Game Development Geek / Technical Linux Game Development Marketing/Business

Gearing Up for Release: Platform-specific Issues

I started a three-month project at the beginning of the year, and I’m now in the eighth month. I reported on the reasons why it was taking so long last month.

But I’m feeling pretty good about it, and while I still have some balance issues to work out, and it’s a bit ugly, I’m preparing for the actual release.

The thing is, I haven’t really done a serious release before, and since I want to do a simultaneous cross-platform release, I’m finding issues unique to each platform.

The platforms I currently support:

  • GNU/Linux
  • Android
  • Windows

What I want to support:

  • Mac OS X
  • iOS

I’ll start with Apple platforms, then talk about the environment I use natively. Other platforms will be discussed in the next post later this week.

Mac/iOS: no development or testing environments

I would love to create a Mac port. I know it is theoretically possible to create a cross-compiler to generate a Mac version, but it seems I need Mac-specific libraries, which requires owning a Mac.

I don’t own a Mac, and while I know of virtual Mac services you can subscribe to online, I haven’t bothered to look too seriously into them. I would also like to be able to test the game, and so I would need to use a Mac in order to see how it really runs, especially after running into the Windows-specific issues above.

As for iPhone or iPad, I’m in a similar position. I don’t own an iOS-based device. As I’m using libSDL2, I know it is possible to port to it, even without a Mac, but I would need to look into how to do so, and I would still need to invest in the devices to test on.

I am saving up for these things, but at the moment I don’t have them and I don’t want to spend time on them until I know what I’m doing.

And in the past it’s been difficult to hear back from people willing to be paid for porting a game for me, and volunteers have had difficulty figuring out how to put my project together on their system. I might look into it again, because that was years ago, and it’s a different world today.

GNU/Linux: distributing dependencies and architecture compatibilities

I develop and test the game on my Ubuntu GNU/Linux system, and the main thing to worry about there is that I can distribute the game and have it work out of the box on other distributions.

My game uses libSDL2 and related libraries. While I installed them on my system using my package manager, I can’t assume that my customers will have them installed as well.

Basically, I need to build custom dependencies, as per Troy Hepfner’s excellent article series on Linux Game Development, and then distribute them with my game.

Quite frankly, rather than worry about an installer to put everything in the correct locations on someone’s system, I think providing a basic tarball might be fine. Rather than provide .deb or .rpm or customer shell installers for each type of system, and then worrying about following the correct Linux Filesystem Hierarchy Standard, you allow the player to put the game in the directory of their choosing, extract it, and play.

But then I need to worry about how the tell the system to load the libraries. Running an application on Windows, the system generally looks in the local directory for libraries to depend upon. Unfortunately, Linux-based systems don’t do so, and while there is a way to point it towards your libraries using the LD_LIBRARY_PATH environment variable, I also know that it is frowned upon to do so due to the security and compatibility issues it can introduce.

On the other hand, many popular commercial games on my system do just that. For instance, looking at the directory for Don’t Starve, I see:

$ cat bin/
export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=./lib64

The fact that it is in this shell script wrapper is better than the original concern of changing the default environment variable in a more or less permanent way, which can cause version conflicts and such. It’s your program. You know what it needs, and any other applications that run will not be affected.

Still, supposedly the better way is to tell your binary at build time where to look, which isn’t very difficult. It requires -rpath=\$ORIGIN/[directory where you put your libs]. $ORIGIN expands into the directory that your binary is located.

So if the extracted tarball would have the following structure:
– foo-bin
– libs

Then I would build foo-bin with -rpath=$ORIGIN/libs.

Of course, now foo-bin MUST be in the same directory as libs, but in practice, it’s fine. When was the last time you moved parts of a game’s files to different relative locations and expected it to continue to work?

I’m sure there’s issues with this approach as well, but with these two approaches, there’s plenty of precedent.

The only unknown I have is dealing with 32-bit vs 64-bit systems. Ubuntu has multiarch support, but I’ve seen comments on forums about people not being able to run an application due to architecture issues.

