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Month: February 2019

Perspective of living as an indie dev in my country

Perspective of living as an indie dev in my country

Game development is a really nice job, at least when you’re an indie, not a cog in an AAA crunching machine. You can sit in the comfort of your home and have no expenses for commuting, office rental and eating out, at least that’s how i imagine it to be. But the real question is – can you earn a living wage by doing it?

You can read a lot on indie game developer hardships these days. Things are looking quite grim – Steam is not showing too much love for indies, some are afraid the subscription models will start to be a to-go model in selling video games, accessible game engines are making games easier to produce and that makes for a stiffer competition – it’s really hard for your game to be discovered. I’ve seen too many good games with lousy sales numbers because nobody know that they actually existed. A lot of devs are wondering is it really worth it anymore? Is it possible to live by making good games with niche market or do you need to strike gold with new Nuclear Throne or Minecraft? We’ll leave aside the marketing part of the story – you all know it, start as early as possible and build a community, preferably with your own brand if you released games before.

And now, let’s delve into the cold, dark world of numbers. For this analysis, i will be using some Numbeo statistics. According to them, cost of living for a single person in capital of Serbia is around $500 (without rent, which is around $200 for a small flat). It may be a bit hard too look at those numbers objectively, but i don’t know how i would survive with a salary of $500. Realistically, you need $100 for bills regardless of the flat size (if you want flat cable internet, cable TV and a cell phone subscription. Heating, electricity, water and garbage disposal have to be paid) so you’re left with $400, which is enough for you to eat (strictly at home) and maybe spend $50 on leisure. Forget about savings, driving a car and going out.

When i take my family in consideration, the math is following, to live relatively comfortably and maybe spare a few dimes on the side, you need about $2,000 for a three member family (for easier calculation, let’s presume that your SO has no income). That amounts to $24,000 a year. If you are selling your game for $10, Steam takes 30% and you are left with $7. Now, you probably think “Wow, only 2 grand to live comfortably with a family? What is this dreamland you’re living in?” and yes, Serbia IS a cheap country compared to most of the European countries and that is all fine, but my country has no tax treaty with US and it makes a lot of impact compared to other more expensive-to-live-in countries that have tax treaty with US. So, i have to give another 30% in taxes to the US. So, i’m left with meager $4.90 if i’m lucky to sell the game at full price.

But that’s not the end of taxation, i have to pay some taxes in my country too. If i earn up to $23,000, i don’t pay any income taxes, but from $23,000 to $45,000 i pay 10%, and over that i pay 15%. Let’s say i managed to earn more than those $23,000 a year and i have to pay 10% of income tax.  That means i need to have a net profit of $27,000 to earn a nice living wage for me and my family. To make a net profit of $27,000 i need to sell around 5,500 copies of the game at full price. That’s quite a number.

Now, according to this article, the average game on Steam will sell about 2.000 copies and make $12.500 in revenue in its first month. The average game will make $30.000 in its first year. I’m not quite sure what do they mean by “make”, but i guess it’s the revenue. So if you’re from around here and make an average game, you’ll be left with around $15.000, which is around $1250. A fine salary that most of the people living here dream of (average is around $350-$400) and it’s ok if you’re living alone and have no family to support.

But, lest we forget the cost of making the game itself. Unless you are a multitalented person that knows how to program, draw in 2D, model in 3D, rig and animate, design sound and make music, you need to spend some money to pay someone who does any of those better than you and has the time to do it. Until now, i spent around $4,000 on Rick Henderson. Sure, there’s some stuff like assets which are one in a lifetime expenditure and some of the art made will be left unused, but i need even more to finish the game (reason why i’m making an IndieGoGo campaign), so if all went perfect from the start, i think i would need minimum $5,000 to make a game of this caliber. So let’s readjust the figures. I no longer need $27,000 but $32,000 net profit so i have some money to invest in the next game, and that translates into 6,500 copies of the game at full price.

How did the others do?

How some of the similar games fared on Steam? I will use the data from the big Steam leak from last July in this one, so some data may be a bit off, but not too much i presume. Taken into account will only be some games of a newer date, since older once basically guaranteed sales once they were on Steam.

Super Hydorah – This fantastic game sold only 2,073 copies. It was already selling for a year when data leaked, so i presume it didn’t sell many more after that. But the price was a bit high i must say, €20. If it did sell 2k copies at that price, that’s cool, especially considering it’s a one man game.

