Creating an Indie Game: How long does it really take?

Ever wondered how long it would take to produce your own indie game? And I mean produce as in – coding one from scratch. If you’ve ever thought of giving game development a try, you’ll want to keep reading to see if you’re cut out for it. Tapping onto my past game development experience, I have compiled some tips for you before you start your game development journey.

The Game Development Process & Time Taken to Create an Indie Game

Creating games & aceing it as a solo video game developer

The straight forward answer is, you might spend anywhere between 3-13 years before you get a completed product that is ready for the market.

If you’ve decided that you’re willing to put in that kind of effort and that game development is the path you want to take, read on for my personal tips & strategies to survive and thrive in this space.

1. Don’t forget your basics

Just like how you can’t cook a four course meal without knowing your way around the kitchen, you can’t produce a game without being familiar with code. Don’t worry if you’ve never formally studied programming in school, there are a wealth of resources online( for free!) to help kickstart your journey.

With video tutorials on YouTube as well as online courses from sites like Coursera dedicated to teaching you how to code and construct virtual worlds from scratch, there are plenty of easy and accessible ways for you to learn about game development.

2. Fail to plan, and you plan to fail

It’s important to have a plan when you embark on any project, even more so if it’s one as complicated as game design. Make sure you plan out your game well before you start on it, details that may seem insignificant like the storyline or the kind of characters you have might cause problems in later stages of development if you do have a robust plan from the start.

3. It’s okay to change your plans mid-way

That being said, in real life, things happen and plans change. Be prepared for the unprepared sounds like a platitude but it’s the best piece of advice anyone can give you. Sometimes, inspiration strikes midway in development; you start off making a game with only one playable character and then halfway through you decide to add another three more.

Other times, you may need to rethink your game idea completely based on changing market demand and financial constraints. For example, if zombies are out and werewolves are in, you’d have better luck finding funding by incorporating some lupine elements in your game project.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, you’ll need it

Even as a solo developer, you’re still probably going to need some help in some areas. Such areas include music arrangement and artistic design. Have you considered what kind of music will be playing in the background? Will the protagonist have his own theme song? What kind of clothes will he be wearing, and will he always wear the same outfit?

Even if you have thought about all these questions, perfectly visualised every detail of your character and the music, you might still need some help in the execution. And if you haven’t, now is the time to start thinking about it (or talk to a graphic designer or musician who can help clarify your vision).

There’s only so much you can do as a solo developer, and it may benefit you if you team up or outsource certain aspects of your game development.

5. Know when you should cut your losses

Game development is expensive.

I said it and I’ll say it again. It is expensive. And you need to be prepared to put in a lot of time and money into it. And lose it. And these losses don’t just accrue from business expenditures, sometimes they come from using too many resources for an idea.

For example, if you have problems trying to render your game in 3D vividly, maybe consider using 2D animations first and circle back to that idea for another project. It’s important not to overly invest too much into ventures that don’t yield returns, remember to think about the bigger picture and cut losses before they become too much for you to swallow.

6. Make the best of what you have

Referencing back to the tip above, sometimes things don’t go as planned and we’re unable to achieve the goals quite like we intended to.

If you can’t make a 3D game, complete with realistic pyrokinetics and you don’t have the expertise or equipment to do so, maybe it’s time to consider another idea. It’s better to make a 2D animated game that is of good quality than a 3D VR game that leaves much to be desired.

7. Anything can be your source of inspiration

Ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. Even the most insignificant events or objects can be the start of a great creative rush. Remember that in creating an immersive video game, world-building is quintessential for success. The littlest details count in making your imagined spaces just a little more realistic or fantastical, depending on the game design. Something like steam rising from a hot cup of tea to embers in a fireplace can really make a difference and help your game stand out amidst the thousands of competitors it has on the market.

8. Reality check: You could fail & fail badly while at it

But just like any business enterprise, your venture could fail, and fail badly. Forget losses – you could end up broke or even in debt. There have been cases of failed attempts to make games, businesses that crashed before they’ve launched their product to the public.

I’m not trying to scare you here, but the harsh reality is that there is a significant risk when you decide to be a solo developer. And it’s important to be aware of this before you take the plunge.

9. Don’t give up, even on your darkest days

That being said though, don’t lose hope yet! Even in the bleakest of days there is still hope, a possibility that someone will recognise your genius and you’ll finally have a taste of success. When the going gets tough, remember to grit your teeth and push through and believe that the storm will pass.

Sometimes all that is needed is a little patience, and you’ll reach a breakthrough. So it’s important not to give up halfway.

Types of indie games are easier to develop as a solo games developer

Now that we’ve gone through the basics, as a rookie in indie game development, what kind of genre should you try first?

