Riding the wave.. till the end ?

Question for indies:

If I gaze into my crystal ball, I can relate the current app market to the early/mid 80’s when a single PC developer could make a decent game and make money.

Compare that to today, and it is impossible to compete against game companies like EA that spend $100+ million to make a game with hundreds of developers. Or you need to be an awesome developer and do something niche like Minecraft (and you are probably not one of those people!)

I foresee a similar situation very soon with Phones/tablets. Games will soon be too complex/etc to be done by one person. This implies there is a limited window in which to make money.

Obviously, in the above scenario, one can either be the next Angry Birds (like winning the lottery), or aim to make several games, build a brand around them and get bought by a larger company for $$$.

Has this crossed anyone else’s mind ? If so, how much longer do you think we have before getting squeezed out ? (We are already 2-3 years into this… as measured from iPhone v1.0 release).

Some rough numbers:

  • assuming you need $2million to retire
  • means $4million in revenue (before taxes!)
  • assuming you have 4 years to make this
  • means $1m/year = $3000/day income needed!
  • at $1 eCPM, $3000 = 3 million adverts/day

If you are not doing this… I hope you have a day job !

I’ve wondered the same thing. I think already there’s a huge gap between the top companies and indie developers.

I think on the phone side though indie developers will still have a long time before we are pushed out, mostly due to the size of phones and the fact that phones are not really used for long-term gaming. e.g. very few people would spend hours upon hours playing for example an mmo on a phone. There will always be spots for small developers on the phone platform I think/hope, but as time goes on finding unique ideas will definately become harder.

Tablets on the other hand I think we will be pushed out more quickly as they require higher quality apps and more importantly users will spend more time playing games on them as it’s a bigger screen and easier to sit in front of for long periods of time. Tablets users I think will tend to prefer a games that take longer to play vs phone users where games are usually something to pass the time while waiting in queue, on the bus/subway, etc.

As note on your comment about competing with big game companies, it’s already happening in a different way - I don’t think most indie developers realise just how much is actually spent on advertising for those top apps. You think the top 10~50 games are all there because they are actually good games? I would say a large percentage are from companies spending tens of thousands of dollars per month on advertising. If they spend say $20k on ads in the first month, it pushes it into trending apps page 1 or 2 which in turns drives downloads which in turn pushes it higher on the regular ranks and so on.

As an avid gamer for over 15 years I can’t bring myself to play even half of the top listed games. I find most of the games listed in this forum’s “Promote your app” more fun, more unique and sadly lacking in downloads compared to what they deserve.

You already have this problem - even when it does not directly correlate to development-effort.

The big studios does not automatically deliver the best games. They just have massive amount of marketing or a brand in their bag. Look at Stringhold 3 - very bad game, expensive - but well marketed.

I also think, that in the future it is possible that, when the market gets bigger and bigger the prices for the high quality games will do the same. That happened on PC and will happen on the phone too.

I don’t think, that sophisticated players will seek for high end graphics on a phone - why they should? There are PCs out there, Playstations and XBoxes - all of them are much more comfortable and by far more potential. So the sophisticated gamer will start up his high powered fusion plant to play Diablo 3 instead of fiddeling around on a small screen dragging around high-poly pigs :slight_smile:

It’s all about usage. Most of the ppl use their phone to play games where they have no other option. Subway, Bus, Airplane, Train, at School, Toilet … or when waiting for the dentist.

That niche will always be existent and I am pretty sure that these players want to have games, which are easy to play, starting fast and can be quited at every time.

There are many players (including me) who does not care that much for high gloss graphics as long as the gameplay is exciting.

Tablets may be another story but there are many options to what will happen with tablets in concern of playing games…

I can see where you’re coming from @mind. Games in particular are getting to the stage where it’s difficult for an individual to create something that really stands out. This is one of the reasons I’ve focussed mainly on apps so far.

On the other hand, I’d agree with @hyarion - the smartphone market is very different to tablets or PCs, and there will probably always be a demand there for small, light-weight apps. This is the ideal kind of market for indie devs. Particularly if you find a niche with very little competition - and there are plenty of them still around.

Usually the top charts are filled with developers who spend a lot of money on marketing. But that’s not to say nobody else is making money. I think for indie developers there’s two main paths you can take - volume, or quality. If you push out a whole lot of small apps (not necessarily low quality, just not many features), you could make money simply because of the number of keywords you’re targeting. But if you want to focus on one single app with a lot of features, it really has to be well made and pick a good keyword, to really have any impact. You won’t get the “second chance” many large companies have to market an app until people become interested.

I do not agree.

  1. Screen size.
  2. Battery life.

This was from a user perspective.

From developer perspective.

  1. Costs. How much costs the development of a big budget game? How much would pay an average android user? It is too risky to develop a big budget game and rely on the banners and other type of ads. Why MikaMobile left android platform? Some developers on this forum earn a lot money over 10K US dollars and its a lot money for one man-team but its a nothing for a bigger teams because you can not even cover salary for few peoples with that money.

