What’s your Indie Strategy?
In my last post I talked a little about the strategy Flowerpot Games has adopted. Of course the devil is always in the details and the perfect strategy will get your company nowhere if the strategy is not executed properly. But how do you know if the strategy you are executing is a good one? How do you create a good strategy?
I’ll save the former question for a future AltDevBlogADay post and focus on the latter. The truth is, you won’t really know until your customers tell you; as long as you listen. But there are some strategies that are sure to drive your company into the ground or at best leave it lingering in obscurity. So we’ll start with …
What strategies To Avoid
Do What The Leader Is Doing
Playing ‘Follow The Leader’ was a fun game as a kid. You mimicked whatever the leader was doing (making silly faces, jumping on one foot, leaping like a frog) and you had a really good time. Therefore, you set out to make an Angry Birds clone or a WoW clone to emulate those who appear to be successful. But what you are doing is surrendering your own creativity and your unique opportunities to the leader. If you’re doing that as a hobby or a learning tool, then fine, go for it. But if you are doing that as a business strategy, then STOP IT!
You will always be behind that leader and the chances of catching the leader by modeling them is very slim, near impossible. By the time you get your Angry Birds clone on the market it’ll be too late and the market will, at best, be on the verge of moving on to something else; you’ll be left with the market stragglers. And do you really want your game to be endlessly compared to the leaders game? You’ll read things like, “Angry Pigs is a thinly veiled rip-off of Angry Birds.”
“But I have a feature that will ‘one-up’ Angry Birds!” I don’t mean to crush your hopes (Rovio will take care of that) but, chances are, Rovio already thought of your idea and are well on their way to implementing it. Remember, they already have the success, the money, and the resources.
This does not mean that your indie game has to be totally unique. If you want to remake Sim Tower in a new and interesting way, then have at it. What I’m saying is to tap into your unique imagination, tease out the underlying game mechanic(s), and build a game around it.
It’s okay to look at the leaders and see what they are doing, it’s especially good to learn from their mistakes, but don’t try to mimic what they are doing, don’t surrender your creativity and opportunities to the ‘leader’. If you do, you’ll be exactly where the leader wants you …
in the mouth of a shark!
Pocket Frogs, and it has done well on the market. It climbed the charts, hit #1, and you bought yourself a brand new Tesla. But at some point you notice demand is declining and sales are trailing off. You try to do some things to prop-up the game in the market with free giveaways, cross-promotion strategies, or releasing an ‘HD’ version, but you finally concede that it’s time to make another game. After numerous game prototypes you find yourself unfulfilled and longing for another Home-Run. You start saying things like, “We need to build another Pocket Frogs“, “I wish we could create another Pocket Frogs“, or “What did we do with Pocket Frogs that made it sell so well? Let’s try to reproduce it.” Before you realize it you’re on a quest to find that next Home-Run hitting title and passing up on tens or even hundreds of really good (potentially profitable) game ideas.
The fact is, you really don’t know if the game you’re creating will sell one or a million copies. (Who can tell you? Your customers.) Sure, there are some general things you can do to ensure the game is not a total flop (maybe), but there is no single formula for creating Home-Run games.
Home-run seeking usually is not a conscious strategy. It’s a strategy that creeps in slowly and subtly. It ultimately paralyzes your company into doing nothing, not taking risks, and ultimately failing. Your initial strategy formulation will reduce the chance for Home Run Seeking behavior, but you need to keep yourself and your team in check.
There are two types of ‘Do Everything’ strategies: ‘The Everything Product’ and ‘Fingers In Every Pie’.
The Everything Product
We know C++/Java/Python/Obj-C/C#, we know how to integrate ChaiScript, we can do anything, everything. Therefore, our game will be released on Mac, PC, Linux, Android, iPhone, Symbian, WP7, and every console known to man-kind. Not only that, but we’re going to add every single feature we or our fans can imagine, and if some of our fans don’t like the feature we’ll make it an option in the options menu. We’re going to ship with an Unreal quality editor and we’re going to allow fans to make plug-in mini-games that we will host on our servers for free! Oh yeah, and we’re going to roll our own cross-platform game engine that runs native code on all platforms.
Sure, given enough time, 10, 20, 30, 300 years you could do that, but you’re an Indie! Do you really have the patience, the time, the energy, and the resources to do all that? Probably not, so STOP IT!
The above example is exaggerated, of course. No rational Indie would do that … hmm? When Indies adopt The Everything Product strategy it’s because they have not taken a reasonable look it their financial and time constraints. This strategy is usually killed instantly with proper strategy formulation because it forces you to think about your available resources and your time-frame. So focus your efforts like a laser beam.
Fingers In Every Pie
Oh look! RPG’s are hot, let’s make one. Hey, FPS’s are hot, let’s make one of those too. Wow! RTS’s are hot, let’s work one of those in. ooo…and we need a casual game for both Android and iOS too. Again, you’re an Indie! Do you really have the resources to chase so many pies? Is your team so large and your resources so expansive that you can fragment your focus? Probably not, so STOP IT!
Focus your team on one goal on one platform in one genre, not a bunch of different ones and you’ll have a better chance of releasing something. Do you think Nimble Bit? Learn from these guys.
You spent the last year making a game. You poured your heart and soul into it. You release it onto the market and it hasn’t really sold that well. So you ramp up your marketing efforts, create an ‘HD’ version, you add more localizations, more features, better sound effects, and it’s still not registering in the charts. You find yourself consumed with making the game better, hoping the next change will make your beloved game take off. “I poured my heart and soul into this game, why can’t people see that and embrace my game?” To my knowledge there has been only one person who could resurrect the dead. So STOP IT and let that game die (or at least shelve it).
I realize how hard it is to accept rejection by the market. But it’s something that happens every day in business. Just think where Apple would be if it continued to sink resources into the ‘Goggle Wave?
It’s okay to fail. Accept it, learn from it, and move on. And don’t let the dud define who you are. “My game failed, therefore I’m a failure.” No, the game failed because the market didn’t want it (or wasn’t ready for it). Take heart in the fact that the market could give a rip about you.
What Is Your Strategy?
What is your Indie strategy? I’d love to read about your strategy and/or thoughts, so please take a few moments to comment.
Until next time….