Indie Success: Tim Schafer, Fame and Budding Developers

by Leigh Harris Featured 4 Comments 15 Votes 2851 Views 29/06/2012 Back to Articles

Evidenced by Tim Schafer’s inability to really distil how a new developer, just starting out, with no money, no reputation and no clout, ought to go about creating buzz, the divide between budding young idealistic types and stalwarts of a solid industry has never been clearer.

Speaking at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image’s Game Masters exhibition opening, Schafer stumbled around that very question by a local indie for a bit, articulating his own experience building hype. He reminisced about fighting the good fight with his publishers about getting his name personally on the box, something he said helped his reputation immensely during the early days.

"So, your advice is that we should all put our names on boxes?" quipped the budding indie.

It’s a fair question, but it’s true. The caveat ‘without turning into Zynga’ was part of the youngling’s original question, and fair enough too! None of us wants to be evil. My own experience setting up an indie developer has led me directly into conflict with those who understand business and seek to make money because of my own deeply held beliefs about not ‘being evil’ to quote Google in my quest to acquire an audience.

One thing Schafer did say about becoming famous as an indie which rang perfectly true, was that "it takes a lot of time to build a fanbase."

The most sound advice one can give is to assume that you, like 99% of iOS titles, will not be a runaway multi-million dollar success which will make you rich and famous.

Too true, sir Schafer, too true. The wild success stories we hear so much about these days are the exception, not the rule, and it behoves us to understand that while many of us are capable of creating Doodle Jump, Tiny Wings, Angry Birds, Tiny Tower, The Impossible Game or any other of a number of iOS hits, the chances that we’ll strike rich and actually manage one of those fantastical feats is practically zero.

The most sound advice one can give is to assume that you, like 99% of iOS titles, will not be a runaway multi-million dollar success which will make you rich and famous.

So what next? We know we’re not going to re-shape the world with a single app, why be so negative, Leigh? Do you have anything constructive to add?

As it happens, I do. Or rather, Tim does. You see, when a new app gets released and those first handful of people purchase it, it’s of the utmost importance that they stick around. Without that element of retention, the slow growth Tim describes can’t happen. It’s vital that the people, however few, who enjoy your game, feel like they’re a part of the solution (if there are problems to overcome) and want to stick around and help. They need to be engaged with, cultivated and allowed room to be a part of your creative process.

Schafer himself is going down this route with Double Fine Adventure (working title), which was the success story on Kickstarter that got everyone talking, netting well over USD$3 million. But, much like the indies which blow everything well out of proportion and make you think you too can be panning for gold one day and striking the richest seam this side of Deadwood the next, it simply isn’t true.

Get the Adobe Flash Player to see this video.

You’ll need to engage with your audience as soon as possible if you’re making your own iOS title, speaking to your audience as early as possible, and considering that lofty release date to be a starting point for the biggest learning curve of them all, rather than a time you can sip Mai Tais on some Hawaiian beach. It’s at launch that your small community of followers will start to reveal the extent of their loyalty, and you’ll have to fight for each miniscule amount.

That audience will stick around. The only metric which is readily apparent in the iOS market is that indie developers make more money on their second game than their first, their third than their second and so on. Why? The fan base, when looked after, sticks around and can’t wait to see what you do next.

So by all means, hope and pray for a breakout hit, but the best thing a band can do to ensure it ‘makes it’ is to not break up. Now that games no longer rely on their release date for a sense of finality and now that the relationship with fans goes well beyond that point and into the future, indie developers need to start thinking like that too. It takes a long time to build up a fanbase. Assume it’ll go as slowly as Tim knows only too well that it does, and plan for that, not for wild success.

If you are wildly successful, then, well, you’ve got a whole other set of problems to deal with.

By Leigh Harris - Bio

Link to us http://wii.mmgn.com/Articles/Indie-Success-Tim-Schafer-Fame
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Indie Success: Tim Schafer, Fame and Budding Developers Comments

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surprised there's no comments. This was a really interesting read :) . I'd love to give indie app/game developing a go, but i just need to get 'that idea' that i'm motivated enough to try for.

Marge said: surprised there's no comments. This was a really interesting read . I'd love to give indie app/game developing a go, but i just need to get 'that idea' that i'm motivated enough to try for.



Yeah very insightful!

One of the most memorable things Schafer said while he was here was that he didn't realise games were made by normal people.

I totally relate to that. It hasn't really been until now that anyone can at least try their hand at game development, even if it means the market is saturated with apps. At least the barriers of entry have opened it up as a creative medium to more people.

Like even Heller's talking about ideas of a game to make, and Leigh (who wrote this) is currently making one!

A few years ago, neither of those guys would have even been able to think about it.
great read, cheers leigh!
Safran interviews him here!!

mpegmedia.abc.net.au/...

More podcasts: www.abc.net.au/...

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