Notes on "How to Consistently Make Profitable Indie Games"

From the video “How to Consistently Make Profitable Indie Games”:

“if you don’t know why the hits hit and the others didn’t …. you need to be honest with your chances”

Evaluating games:

  • quantity and quality of the games hooks
  • viability of the market for similar games
  • how one could describe and promote a game
  • hook: some interesting information about a game that compels people to try it or discuss it

case studies on hooks

“ideally you want every facet of your project to be unique and compelling in some way… the gameplay, the art, the audio, the name, the story, the devteam, everything” … “so you need to become adept at evaluating hooks”

  • crypto the necrodancer:
    • has a pun (e.g. RPS wrote it is the “greatest game of all time” on virtue of its punny title alone) i
    • game mechanic “roguelike rhythm” sounds impossible/crazy, so is a hook
    • hooky soundtrack by celebrity composer
    • singing shopkeeper gets people talking (?)
    • pixel art “has personality…people comment on hip-thrusting, dancing skeles”
    • hook at conventions: had a dancepad, which got attention of press
    • catchy trailers
  • darkest dungeon
    • horror dungeon crawler “like dungeon crawling should be”
    • gritty art-style “perfectly suited to steam’s audience”
    • narrator was narrating HP Lovecraft audiobooks
    • soundtrack by celebrity rockstar
    • hooky trailers

Market Analysis:

  • play 15-20 “similar” games
  • including some that sold poorly
  • compare the top factors of each to see what the differences are
  • all about trends: “only by looking at the trends can you understand how your game will do in 1-2 years when it actually launches”
  • check which way is it trending and why
    • if new game x is similar to game y which sold well several years ago but new game x is selling worse than game y was then “perhaps the genre is falling out of favor”
    • if you see this to be the case for all games in this genre you’ve likely identified a change in trend

case study trends

  • 1. some twin stick shooter with lots of reviews, but a slight permuation of a twin stick shooter the binding of isaac that sold very well
  • 2. survival sim games… its strength is “here to stay” since:
    • human evolution dealt with survival and we have base instincts that are not filled from modern life
    • flexiby, can support many aesthetics
    • high retention (high retention on steam is trending with sales)
    • work well with online multiplayer (trending)
    • streamable and yt’able (trending)
    • most of the older games in this genre still sell well
  • … contrast with puzzle adventure games, which is on the opposite side of many of these “subtrends”
    • low replayability
    • low retention
    • not multiplayer
    • unfavored by streamers/yt

Other Notes on Marketing Research:

  • look at size of market, are there enough fans to generate the sales you need to survive e.g. has even the highest grossing game sold enough… analyze only the handful of games most similar to your design
  • consider competition… will you defeat LoL and DotA? better to enter a market with “polyamorous” gamers than “monogomous” gamers

Mashup Genre:

union of people who love both less union of people who hate either minus sign defined as “genre confusion”

Revenue estimates

  • take into account bundles/estimates if owner >> players then pay-what-you-want or giveaway took place

“fads” vs “hole in the zeitgeist”

  • fads die out eventually, highly timing dependent
  • latter depend on “core evolutionary tendencies inheirant in humans”… “we’ve drastically distorted how children function in society vs how they would have in hunter-gatherer society… nowadays we shield our children from everything dangrous and try to get them to learn things they do not see the relevance of, whereas in the past children would have been much more indep and put to use by their tribe e.g. by foraging… minecraft is a great outlet for these urges, they get to hunt and craft and survive, exactly the things modern society prohibits them from doing”
  • think about which fads hit, try to guess why, and remember you are trying to estimate future zeitgeist


  • translate hooks into trailer and game description
  • lacking this, you will count on people spreading the hooks by word of mouth after playing
  • How to test the strength of your game’s hooks:
    • teaser trailer with major hooks
    • go to conventions, have people play the demo, read their body language (e.g. one guy pulled out his wallet and tried to get the dev to take his money)
      • conventions are good for psychological benefits, human allies to e.g. provide psych support
  • Press and reviews may not drive sales but…
    • people need to hear about your game from numerous sources to close the purchasing decision.
    • awards and quotes are useful for granting users an excuse to e.g. watch the entire trailer ->“sets frame”
  • “human angle” is exciting for news
  • mysteries, various things that compel people to play it
  • Trailers as first class citizens - “you need a sweet trailer”
    • start early, during design phase: “if you cannot think of an effective way to express your game’s hooks in a trailer it may not be the right design”
    • keep trailer short: only enough to show hooks: don’t let excitement level drop
    • get to the action: test first five seconds muted (1 or 2 seconds of review accolades)
    • plan trailer around the music: energize so as to drive to sales, mesh with visuals
    • creative trailer: have the trailer have its own hooks
    • hire a pro for the trailer: because of how important it is

Case studies in trailers:

necrodancer (my takes):

  • fastpaced music with hype beat
  • first 3-4 seconds lots of reviews
  • constantly changing 1-2 seconds of cutaway game footage, many ‘hooks’ shown
  • good storyboarding e.g. zooming into staircase to show final boss
  • singing merchant
  • dialogue of female protag towards end teasing story

    some artsy indie

  • melancholic music

  • lots of art

  • “sets the tone”

  • well it got them 650k so someone must like this nostalgic seeming stuff

    gears of war 1 (“best vg trailer ever made”)

  • “familiar faces…mad world” song

  • lots of action contrasted with sad music

Are ideas a dime a dozen? If you match these, guard your idea jealously!

“in the indie space the technological barriers have melted away, we are …. competing creatively”

  • great hooks
  • viable target market
  • designed to be promoteable
  • you yourself are exceted to make it
  • you have the skills/res to make it

Be Honest!

  • is your core concept as compelling as the concepts of papers please or darkest dungeon
  • art/music/feel: as amazing as that of hyperlight drifter?
  • ^ you don’t need to beat them, but if your design is nowhere close you should return to the drawing board
  • “Yes, I actually try to measure the revenue potential of a game before I make the game” smart
    • “just need to come up with so many games that I come across one that ignites my passion while still having solid revenue potential”


Early Access

  • Treat your EA as a normal launch
    • low sales at the intro = low review = low press = low full-launch
    • sales do not necesarily decline: look at nuclear throne (?) and subnautica… updates grow player base
    • if the game “keeps people interested” and a develop method to “keep people coming back to see what’s new” you can certainly “use early access to a great advantage”… meaning EA is best for high retention
  • final launch can be at least as large as discounts
    • don’t listen to every feature request, but…
    • “be mindful of what the community at large is doing with the game
      • e.g. speedrunning in necrodancer
  • Bad for games players will play once and then discard
  • Difficult to change core mechanics (e.g. corpse mechanic in darkest dungeon)
  • Ensure game is very polished and playable for EA

    • publish a slice, but polish it (“vertical slice”)
    • high review scores are key


  • Advantage for people who study data

  • “best selling games now sell just as well as they ever did” - avg indie sales drop is because of low quality games taking the avg down

  • situation with indies is much better now than 10 years ago with no trailers, no steam, people had to buy direct from the website and even then devs still made money


  • art style: make sure to match to game concept… people interested in hardcore difficult games would consider less games with cutesy art

  • naming: “don’t starve” vs “superpowered rocket hyper race cars” or some shit like that

    • easy to remember
    • descriptive
  • think long term:

    • takes time to hone skills
    • takes time to build up rep
    • takes time to build up awareness of self i.e. building celebrity status for self
    • you will need to attract talented teammates which depends on rep, this takes time