; “Why be a game developer?”. I’m not here to tell you the answer to a question like that, but it’s something you should take into consideration. Do you really love user interfaces? Do you have a passion for interactive narratives? Maybe it’s the thought of creating awesome looking artwork, or even creating user friendly tools that other people can build games with. Maybe you love chip-tunes and want to find a way to let the world know? Or perhaps you can’t get enough of all aspects of game design and want to really get your vision out there and have complete control over it all!

A lot of indies look down on AAA game production. That’s not cool! We need games from large teams of talent just as much as we need games made from the small flexible teams. The fact is, there is a lot that has to go into the development of a game, from concept, to design, to art, music, sound effects, programming, documentation, marketing. It’s very rare to find people that take on the development of a game by themselves, and you may be surprised at just how large the teams are on some of those indie games out there.

Here are the reasons to go indie from my perspective:

  • You want to do more than just one type of task – Sorry, but at EA you just won’t get to be a rigger, musician, and marketer. You want that sort of task flexibility? Making your own game is perfect.
  • You have a thirst for sharing your ideas that is unquenchable – You have some great ideas that you just have to get out there for people to play? Awesome! Make it happen! If you’re waiting around for Ubisoft to hire you so that you can be the guy in charge of the next Assassin’s Creed, you’re dreaming. You’re going to need years of experience and a pretty amazing reputation for that to happen, but there’s nothing preventing you from making your own games except yourself. The number one question at Q&A sessions is always “How do I get a job as a game designer?” and the answer is always “Make games.”

And from my perspective, here are reasons not to go indie:


  • You think it’ll be easy – Well, you’ve got a lot of work ahead. When you’re starting out, it’s going to be tough financially, emotionally, creatively, and technically. If you are doing this in your spare time it’s going to be difficult to find the time, and while many indies will try to pressure you into quitting your job to work full time on your game, that’s not necessarily smart financial advice.
  • You think you’ll get rich – Sure you see the success of Angry Birds, Minecraft or Super Meat Boy and say “Hey! I can do that!” but life isn’t so simple! Most indies are struggling, and are not profitable. You need to do this because you can’t not be making a game, not because you see it as your ticket to fame and glory.

So here we are, you find yourself still thinking that this is the path for you. Who am I to argue? You know yourself better than anyone, so now lets figure out how we can take this dream and make it a reality! Now that you’ve figured out why you want to make your own games you’ve got a few more things you need to start considering; and keep in mind that there is no correct order. The great thing if you enjoy playing games, is that the art of making a game is almost like playing one. You need to strategize, manage your resources, and be ready to think quickly when hurdles are thrown your way.

  • Figure out whether you need help – Do you want to do everything? You’d be surprised how many of your favourite indie games had more than one person working on them. If you want to do most of the work yourself than it might be easier to start without a partner, but if you plan on splitting the work it might not be a bad idea to find a like minded individual to get started with so that you can get your ideas in sync from the beginning. Consider going to a local game jam, start getting active in forums, and reading blogs. There is a huge community out there of like-minded individuals that are ready to geek out with you about games. They’re going to be your best resource whether it’s for meeting new people, getting questions answered or even spreading the word when you try to launch your game. Keep in mind that at conventions, and on forums or meet-ups, you must be willing to give just as much as you’re attempting to take.
  • Figure out how to protect yourself – If you do work with someone else, please make sure to find someone you trust, someone who you can work with, and to sign some sort of a contract to protect yourselves in the event that things fall apart. Friendships fall apart, people’s financial affairs can change, and accidents happen. You need to be prepared for the eventuality that things don’t work. Intellectual property is a thing. Learn about it.
  • Figure out where your funding will come from – Is your idea so great that you can get investors? Will you need to work on this in your spare time while maintaining a full time job? If you have savings, and you take time off to work on this full time, and it is not a success will it leave you destitute?
  • Figure out what skills, and resources you will need to make this happen – Have you done anything like this before? If not you should read up and learn some of the skills you need. The great thing about doing it yourself, is there are no restrictions on your education, or on your portfolio, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recommend getting some knowledge. Find tutorials, go to the library and get some books (more importantly, read the books), or if you have the resources consider taking some night or weekend classes. But remember that at some point you need to stop practicing, and start doing. I’ve seen too many people constantly practicing their craft without actually doing any projects because they don’t feel they’re good enough yet. Planning is important if you don’t want to be jumping around like a fish out of water, but you can often learn on the go.
  • Figure out how you will monetize yourself – Once this masterpiece is finished, how are you going to get people to know about it? Launching silently onto the App Store is a sure way to just be another obscure game that no one knows about. It’s never too early to learn how you’re going to get word out about your game.

Creative projects are what I live for, and in my opinion they can be immensely rewarding. But if the planning stage is ignored, it’s also tremendously easy for things to get out of hand and for the process to become incredibly stressful. It’s easy to get carried away with expectations of a grandiose end result, but make sure to keep in mind that game development is a process. Video game postmortems, and case studies are your best friend. In part 2, we’ll start examining the creative process a bit more in depth.

Written by Stephen G. Tucker

A graduate of Sheridan College's Animation program; Stephen has worked on a number of feature films around the world as a visual effects artist. Now on sabbatical, he works on creating independent video games for