Don’t Starve distributes separate 64-bit and 32-bit builds. FTL, on the other hand, distributed both the 64-bit and 32-bit binaries and libraries together, and using a shell script, it determined which platform you were on at runtime to point LD_LIBRARY_PATH to the appropriate directory.

And other games distribute all desktop platforms together in one file, so if you bought the game, you bought it for Windows and Linux and Mac, whichever one you wish to play on. I like this option, especially since I hate the idea that I have to pay for a game twice in order to play on two different platforms.

I know some companies make their living by porting games and then selling them directly, but it’s not a business model I prefer.

Next time

In the next post, I will talk about issues specific to Android and Windows.

Marketing/Business Personal Development

Shoveling Someone Else’s Manure

In 2009, when I was running my own indie game development business full-time, I thought I would invest in my own education and paid for the premium subscription content of a popular Internet business and marketing podcast.

I thought that I would get through the material quickly as I had the freedom to dedicate all of my time to it. Then I could cancel it after one month of payments. Maybe two.

I ended up sticking around for much longer, and I can’t say it wasn’t useful, but the entire time I felt frustrated by the format. I can’t quickly peruse audio and video, and that was what most of the content consisted of. And as for the content itself, I felt like I had to get through lots of “witty” banter between the hosts to get to the gold nuggets, if there were any.

But I can’t complain too much about the content. I was clearly not their target customer. It was meant for people who might have no experience with software or computers, so it might work for other people just fine.

There were forums populated with such apparently satisfied customers who wanted to learn what it takes to run a successful business, and some made some good success based on applying what they learned.

Except it seemed like almost each and every one of them was making their success by taking what they learned from the premium subscription and repackaging and selling it to others in their respective niches.

One person was doing OK with selling on eBay before she took up the lessons, and by the end of it, she was making a good living selling an info product on how to run a successful Internet business with basically all of the same lessons from this premium subscription. You know, but geared towards eBay.

And she was just one example. It seemed like no one wanted to apply the lessons to run their own existing business more effectively. Instead, they seemed to have stopped doing whatever they were struggling with before and started their new business as Internet marketing experts based on what they learned from a premium subscription information product about being an Internet marketing expert.

To be fair, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. To the right audience, these people WERE experts. They now knew something that most other people didn’t. I’m not a C++ expert when compared to the people who speak at CppCon, but I am expert enough when it comes to where I am employed, and especially when it comes to my family who are “not computer people” at all.

But the thing that bothered me about the other subscribers to the premium subscription was that their expertise wasn’t really theirs. They learned some tricks and techniques from somewhere else, but they didn’t apply it to their own businesses. So what do they really know?

At least I spend a significant amount of time actually using my expertise, so when someone asks me something about C++, I have some real authority and experience to back it up. They basically turned around and shoveled their new marketing know-how to the ignorant people who were willing to pay them for the information. “If you want to be successful, uh, here’s what these other guys told me.”

And boom. Now not only are they experts, but they’re commercially successful experts with a paying audience, which only grows their authority.

The personal development field sometimes has a bad reputation in this regard. Some people are great successes who might be trying to share some insight into how they became great successes.

But other so-called successful people really only seemed to have become a success when they started writing books and giving speeches telling other people how to be successful.

I subscribe to Sunday Dispatches by Paul Jarvis, and in this past Sunday’s newsletter he talked about the “advice gold rush”. Apparently seven years later the problem I described above has only gotten worse, and in many industries. Jarvis linked to a colorfully-titled article complaining about it called The Creative World’s Bullshit Industrial Complex:

Being industry famous should be the result of some contribution to the world that the industry respects and wishes to learn from. Or insights unique and useful that it genuinely makes people’s lives better.

Increasingly “creative coaches” and people with “keynote speaker” in their Twitter bios are making their quest to earn authority a higher priority than the very reason they got into this in the first place. Fueling the Complex is alluring catnip that feels like you’re advancing your career the same way answering a bunch of emails just feels productive.