Well, in general, the easiest games are those that have a simpler architecture. In other words, it’s generally easier to make a logic-based game (think online pool or bowling; basically shooting a ball into a target) in 2D, rather than a 3D fantasy game.

If you’re not into that genre of game, you can then potentially consider a visual novel style game – where the story plays a big part of the game. This is only advised for people who are good storytellers as you want to have an engrossing enough narrative for the player to continue playing.

In general, keep in mind that the smaller the game, the easier. Here are some game genres that you can consider starting off with:

  1. Logic games with simple mechanics
  2. Action games, which can include Physics elements
  3. Simple Match-3 type games
  4. 2D platformer games
  5. Top down shooter type games
  6. Arcade games (such as Pac-man)

On the flip-side, you should avoid these games until you’ve completed at least 7 game projects:

  1. RPG games
  2. Tower Defense games
  3. Quest specific games
  4. Strategy games (Turn-based or real-time)
  5. Fighting games (Beat ’em up)

Why does game creation take such a long time?

But don’t get too excited to start creating your own virtual worlds just yet. Patience is key, especially in game design. As I said from the start, game development can take years before a decent product is made.

If you were approached by a random stranger and he asked you, “Could you lend me a hundred thousand dollars please? It’s my dream to be a game developer and that’s a really expensive venture, I need equipment and office space and I need to pay my staff and foot the bills. But I’m really passionate about it and I have a great idea… I’m going to make a steampunk fantasy, it’ll have guns and look like a futuristic Victorian London ! ”

So, how would you answer this aspiring developer? Unless you’re some rich and charitable person, it’s unlikely that you’d agree to his request.

1. Game creation involves a ton of administrative matters that saps your time

Banks feel similarly, which is part of the reason why it takes so long to produce a game. Ironically, the main reason why Indie game developers need such a long time to produce a game has little to do with actual game development at all. Usually, it has to do with administrative matters like investments and loans, legal issues like copyright and trademark as well as paying your everyday expenses.

Don’t underestimate the importance of these matters as they will literally determine the success of your game. Find the right investors and team to support you and you might just become a star in the world of Indie video games. But the hunt to find that kind of support isn’t easy and this all adds up in making the launch of the completed game a very long wait indeed.

2. Unique styles in Indie games that are unchartered

And other than administrative matters, the game development is far more challenging for novice or fledgling developers due to the nature of the Indie game industry. Many of the styles used in Indie games are unique and do not follow pre-existing formats that are more readily available. Furthermore, it is often harder to find people willing to work for solo developers as they are not as established as major industry players like Unity. Simply put, being a successful Indie game developer is an uphill battle and conquering the obstacles in your path takes (a lot of) time.

3. The actual game development process takes a long time

The source code needs a lot of man hours to write, so too for developing the game mechanics. Other processes include creating the art assets, debugging the code, fixing any broken mechanics, alpha testing, beta testing and recording the voice over work. In short, it takes a long time, because it’s not an easy process, and it simply requires a lot of work.

9 iron-clad strategies on how to make a successful indie game fast

After detailing why it’s going to take a few long years to complete your game development, you’re probably rethinking the viability of your career as an ascendant game developer. Don’t give up just yet though because I’m going to give you some strategies to (hopefully) reduce that long time frame.

1. Utilizing the best software to do most of the heavy lifting

Step one to starting off is to get yourself the best tools at the lowest costs. The kind of software you use will quite literally decide on your rate of progress so you want to make sure you have the best.

Luckily for you there are a ton of free game engines as well as tutorials to help you get started. Some examples of great software that you can use for free include the Unity game engine (a popular game engine amongst indie game developers because it can be used for both 2D and 3D animations) and LMMS, a music creator software to help you with sound effects.

The best part is that there are loads of resources online to help you compare and teach you on how to utilize them. For free! More examples of software that you can consider using include GameMaker Studio 2, Unreal Engine 4, Quest and Construct 2.

2. Go beyond just having technical skills

Remember what I said about the main reason why Indie game developers take so long to release a game doesn’t have much to do with actual game design at all?

As much as game design is important, remember that you’re also running a business and you can’t overlook that fact. Your soft skills will now come into play; time-management, social skills and marketing ability are all really important if you want to expedite the game production process. Always keep in mind that while you are a solo game developer, you still have to work with others.

3. Choose a realistic, indie game project – and not make Dota 2

Next up, is the importance of being pragmatic. A lot of times, when you’re starting out, it may not be feasible to chase your dreams and turn them into a reality. Sure you want to design games like the Legend of Zelda, GrandTheft Auto, or Fortnite.

Maybe your goal is to create the next Final Fantasy series, cultivate a fanbase that rivals Mortal Kombat or make something that surpasses WarCraft. The question is though, can you do it? For most of us. The answer is no. And the worst thing that can happen to an aspiring game developer is to pour all that energy and enthusiasm into this one big project and having it ultimately turn out not as good as planned.

