Low cost development is possible- and you can do well from it!
Today I’m going to talk a little bit about how it *is* possible to produce low cost games. Red Forest has cost less than £500 so far!
Not all of the information within comes from Red Forest; A lot of this information comes from data I’ve gathered by watching those who do find success; Many success stories come from low budget games. I also cannot claim to say I am entirely successful yet. I’ve successfully pulled off several points within this article, and others are points I know to follow but have not yet had the chance to do so; Points that others who have found success have actioned.
Are you new to the scene? Are you looking at creating your first game but don’t want to run through your savings? Or are you just a financially challenged developer?
All of these things- and many more- will mean you won’t want to spend money, and cut back where possible. Many will experience resistance from the scene when trying to make progress on a low cost game, so here are some points to argue against common misconceptions with regards to low cost/ zero cost development:
1) Your game doesn’t have to suck.
This is simply not true. Some of the best games today had low cost. Many come out of game jams (look up Thomas was Alone, which unexpectedly launched Mike Bithell to Indie-Fame.)
if you have a vision, thrive on it, build on it. It doesn’t matter if it takes a while to do so, just get on and do it.
Red Forest started as a fun prototype, but it never sucked, even when we created textures in MSPaint (Yep, i did that.) – and from the moment we implemented decent keyboard controls, it grabbed attention. Get your gameplay right.
Another important thing: If you get this far and the game just doesn’t feel good: Consider dropping it. Don’t be afraid to try, try and try again; Your game doesn’t have to suck, likewise, not every game is a great game. Kill it early and move onto something better.
To demonstrate this, I’ll briefly mention Gravity Ed, which I spent a year or so developing. People liked it, but it never crossed the line from good idea to good game. After gaining feedback, it was decided to end development and pick something better.
2) You CAN be a respected developer.
It is true that other developers will be cautious to get involved with you until you have proven yourself, and this is a key part of gaining respect. How do you start? Network! Go out and meet local developers. Many such groups exist and i’ve met many great developers at these meet-ups. I honestly felt overwhelmed by the community until I started networking, and once I started I wondered why I hadn’t done so earlier. You’ll realise the community is much smaller than it seems; My friends know my other friends by pure chance; not necessarily through me. They’re all great devs/artists/musicians/whatever-they’re-skilled-in.
Get a prototype built, prove the gameplay works. Once you start networking and showing off these prototypes, you’ll gain confidence in yourself (if you lacked it in the first place) and will start to find getting attention a little easier as more people join in. From there…..
3) You CAN find people to work with!
Well, it may be difficult to get people in on your idea, but once you’ve got your head around point 1- and have faith in what you are doing, and point 2- and have people playing your prototypes, you will have met people who are much more willing to help as they have seen your project and know that it’s worth something. At this point, people who are really in to your project may even offer to help!
Red Forest has so far cost less than £500 to develop due to the amount of people willing to help. There’s no way I could just turn up on a forum and post a thread with a subject such as “Hey! Who wants to help me make a pod racer. I can’t pay but” – Nope. These will be mostly ignored or ridiculed. People on the internet have been burnt badly over the past and as a result a lot of these people have become jaded. You’ll need to try harder. You’ve seen post 2? Go and network and meet the people who can help you first hand.
I’ve got two people helping with music on Red Forest, and two designers giving their input. Mad.Array jumped on board early on just from the prototype and has helped shape the game as it is now, but I’ve not got the funds to pay these people much, and I’ve made these people aware of that early on; face to face. If they can see your product, play it, interact with it, they’re going to be much easier to get on board. Respect others and don’t push your luck.
4) You CAN do some basic marketing on low budget, (and you don’t need to pay for media coverage.)
No doubt you’ve met some lovely people from the media during your networking- They’re all over the place, and they’re typically *Really nice People* – Games media are not The Sun. They’re not out to get you, they need their stories as much as you need visibility- so, speak to them. Send an email to your favourite contact, ask some magazines to review/preview your game.
An important thing about the media that was not immediately obvious- and is being exploited by low-coverage publications- You DON’T need to pay the media to cover your game; you are providing them with content that ultimately keeps them their jobs. If they want you to pay, they aren’t going to get you any visibility; they’re just gathering money.
One thing we’re finding really difficult with Red Forest- Marketing on a low budget. It is absolutely possible.
- Create a twitter account for your product;
- Create a website for the product and link it to twitter;
- Post updates daily- these will feed through to twitter;
- Retweet product updates from your personal accounts;
- Join Thunderclap and SPREAD THAT AROUND LIKE CRAZY;
- Join IndieDB and list your product and updates;
- TALK ABOUT YOUR PRODUCT. Share details, tutorials, show how you did a specific feature;
- Get the media talking about it. An RT from a friendly media contact is a godsend!
- Use cross-promo based advertising if possible and if relevant.
5) You CAN succeed.
If you apply everything above- along with anything you learn along the way- you’ll massively increase your chances of success. However, you may not get there on your first go, or even your second. A very important thing in Indie development is: Do not give up. It’s your dream, so keep fighting for it.
Don’t give up, keep coding, and succeed. It’s not easy, but it’s fun and you should give your project all of the effort it deserves. Most importantly, if you do sadly fail, learn from your mistakes, then turn around and give it your all. You’ll only be even better at it!
Good luck, fellow developers! Keep doing what you do best.