I’m not innocent. I know I’ve done my share of contributing to the Complex on this blog, especially early on. I shared advice as if I had some experience actually applying that advice in my own work, and in reality I was just shoveling someone else’ manure.

But my most satisfying and gratifying work is when I wrote about my own hard-won experiences. When I write about my own failures no matter how huge or my own successes no matter how minor, they’re mine to share. I can say I know what I’m talking about and have some small chance that I’m right.

When I have those experiences, often that’s when I truly understand what someone else was saying all along. That’s when I can make the associations between someone’s advice and my reality.


My Blog Post on Running an Indie Business en Espanol

Javier Fernández recently reached out to me about translating my post Indie Developers Have Always Needed to Treat Their Businesses Like Businesses into Spanish.

And so now over at Zehn Games you can read Los indies siempre han tenido que tratar su negocio como lo que es: un negocio, and it’s available to a wider audience.

I don’t speak Spanish, but I liked that he even translated the whiteboard image. B-)

I’m going to go drink my jugo de naranja now.


We Should Pay Attention to Indie Game Development Failures

GDC 2016 is over, and it featured talks by successful game developers sharing what they know.

It’s always tempting to find out what successful people do. The hope is that we can glean some insight into what WE specifically can do to be successful as well.

But what if we’re wrong? What if what they think they did to be successful and what we think they did to be successful is exactly what everyone else who failed did as well?

How would you know?

Most failures aren’t around anymore to share their story.

And so we risk having survivorship bias. We ignore the information we can’t see in favor of the information we can see, and then we make conclusions based on that part of the puzzle.

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Michael Dell all dropped out of college and built huge, world-impacting businesses. So does that mean you should drop out of college and start a business?

Before you make that decision, you should probably ask all the college dropouts who didn’t create huge businesses despite trying. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find them, and you’re unlikely to see read a book or even a blog post about their experiences.

Or if you talk to a financial guru who says, “Look at these stock picks I have! If you look at them, they’ve beaten the market by 12% for the last five years!” What this guru isn’t saying is, “And during those five years, I’ve been removing the poorly-performing picks I’ve also made, which would skew the results negatively if you saw them.”

Or when people talk about music today being terrible compared to music of the past. If you turn on the Oldies station, you’ll hear great music from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and now the 80s and 90s (oh, geez, I’m old), but you won’t hear all of the terrible stuff that was put out during that same period of time.

Why? Because it was terrible, so only the best music survives for the future to love.

The book Good to Great by Jim Collins aimed to find out what were the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to become consistently successful over a 15 year period.

Since the book was published in 2001, many of the companies highlighted got into trouble. Maybe they were great once, but clearly the “universal distinguishing characteristics” weren’t so universal.

So what happened here?

Statistics, basically.

I Need Coins

I’m currently watching some videos on Machine Learning offered by Cal Tech professor Yaser Abu-Mostafa, and in one of the early lectures he mentions something fascinating.

Let’s say you flip a coin 10 times in a row. What are the odds you’ll get heads each time?

That’s easy math to calculate: 1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2 = 1/1024

So, somewhat unlikely. Roughly 0.1% of the time, you’ll get all heads.

But if you flipped 1,000 coins 10 times each, what are the odds that at least one of the coins will produce heads for all 10 flips?

The answer: roughly 62% of the time.

Wow, those are actually pretty decent odds!

But it doesn’t say much about that one coin, does it? There are no insights into the coin’s design you can make. There is nothing about the way it was minted that is unique. All of the coins had a chance of flipping all heads, and this one just happened to be the one to do it.

And yet a lot of business success books are written this way. They look at successful businesses in hindsight, and then the authors try to identify the qualities of those lucky coins that resulted in them being so great, and they often ignore the rest which might be built and run similarly.

That isn’t to say that I think business success is a 50/50 flip of a coin. And to be clear, I think it does help to identify strong successes and see what we can learn from them.