Starr Mazer DSP – Still in early acces, but sold a nifty 5,500 copies for 10 bucks a pop. Nice, but their press kit says three of them are making the game, and paid artist is doing graphics.

Drifting Lands – Not really your usual shmup, but fits the genre. 8,275 copies for €18,99. Also, at least two guys work there, but probably more, so it’s not much of a success.

Steel Rain – We’re getting into five figure sale numbers. A whopping 10,440 sold games, full price €9,99, but there’s almost two digit number of people in their studio, so i’m not sure how successfull this was.

Monolith – 10,880 copies sold by three guys. Price – €7,99. Great success if you ask me. I suppose they sold a decent number of copies since then too.

Super Galaxy Squadron EX Turbo – 25,940 at €8,19. I suppose a lot of those copies sold at a discount, and as far as i can see they happen pretty often. Now it’s on sale at €2,99 so i guess that’s closer to median sales price. There’s a lot of them there, so i can’t even presume how many of them took part into making the game actually (and reaping the profits).

Sky Mercenaries – Made by PolarityFlow, team that also made Steel Rain. 30k+ copies, regular sales price €9,99, pretty good.

Steredenn – These guys kicked ass. 50k+ copies made by only two of them plus musicians and a pixel artist which probably had their fixed cut. At €12,99, hell, even at half the price, this game made a small fortune for them.

One game it’s like to point out to is Star Saviors, game that sells for €0,99 and has sold 300k+ copies. I haven’t played it but it’s not my cup of tea regarding rendered graphics, though i must say it looks like it feels good to play and makes me wonder of the pricing policy and what is right to do.

I didn’t take into account games like Ikaruga, Mushihimesama and Crimzon Clover, they’re quite specific and have their own audience. Bear in mind all these developers live in countries which are more expensive to live in than in my country, but also have tax treaties with the US to some extent.

Summa summarum

When i take all things into account, i didn’t move my point of view too far. I still believe that you need to have a top notch product (compared to few years ago, where you could be cool if you have a contagious game with maybe not so good graphics) to even scratch the surface. You need to start marketing your product as soon as possible, build a community and be involved if you want to have a crack at selling your game in a decent number of copies that will enable you to live nice until you launch your next game.

Interview with Play! Zine

Interview with Play! Zine

Hi Uroš, we’re glad that we finally have the chance of doing this interview. For starters, can you tell our audience a bit more about your project – what is Rick Henderson?

In short, Rick Henderson is a horizontal-scrolling endless shooter. Five factions, five bosses, loads of guns, perks, great music and beautiful pixel art graphics. When you get to the end, you go on – until you leave your bones in space.

How did the whole story start and where did the idea come from? You’re not really into game development business, this basically started out as a hobby, right?

In 2013., unhappy with the direction my career is going, i got enrolled into Java course in a small software school hoping that i’ll change the course of my business tenure towards programming. It seemed logical to me, i was in front of the screen since C64 and i am more than average Joe in that regard. I have to admit i was totally lost, abstract thinking was really not something i was good at. After finishing another course, this time a year long one, things were much better, but i still didn’t get that „click“ in my head. I was always pragmatic and decided to try out Unity because it’s using C# which is quite popular and you can see the result immediately. I realised i liked it, the things i did started to get the shape of a real game and i decided to follow the path that was getting laid in front of me.

Are you working on the project by yourself or do you have associates?

Besides me,only (paid) associate i have is @lighterthief, great Dutch artist who does pixel art. I found him via Pixelation forum. Game was supposed to have very simple graphics, but cooperation with him gave birth to something new, wonderful art full of colors that revives memories of old shoot ’em up from golden era of home computers of the nineties.

We know that making music is one of your passions. Are you having any plans of making some of your own music for the game and what kind of soundtrack can we expect in the game?

I’d really love to, but when you work alone, time is an extremely limiting factor so i decided to pass that satisfaction to others this time. I contacted a lot of musicians on Bandcamp and managed to strike a deal with two of musicians (for now), Mlada Fronta and Cryocon. Mlada Fronta is Rémy Pelleschi from France and Cryocon is Dan Exton from USA, great guys. They agreed to lend me their music to use in the game, and i’ll be giving them all the proceeding from soundtrack and part of the funds that will be gathered via IndieGoGo campaign (if all goes according to plan).

You can expect a lot of good synthwave and electro. You can listen to the 9 tracks that will appear in the game here with more to come soon.