There will always be room for indie because you can not beat battery life + screen size + costs no matter how big you are.

I am going to go ahead and not agree with you for a number of reasons:

  1. Screen size. Not even sure it why you think this is an issue. Here is my take on it: Until you get to the point where your eye cannot discern individual pixels, there will be improvement. Once we reach that point (Apple claims to already be there!), the next step is maximizing screen size over the device. The side borders get smaller. Buttons are no longer hard buttons, but part of the screen. After that, (some) phone’s will get bigger. We are already seeing all of this (*maybe not all together at once).

  2. Battery life is not an issue and it keeps getting better. New technology uses less power to further extend the device useful life. Designers design a device for a particular look and feel. They don’t care about battery life provided it lasts at least 24 hours. My old Nokia goes 2 weeks between needing a charge. My ICS phone dies in 24 hours. What changed ? Consumer expectations! Why ? Because of marketing. ergo: Battery life is a moot point.

  3. Budgets: This is the million dollar question. MikaMobile did not leave the android platform because they could not make money (although that is what they claimed). They left because they could not figure out HOW to make money. Zynga knows how to make money… so do a lot of other REALLY BIG companies like EA. Use a small team of highly talented specialists (like 7-8 guys or so). Build it fast. Leverage existing infrastructure from previous projects. Dump a few hundred thousand dollars into it in marketing. Get featured, get reviews (they have a dedicated marketing team with all the right contacts!). Get a return of a few million downloads. Monetize the users. Get a few million dollars return.

Some math:

  • 8 people @ $120k salary each = $ 1m
  • Offices/overhead = $1m
  • Marketing = $0.25m
  • Misc = $0.25m

Call it $2.5m to create a hot title and market it.

Lets look at Zynga’s “Scramble with Friends”…

Free version: 5 - 10 million installs
Paid version 50k - 100k installs @ $1 each

Let’s call it 5 million free installs, with adverts. They need to recover $0.50 per year per user to break even. That is 5 advert clicks in a year. Less than one click per 2 months.

I have been really generous with the costs and low with the income and they still break even. The paid version is just gravy.

The reality is the team looks something like this:

  • team lead (part programmer)
  • programmer
  • game engine specialist
  • 1 graphics wiz
  • 1 QA person
  • 1 backend & analytics person
  • 1 intern / coffee guy

So there you go…

You are competing against a team that is well paid, comprised of specialists with dedicated QA people/etc, working full time with all costs covered. They all have experience doing other titles and they WILL make a profit (and a better game than you can make).

Example 1 : WordHero : https://market.android.com/details?id=com.rhs.wordhero

  • boggle clone
  • available for last 8 months
  • synchronous (everyone plays the same board at the same time)
  • advert supported
  • size: 1.5MB
  • 30-35k downloads

Example 2 : Scramble with Friends by Zynga

  • boggle clone
  • available since last 2 months ?
  • asynchronous (you play the same board as your friend only)
  • advert + micro-payments supported
  • size: 15 MB
  • 5 to 10 MILLION downloads

We are definitely in a gold rush right now, it’s never been easier to step in and make money than now and probably won’t be any better again in this platform.

BUT there are 2 key distinctions that will make this space different than the original shift to higher-tier games:

1- The user
2- The context in which the user is playing.

#1 - People who played games in the 80s were generally geeks and techies. These are tech enthusiasts who will look for the shiniest thing, always. And they love complexity.

The modern mobile game player is now EVERYONE. Just go to an airport or restaurant and watch everyone from 5-year olds to grandma playing a game on their phone. Obviously many of these players will evolve in what they expect from games in the future, but grandma will never wish for the next Halo to come out on her phone. She wants Sudoku and Farmville.

Which takes me to disctinction #2: Context.

These people are playing at the airport terminal, on the bus, waiting for food at the restaurant. You can’t play Assassin’s Creed in 3-minute chunks! It’s crazy! These games do have their place in the market for people who also sit down and play for a whole hour on their phones, but they won’t eat up the marketplace as it happened before in the 90s and 2000s.

Another thing to consider is that publishing is now directly available to the developer without an up-front investment. In the 80s most developers needed a publisher (or tens of thousands of dollars for manufacturing, marketing and distributing), the reason why small devs can get started again is that the middleman has been cut off. They used to literally control the market and choose big developers over small ones, now that barrier is gone, just as Google removed the middleman in advertising and 10 years later AdWords is still available to anyone. Whenever you remove the middleman, suddenly the small dogs can compete with the big dogs.

Finally, I do agree that we should all think about the long term and not eat up our cash flow. The first year we might just keep making games alone and re-investing in marketing and equipment, but eventually we should start hiring other people for design, audio and even coding. Create a small team that grows over time so that you do create a business that can stand any big shifts in the industry, instead of a one-hit-wonder-year you’ll remember as the biggest wasted opportunity of your life =S Let’s make this a smart business venture like any other, just grow.