But if we ignore the failures, then we don’t know if what we see successful companies doing is really so different and insightful.

From You Are Not So Smart:

Also, keep in mind that those who fail rarely get paid for advice on how not to fail, which is too bad because despite how it may seem, success boils down to serially avoiding catastrophic failure while routinely absorbing manageable damage.

I gave a talk at Startup City Des Moines in 2014 about lessons learned having failed with running my own indie game development business full-time. I was surprised when one of my friends who worked there kept thanking me. She said that it’s very rare for anyone who has failed to share their experience, which is too bad because it would be so helpful if more did.

So if you failed, don’t shy away or be embarrassed about it. Let us know about it. Tell us what you learned.

Provide more data so that survivorship bias isn’t as easy for us to succumb to.

Game Design Game Development Marketing/Business

Should You Work with a Publisher or Self-Publish? #NotGDC

Adam Saltsman is the creator of Canabalt and founder of Finji, which is behind the Overland screenshots you may have seen him post on Twitter.

He’ll be giving a talk today at GDC called “Deciding What to Make: A Greenlight Process for Commercial Indies”.

People who attend will learn how to improve their ability to decide what game to make.

If you think success in indie game development is purely random, that game development is like throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping something sticks, it sounds like this talk will share some ideas to be more deliberate about it.

For those of us at #NotGDC and unable to attend, we’ll have to wait until his talk is in the GDC Vault and/or for him to upload the slides somewhere later.

But for now, you can read his blog post Publishers and You, a stream-of-conscious indie game development business lesson you can get without shelling out the money for a plane ticket or hotel room or conference pass.

Saltsman’s article gave some good advice about generally working with others, publisher or not:

So: what are your needs, and how can you address them? What parts do you want to work on? What parts DON’T you want to work on? If you can figure this stuff out, you will be in much, much better shape when you start talking to anyone anywhere about helping you ship.

If you don’t want to “do marketing”, that’s fine, but someone better do it because it’s key. And if you follow Seth Godin, you know that your game IS part of the marketing, so whoever does the marketing better be working with you from the start.

I want to focus on the part where he talks about the importance of marketing for self-publishing indies:

I’ve seen other devs call this the “non-game-dev” part of a project, and that’s sort of true but sort of misleading too, and on commercial projects i think it’s counter-productive. If you’re making a commercial game, helping the game find its audience is a part of making it. Sorry.

I’ve written before that indie developers have always needed to treat their businesses like businesses, partly in response to how many people think that running a game development business is just making games and hoping people buy what you made after the fact.

If that’s your business strategy, then yeah, your success in the industry is effectively random, and your goal is to put out as many games as possible before you run out of money.

It’s kind of like a less deliberate version of what Dan Cook wrote about in his article Minimum Sustainable Success.

When Cook wrote about a basic budget an indie might create, he said:

These numbers should look scary. They suggest that the vast majority of indie developers are ripe for financial ruin and are operating primarily on hope instead of any rational financial strategy. I think that’s accurate.


But he also concludes “The big lesson is that your exposure to luck is something you can manage.” I would highly recommend reading his article for more details, but one thing he mentions is reducing the risk of any on game release with relatively cheap prototypes to nail the game design down before spending a lot of money on development.

Some people specialize in helping you identify what the market wants. You could become one of those people, or you could pay someone to do it for you, and it’s up to you as a developer to determine which is appropriate for your business. Saltsman argues that to make that determination, look at the needs of your project and not to blanket best practices or a vague sense that you need marketing.


A Press Release Template for Indie Game Developers #NotGDC

Since so many of us are instead attending the cheaper and easier to get to #NotGDC, I thought we should make a point of sharing our own advice with each other.

Write a blog post or create a video to share a quick tip. Tell us about a cool resource you found. Whatever you do, share it by using the #NotGDC hashtag.

While many indies know that marketing is important, they may feel uncomfortable with it, don’t understand how to go about doing it, or feel that with their small budgets that marketing isn’t an option. So, what can they do?