What technical skills did you need to possess before venturing into this project? After all, this is a one man job, what does one have to know to start working on a game like this?

For individual engagement in the world of game development you need great organizational skills and rational approach to work. Only after that tech skills come in, which are not hard to learn. C# is a simple language, Unity itself has an uncomplicated API and web is full of tutorials which can help you learn anything. If you don’t know how to draw or make music, you can always pay someone to do it, which i wholeheartedly recommend, people that know how to do everything are a rare sort.

What were the greatest challenges while working on the game, what is hard, what is dull, what is simply boring?

I wasn’t really expecting that, but a lot of things are uninspiring and tedious. Finding and squishing bugs is on the top of the list, and testing is not any less mind-numbing, while waiting for compiler every time you hit the play button on a 10 year old CPU. Greatest challenge is to be consistent and do at least one task every day. Feeling of progress is very important because there’s a lot of work to do and motivation is an easy thing to lose if you don’t have a sense that you are reaching towards something.

On the other hand, what part of work is enjoyable for you?

Actually, i really enjoy the marketing side of the production lately which requires as much time as a game development. Positive reactions and a good-natured, quality critique are beneficial for motivation and work quality.

What 2D side scrollers were inspiration for you? What do you consider good in the genre, where do you see room for improvement and innovation and how does that fit in your game?

Galaga Deluxe, Project X, Xenon, Raptor, Steredenn, U.N. Squadron, R-Type, Z-Out. This genre exists for more than 30 years and it’s hard to reinvent the wheel, but from time to time some shiny gems appear like Rival Megagun or Enemy Mind and really surprise me. I can’t say Rick Henderson is revolutionary, but it combines several elements that i still haven’t seen together in one game.

What would you highlight as the main characteristic of your game that should attract the target audience to fall in love with this title?

Non-stop action with fantastic music and gorgeous graphics, challenging bosses and different game every time.

How would you describe your experience for the past few yours during the tenure on the game? What did you learn and realize, how did it help you in your professional and personal life and how did you come out from the whole process?

I certainly got out older 🙂

It was painstaking, lots of sleepless nights, ups and downs. I have a family and a full time job and it is extremely hard to fit everything and remain sane and healthy. I learned not to rush things and that there’s no amount of passion that can speed up the complex and time-consuming process that is game development. Actually, good work-life balance gives the best results, which i learned the hard way. There’s still a lot of work to do, but now i’m taking it easy, step at a time.

Idea behind the whole game was very ambitious. When you first shared your project with us in May 2017., there was a few game modes including Story mode. Fast forward, does everything still seems doable?

Of course not! Like every beginner, encouraged by quick progression and vast Unity possibilities i bit of more than i can chew. Rick Henderson was first imagined as a complete experience for one player that we are used to in this genre: level, boss, weapon store, level again and so on. However, as the unwritten rule dictates, cut the game you imagined in half, the cut that half in another half and the you get something that you can really finish in a reasonable timeframe. Rick Henderson is still a great challenge, but doable for a one man show.

One of the reasons we’re talking about your game right now is because we want to emphasize that your game has an active IndieGoGo campaign in the moment we are writing this, so everyone who is interested in the project can help directly. Tell us some more about the campaign, what are the goals, how long will it last and what can potential players expect.

Campaign is in the pre-launch phase at the moment, which is used to gather e-mail addresses if a person is interested in supporting the project. You can find the pre-launch page here and leave your e-mail for news and announcement when the funding phase of the campaign starts. The goal is 3.000,00 USD, which is how much i need for one more faction, backgrounds and additional graphics works, translations… Perks that a backer can expect are beta access, early access, Steam keys, soundtrack, involvement in creating new enemies and having your name on a space blimp that will appear throughout the game.

With your current experience, what would you recommend to someone that wants to make his old idea reality in a similar manner? What would you advise?

Start with small, short games of different genres so you can learn as much as possible in the short time frame. Don’t be shy, publish them on the websites where you can do it for free, like When you finally decide to work on something more serious, start with marketing immediately – indie games market is incredibly saturated and it’s hard to strike through the noise. Of course, if it’s not working out, don’t be afraid to ditch the project, you will do yourself a favor.

Thanks for the conversation, we wish you luck with IndieGoGo campaign and we can’t wait to review Rick Henderson on the pages of Play! Zine!

Thank you.