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Slaying the Dragon: How Indie Game Studios Can Hold Their Own

This is the second post in our series by independent game developers. Our guest blogger this week, Dan Felder, has his own indie studio and consults other game developers in his spare time.


It’s the classic boss battle at the end of the game. The enemy is huge, tremendous, seems nigh-indestructible and as old as time… While you stand there with only your sword. The battle seems impossible to win… But you know that it is not, that no enemy is perfect, and that even this leviathan must have some fatal flaw, some weak point through which to drive your blade.


Welcome, Indie Game Company. Your enemy is Epic Games, EA, Ubisoft, Bioware and many, many more. Your weapon? Your newest, perhaps first, title. But as wondrous as your blade may be, it is useless unless you drive it into the beast’s weak point. Only then may you claim title as the ruler of the realm and live to fight another day.


But how do you find that chink in their armor?


First off, you must answer the question, “Why should someone buy our game, instead of any of the most popular titles in existence – ones with heavy marketing and established brands?” Think about that question a moment – and don’t you dare try to argue “we’ll charge less”. If the main argument for your game is that it costs less money… You’re already setting yourself up to fail. Besides, why would you want to spend months of your life making a product designed to be inferior? You wouldn’t – so throw that out with the trash and let’s get back to slaying this dragon.


So why should someone buy your game instead of Activision’s latest?


Because you offer something that they don’t.


You don’t have much budget, so awesome graphics are probably out. This means you offer some part of the experience that is better or at least different than what the most popular titles in your genre do. Sure, you might be making an RPG – but your RPG is funny as hell. Sure you might be making an RTS, but your RTS is more customizable than anything with ‘craft’ in the title… Or maybe you just offer an entirely new way of melding mechanics to create a unique play experience. Try to get the words “first ever” somewhere in your game description – that will go a long, long way. But, no matter how you do it, you need to answer the question “why should someone buy our game instead of the most popular titles out there?”


If you can’t explain it in one or two sentences, then you’ll never be able to explain it to your customers… And the dragons will eat you alive.


Dan Felder


Naturally, this is a huge topic and this entry has barely scratched the first scale of the beast we all seek to tackle. I’ll be delving into it much further in future articles. In the meantime, what are the reasons your games are worth buying over your competitors? Leave a comment below with the name of your game and the reason it is special.


About Dan Felder: A student at Babson College in Massachusetts, Felder is studying entrepreneurship while building his own indie game studio. He has a passion for storytelling and theater, which is playing out in his studio by giving it a creative vision to advance the conversation about what games can be and how games can touch us, move us, embolden us and strengthen us. He also blogs for Gamasutra, a leading game industry news site.

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