Emmy Jonassen, the Indie Game Girl, created her site as a resource to help indie game developers “find the adoring fanbases your winning game deserves.”

She provides budget-friendly tips and tricks for indies using over a decade of experience in marketing, and recently tweeted about her press release template for indies:

If you’ve never written a press release before, finding a press release template is a great place to start. Just like schematics instruct engineers, a good press release template will instruct you to execute a solid press release.

It lists 8 major elements, including the headline, game description, and contact info.

She provides a number of other resources, such as the perfect landing page for the indie developer and her presentation at Konsoll 2013 on Marketing Indie Games on a $0 Budget.

Game Development Marketing/Business

Building an Enduring Game Development Business #NotGDC

Since so many of us are instead attending the cheaper and easier to get to #NotGDC, I thought we should make a point of sharing our own advice with each other.

Write a blog post or create a video to share a quick tip. Tell us about a cool resource you found. Whatever you do, share it by using the #NotGDC hashtag.

Ernest Adams, author and game design consultant, recently shared an answer he gave to the question “What does it take to build an attractive business in the video gaming space that endures for many years?” on Quora.

Vision, flexibility, and ruthlessness.

Go read his full answer at the link above, in which he talks about what he saw happening at EA before it became the 800-pound gorilla of the game industry.

He contrasts EA with Zynga. When I attended GDC in 2011, I remember noticing all of the billboards advertising games, which isn’t something I was used to seeing in the Midwest. I remember seeing ads for Zynga and its games, and I imagined the amount of money it would take to do so. Zynga had an IPO that summer, and it was huge.

Soon, however, it fell hard. Zynga’s been cutting its workforce and lowering expectations, and last month it announced it was selling its very expensive headquarters in San Francisco.

Adams argues that Zynga was unable or unwilling to adapt to the market.

There is quite a bit written about what Zynga did wrong, but it didn’t really have much to fall back on when people started using Facebook on their phones more than their desktop environments.

Which is interesting because one of Zynga’s supposed reasons for success was that it applied “ghetto testing” to get market data that informed decisions about everything from what game mechanics to add to what virtual items to sell.

It rode one huge wave to success, and now it’s floundering.

EA, on the other hand, has many failures, but only because it sees many potential waves and tries to make sure it is in a position to ride them. If one wave crashes, it abandons it, and it can afford to because of all of the other waves it is successfully riding.

That adaptability is amazing when you think about how fast the industry changes and how many years it takes EA to publish a single game.

Now, as an indie game developer, EA might seem to be the exact opposite of what you want to model, but you don’t have to follow its business strategy. You might, however, learn a thing or two about making your indie game development business sustainable by learning from one of the largest successes in the industry.

Game Development Marketing/Business

Are You Also at #NotGDC? Let’s Share Some Advice!

I knew this week was going to be both fun and frustrating because so many people on Twitter will be posting about the 30th annual Game Developers Conference, but I didn’t realize how many people would be posting about it the weekend prior.

Kyle Pulver wins with the best tweet so far:

GDC is exciting, but for many, it’s also pretty expensive to attend regularly if at all. I attended once in 2011 and since then haven’t made my way back yet.

But since so many of us are instead attending the cheaper and easier to get to #NotGDC, I thought we should make a point of sharing our own advice with each other.

Let’s talk game development. What would you tell your younger self about the realities of indie games if you could? How do you create that special effect you showed off recently? Where do you find your motivation? Where do you stand on the subject of curly braces in your code or screen shake in your visuals?

Go ahead and write a blog post, create a video, or host a podcast. It doesn’t have to be long, or perfect, or anything other than you sharing the nuggets of wisdom you’ve earned the hard way. Alternatively, if you found a cool link to someone else sharing the behind-the-scenes of their efforts, feel free to tell us about it, too.

Whatever you decide to do, share it by using the #NotGDC hashtag.

