Best of British: Indies - don't risk getting lost in the blend, says Alistair Aitcheson
A call for independence
Alistair Aitcheson is a one-man studio working in Wiltshire, UK. He is the developer of the Greedy Bankers series of iOS games and a founding member of indie collective Best of British.
You'd think it's all doom and gloom, wouldn't you? The mobile marketplace has changed, and the honeymoon period where anyone could publish to the App Store and get visibility has passed.
As a result, field is increasingly dominated by big-name publishers and social behemoths.
Yes, success for indies certainly in mobile is tough to come by, but I see no reason to be scared. Indies are in a better position than anyone else to innovate, and success is there for those who can leverage that best.
With persistence, ambition and smart thinking, the opportunity is still there for new indie success stories.
Making a splash
Let's take a look at some of 2012's indie successes on iOS.
Adam Saltsman recently launched Hundreds to critical acclaim and a high spot in Apple's charts, as did Zach Gage with Spelltower, which reached #3 in the US top paid iPad apps chart earlier in the year.
Terry Cavanagh's Super Hexagon launched to rapid success in October, made Apple's best of 2012 list and appeared frequently in game-of-the-year lists, even on non-mobile sites.
All fantastic games, all unique and identifiable, and all quite clearly indie.
Of course, there's a camp that will credit their popularity to the fact that these developers were already well established.
Adam Saltsman created seminal endless-runner Canabalt, and Terry Cavanagh was already well known for his IndieCade prize-winning platformer VVVVVV.
And all of them had released many other games beyond just these their recent successes add to a existing portfolio of innovative work and well-deserved successes. A product of continued devotion to their craft, built on years of pushing the envelope and building their personal brands.
What indies can do differently
Indies do not have the resources to play the same game as larger companies.
They can't budget for expensive user acquisition and without these numbers from the beginning it's hard to get reliable analytics with which to optimise a monetisation model.
But indies don't need to optimise their work as consumable commodities. They're perfectly positioned to appeal on a personal level.
Indies can be personalities, inspirational figures, a voice to rally behind and root for. They can be part of a story, pushing a cause and giving fans something to believe in.
They can also take risks and challenge norms, leading trends rather than following them. As an indie, you don't have the necks of 40 employees on the line if your product doesn't take off.
In fact, the riskiest thing you can do is blend in with everyone else.
Hearts and minds
The first hurdle to success is getting people to realise your game is there, and to do that you need to get them talking about it.
One person talking about your game is better than 100 people knowing about it. If people are talking, they're giving your work credibility, they are encouraging other people to talk about it. Press attention, credibility and the gaming zeitgeist all snowball.
It goes hand-in-hand with risk-taking. Who cares if your game is unappealing, or even offensive, to many consumers, if there's a certain group of people who will wax lyrical about it?
Capy Games' article on marketing Sword and Sworcery is a must-read and makes this point better than I ever could.
They didn't make their game for everyone they made it for people who loved point-and-click adventures and hipster humour. These were the fans who propelled it into the mainstream consciousness, and they were given plenty to talk about.
Words from experience
In late 2011 I launched Greedy Bankers vs The World, my iPad puzzle game.
The multiplayer mode incentivised players to cheat, stealing each other's gems and physically clambering over the board. Few games encourage you to play this dirty, and I pushed that point as its core USP.
Greedy Bankers vs The World
It was selected for the Eurogamer Indie Games Arcade, as well exhibiting at other events. Players loved it. But not only that, they went away talking about it. They brought back friends to show it to.
Bloggers and podcasters who'd found it called it one of the highlights of the show (and in one case, of the year). This did wonders for my exposure.
That unique aspect, the gameplay mechanic that enthused the competitive-spirited, was what people loved, and the fact that they'd got to know the guy who'd made it gave them a story to pass on.
The polish, the balancing of the gameplay and even the art design all merely played supporting roles to that unique and memorable trait.
I'm nearing completion on my next game, Slamjet Stadium for iPad. I'm building on the shared-device multiplayer and the highly physical play, because it's something I am genuinely passionate about.
And I'm making sure to put across this passion in my blog, and in my video assets. I'm pushing for the games press to feel that passion, and for games enthusiasts to feel that passion, and for Apple to feel that passion, and for them to pass that passion on to others.
Because that's what it all comes down to in the end: passion.
Gaming isn't just a hobby for so many people it's a passion. Developers go indie because they have a passion for their craft, and a passion for the gaming medium.
That's why indie is and always will be a positive force for gaming. People believe in the gaming form, and they genuinely believe in the people striving to push it. The key to success as an indie is to leverage that.
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