Entrepreneurs, business owners, and other indies have given me a good piece of advice that applies no matter what is going on in the economy: keep on top of the industry. Subscribe to magazines. Go to conferences. Read relevant blogs and books. Be familiar with what your industry is doing.
Why does it matter?
There are a few reasons. First, when you’re in business, you need to stand out and provide unique value. If you don’t know what everyone else is doing, how will you know where to direct your efforts without finding yourself accidentally duplicating someone else’s efforts? Worse, what if you think you’ve created an incredible game only to find that it pales in comparison to an existing game on the market? Being aware of the competition is not only good for helping you avoid problems, it’s also good marketing. What is everyone making, what do the customers demand, and what can you do about either?
It also helps to be aware of trends. You can ignore these trends or go with them, but knowing about them allows you to make an intelligent decision about it. For example, these days a lot of people are throwing their hat into social networking. With millions of people in a highly specific demographic using Facebook all looking for a fun, socially-engaging game, they are an audience with a need that indies and major companies are hoping to fulfill. Some indies are creating games to take advantage of this trend, while other indies are focusing on what they’ve been doing. Both paths are valid and profitable, but imagine if you didn’t know about the social media trend and you could have made a great MMO to take advantage of it. You miss out on opportunities you didn’t even know existed!
There are other benefits, but the point is that being informed, even if only to be aware of things on a superficial level, is way better for your business than being clueless. That isn’t to say that you need to spend more time reading about the industry than making a contribution to it, but knowing something gives you an advantage over someone who knows nothing, all things being equal.
One way to learn about who is in the industry and what they’re doing is to go to conferences. While conferences abound, they’re focused, usually annual events that happen a few days out of the year. So what do you do between conferences? Read up!
What should you read?
I subscribe to PC Gamer magazine, but aside from a few pages dedicated to indie games, the lion’s share of the coverage is for games with multi-million dollar budgets as well as the marketing budgets to buy ad space. Some people swear by Edge Magazine, Game Informer, and other popular game enthusiast magazines.
That’s great for learning about whatever major retail games are being released, but what about games being made by indies? You have a few options. Some are free, and some cost you money. Now, don’t let a subscription fee stop you from getting access to good information! If you’re running a business, sometimes you need to invest in your education, and it should be tax-deductible, too.
First up, the indie game review site Game Tunnel is a popular and free one. Full disclosure: I used to be a staff reviewer for Game Tunnel. This site has developer news, reviews, editorials, forums, and interviews. Add the news feed to your RSS reader, and you should be good to go.
Next, The Indie Game Mag focuses exclusively on indie games and their developers. While it has some free content, there is also a set of paid subscription options. I took advantage of their Pay-What-You-Want Valentines Day Special (which expires on February 14th) to get a subscription after I was given a free copy of Issue 8 to read. I was impressed with the developer-focused articles, such as the 6 part series called Beginner’s Guide to Indie Game Development by Mike Gnade, and the in-depth review of Gratuitous Space Battles by Positech Games. I printed out my copy, and the images and layout were still well put together in dead tree form. Becoming a subscriber gives you access to back issues and resources that are especially useful for indie game developers and marketers (that means you if you’re running the show!). You can also get access to the magazine anywhere you use a computer.
IndieGames.com is brought to you by the same people behind Gamasutra.com (another good resource, by the way). It focuses on finding the best indie games anywhere they can be found. It isn’t unheard of for 48-hour game dev competition entries to be featured alongside of artistic and commercially-available games.
And of course, The Independent Games Festival is held every year at the Game Developers Conference. If you want to see what indie game developers are making a creative impact in the industry, checking out the entries for the IGF is one way to do so.
What do you read?
So I’ve cited a few big resources that I read to keep up on the industry. What do you read? Do you have any must-haves in your RSS feed that I’m missing? Any books or blogs?