I’m looking forward to seeing you at our not-a-conference.

Marketing/Business Personal Development

Rami Ismail: You Don’t Stand a Chance in Indie Game Development

If you’re a new indie game developer hoping to make a living in the current market, you’re doomed. Supposedly.

At Control Conference 2015, Rami Ismail of Vlambeer, creators of Super Crate Box and Nuclear Throne, spoke about how unlikely a new indie game studio will survive its first game’s release.

He compared the ease of indie game development to the ease of photography. At some point in its history, photography became available to the masses, and professional photographers had to compete with amateur photographers who could point and shoot with results that were often good enough. It shook up the market for photographers. I’m sure somewhere there is an archive of articles about the photopaclypse.

Some of his arguments sounded familiar, and it is because they are. He makes the same argument that Jeff Tunnell made 10 years ago in his blog post Five Foundational Steps to Surviving as an Indie Game Developer, the biggest one being “Don’t quit your day job.”

Ismail highlighted specific aspects of running an indie game development business that most new indies haven’t thought about or don’t know very well.

Whether it’s underestimating how much funding is needed, overestimating the number of people needed to work on a game, or not giving enough attention to your sales plan (or your personal health for that matter), you are ill prepared to do at all well in the market.

Quite frankly, the arguments he made, as insightful as they are, are depressing to hear.

But then he reminded you that this isn’t about making a living from your first game. It’s about surviving to make that next game. And the next.

It’s about building upon your successes and your failures. It’s about learning all of those things he said you don’t know so that you go from having no chance to having some chance.

A bit of insight into that kind of hard-earned learning comes early in another talk from Control Conference 2015. Vogelsap’s Jeroen Van Hasselt gave a presentation on why the highly-anticipated The Flock failed in the market:

You can catch something interesting at 1:34 seconds in.

During his introduction, we hear: “Vogelsap is a studio that specializes in making thrilling 3-D experiences that we present in an event and adventurous-like manner.”

Part of the presentation talks about how the student-run studio grew up, and I recognized that statement above as a mission statement.

Most new businesses don’t give enough attention to vision, mission, and purpose, and in fact Ismail says “vision” is just a word that doesn’t mean anything, but it’s clear that the people at Vogelsap at some point learned about them in the course of their own thrilling adventure while creating and releasing The Flock.

Worrying about vision, mission, and purpose isn’t bureaucratic corporate mumbo-jumbo. It’s not a pointless exercise to pretend you’re running a real grown-up business.

Vogelsap is not just making games. They have a focus, which most indies don’t have. When you hear about a new game with their name attached to it, you are going to have some idea of what to expect, and it won’t be a casual match-3.

What’s great is when indies share their learning and hard-earned lessons with the rest of us. Sometimes we pick up the lesson easily because it is intuitive. Other times, we might not grok them until we go through the experience for ourselves and come out the other side with a realization that this was exactly what they warned you about.

Your goal is to grow your indie game development knowledge, which is why it’s important to, as Ismail suggested, prepare for failure while aiming for success. Experience is infinitely more valuable as a teacher.

But keep your day job in the meantime.

Or don’t. I didn’t, ran out of money after a couple of years, and eventually got a day job again. I was stressed more than I have ever been stressed before, but I learned much more rapidly.

You’re an indie. You get to decide your path.


Indie Developers Have Always Needed to Treat Their Businesses Like Businesses

Dan Griliopoulos wrote Saddling Up The Horsemen: Is the market getting tougher for indie developers? at, in which he argues once again that the so-called indiepocalypse isn’t new.

So is the market getting tougher? It’s easier than ever to get your games onto platforms; it’s easier than ever to make them; it’s probably easier than ever to finance them. But these all mean that the market is saturated, so it’s harder than ever to get anyone to pay attention to them – and there’s no simple, effective route to that.

He interviews a few people to get their perspective, but I have been hearing this story for many years.

