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The Indie Way: Small Teams, Direct Audience Contact

I’ve talked about how easily you can join independent game development, but you may wonder what you should expect if you decide to try it. Whereas modern AAA development requires large teams, ranging anywhere from 50 to 500 employees, indie games are typically developed by individuals or very small groups. A single visually realistic character model in a modern AAA title often goes through the hands of more developers than you’ll find working on the entirety of an average indie game.

On smaller teams, everyone must be able to pitch in where necessary, so any given team member wears many hats. Rather than a focused specialization, the average independent developer needs a broad set of skills for addressing the many challenges and tasks that may be required of them. The independent developer contributes not only to product development, but also to the quality assurance, public relations, and marketing processes in the game’s lifecycle.

These small teams, free from the rigidity of corporate oversight and departmental division, are able to maintain a more personal and personable relationship with their product’s player base and potential audience. Team members have the freedom to interact directly on social media platforms, responding to and conversing with their product’s followers on a regular basis. By dealing directly with people entrenched in the development of a title, followers are more likely to hear the raw, unfiltered reality of a project’s state and its day-to-day trials and tribulations than they would from the traditional PR-trained exec who is divorced from the “guts” of the work.

I cannot overstate the value of social media as an incredible conduit through which to market your title, build connections with other developers, and communicate with your players.

While this intimate relationship can foster a close-knit community, it also brings the peril of misspeaking in a fashion that damages not only your own reputation, but the standing of your game and/or team. Reputations have been destroyed in this way, and it will likely happen again, so it’s important to choose your words carefully in any public-speaking forum. When marketing a title, remember: You are the sum of your public perception.

Please note that I’m speaking now from the perspective of pursuing indie game development as a serious career. Some of these suggestions are less applicable to the hobbyist, but the information is still valuable in case you ever decide to make the leap over to the career path.

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