Ever since I was part of the Dexterity forums, which are now the Indie Gamer forums, conversations have gone like this every few years:

“Man, things were so much easier in the past.”
“What are you talking about? Today’s indies have it so much better, what with all the tools and resources we never had back then.”
“Yeah, but it was easier to stand out and make money back then.”
“But there wasn’t that big of an audience then either.”

All last year, similar articles have come out basically saying there is a confluence of market conditions making the industry a more difficult place to succeed for most individuals, that it has always been this way, and we don’t even have enough data to talk about it very intelligently.

Bottom line: it’s easier than ever to make games, but obscurity has always been deadly to the indie game developer.

Some argue that getting attention and financial success as an indie game developer is primarily a matter of luck.

While I won’t discount luck being a factor, it’s not something you can plan for.

Since I can’t plan for it, what can I, as an indie game developer, do instead?

I can learn how to run my business like a business.

Because it is one.

I think the phenomenon of people worrying about how much easier it was to get attention in the past stems from the ability of so many to focus on just product development and having the marketing and sales taken care of for them.

Apple is producing a new type of platform that takes off, and it needs games? An indie game developer back then might think, “Wow, getting my game noticed is easy! My marketing plan can literally be a single line written on a napkin: ‘Release my game on iOS.’ There is nothing else I would have needed to do back then except focus on making a good game, which is what I really want to focus on anyway.”

In all of these indie game development platform waves, there was a rising demand in the market, and almost all you had to do was show up to take advantage of it. There were other parties such as Big Fish or Apple or Microsoft or Google who had a keen interest in seeing your success, so they did a lot of the leg work with promotions and awards. It’s like being the only water salesperson at a desert oasis. The money flows to the indies who exist in that space.

What happens when the market is saturated, and those parties don’t need to worry about promoting any one individual game so much? Suddenly, the lack of a marketing plan for an indie game developer is a huge gap in their business plan. Now you’re selling ice to Eskimos.

And many, many indie game developers aren’t aware of it. After all, they just want to make games. All of this business stuff? Ick.

This business anathema isn’t unique to game developers. Michael Gerber wrote The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do about It back in 1995, which was a follow-up to his 1986 book The E-Myth.

I got the audiobook in 2012, and I wish I had gotten it many years earlier. I didn’t because I thought the E stood for Electronic and was basically going to be about how Internet businesses are not any different from regular businesses.

Instead, the E stands for Entrepreneur, and the book is an eye-opener for anyone who is starting out.

Most small businesses are started not by business-savvy individuals but by technicians who think “I know how to make widgets. I’ll be my own boss!” These technicians work IN their own businesses, not realizing that what is needed is for someone to work ON the business itself, and for someone to manage the processes to get the results desired.

Indie Game Developer Business Plan

Running an indie game development business requires more than developing games. It’s a key part, sure, but a good business seeks out the opportunities that it can take advantage of. It finds ways to get attention, whether it was through ads, press contacts, YouTubers, or whatever the next thing is. It makes decisions about what game to make based on more than mere whim. It makes intelligent risks based on incomplete data, but it doesn’t ignore the data and guess. It defines success beyond vague statements like “making more money than I spent.”

So maybe it only looks like the successful indie game developers got their success through luck because so many of them don’t do have much more of a marketing plan beyond releasing on Steam or iOS. They don’t have much of a sales plan beyond, “I hope a lot of people buy my game. Like, a lot a lot.”

Again, luck can play a role for some. Flappy Bird was a game that happened to get picked up on network television one day long after it was released. Minecraft became a huge hit when Notch had a day job, and he never expected it to become the flagship title of an actual business.

But there’s a difference between hobbyists who have success find them and indie game developers running a business seeking success.

Maybe the problem isn’t that the market is crowded.

Maybe the problem is that many aspiring indies suddenly find that they have to do the hard work of running a business, work that looked like it took care of itself in the past.

NOTE: This article is also translated into Spanish by Javier Fernández Romero over at Zehn Games: Los indies siempre han tenido que tratar su negocio como lo que es: un negocio