Instead, start with simpler games like try making a simulation of poker or badminton and work your way up from there, it’s a good confidence booster and will show you the importance of the fundamentals. For your Alien vs Predator or Need For Speed kind of aspirations, however, you may want to keep those at the back of your mind.

4. Stay focused on the things that matter

As you start out on your first attempt, remember to stay focused. It’s all too natural to want to leave your mark on the game you made, customising it with some personal touches. But remember, it’s the end product that’s important and at the end of the day, you want a finished game to show your investors.

Instead of stretching yourself too thin, you should focus on completing the game. Each game prototype can always have new features added to it. But in that case, the final release status will never be reached.

You need to define the scope and work towards the end. Only after then you should polish the game as much as you can, paying attention to detail and getting feedback from others when you’re pleased with what you’ve got.

5. Working small

Starting small is extremely important especially if you’re just starting out. You should never bite off more than you can chew. This can mean a game that exceeds your budget or simply can’t be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time if you and your team don’t have the manpower required to create a game of that scale.

Make something that you know can be done with the resources you have. Simplicity is key to success when working with a small indie team. Better to have a completed game that is simple than an unfinished game that is graphically top notch but may never be released due to time or money issues.

6. Play lots of games

This tip is a personal favourite of mine. You’d have to understand what gamers are looking out for when playing a game and what makes them tick. And there’s simply no better way to do this than to play it yourself.

Play with purpose – dissect the games to understand what makes you get hooked on them, and why you’d want to continue playing. Is it the storyline? The graphics? The desire to unlock and collect every character? Your bloodthirsty need to rule the entire kingdom? Whatever it is, take note of what stands out and apply it to your ongoing project.

7. Create something that you’re personally passionate about

Don’t do this because you want to get rich quick – there are much easier ways to achieve this. Don’t create a certain type of gameplay or graphics because you believe it will sell well – trends and interests change all the time.

Instead, create something you’re interested in, because your passion will show through. If you find yourself in a cycle of designing a game that you aren’t personally interested in, it’s probably not going to be top tier quality. The key to being a great Indie game developer is to create a game that you would love playing. If you can’t wait to finish the game so you can start playing, you’re on the right track.

8. Don’t be afraid to critique

It’s easy to be proud of something you’ve put in effort to do, easy to love something that’s a product of your labour. But to critic instead of praise? To find fault instead of whitewash? That’s hard. But it’s necessary as a game developer that you do so.

You have to try to look at your game from different perspectives; as the designer, as an esports player, as a fresh newbie. And if you don’t think you can look at it objectively, try launching it for pilot runs and hear the feedback from the ground. That’s probably the fastest way you can get ideas on how to improve your game.

9. Take breaks

Last but not least, remember it’s not a race and you have to take some breaks in between to refresh you and your team. Taking breaks can actually increase overall productivity and prevent burnout so regular breaks may actually speed up the rate of production.

Successful indie game – Stardew Valley

Finally, we’re going to look at how we can tie these various strategies together through the critically acclaimed Indie Game, Stardew Valley. Stardew Valley is a farming simulation game primarily inspired by the Harvest Moon video game series.

Stardew Valley was created by American indie game designer Eric Barone, under the alias of ConcernedApe and has sold over 10 million copies since 2020.

What made Stardew Valley a successful indie game?

Ok so… I bet you’re all wondering why Stardew Valley is so hyped up. Isn’t it just a farming simulation game? Yes and no, Stardew Valley got so successful because it takes the familiar trope of farming simulation and adds depth to it.

It enriches the world of farming simulation by adding heartfelt plot lines that make the world feel all the more richer and that is its true selling point, that added dimension that makes it more than just a farming simulation.

Unique selling point of Stardew Valley

What makes this game truly special is the complexity of its plot lines. Instead of embracing a linear model, Stardew Valley shows off multifaceted storylines that make gamers want more.

To understand the little world of Stardew Valley better and all its characters, they want to farm more so that they can continue to explore this riveting little place and form relationships with the many characters that inhabit it. And it’s that focus on the social world that sets this game apart, where the numerous characters have their own unique personalities and that really adds onto the hook of the game.

How did a solo indie video game developer singlehandedly bring Stardew Valley to life?

The short answer to this question is through hard work and lots of it. Barone really focused very much on the details of the game, remaking and remodelling when he felt it could be improved upon.

Not only that, he did something he was passionate about and that helped him to keep going. You can see traces of Broane’s values scattered throughout the game from the game’s lack of focus on profit maximisation to the premise of the game being centered on a burnt-out worker from a large corporation. These are both testaments to his disdain for capitalism.

Important lessons that indie game developers can learn from Stardew valley

1. Hard work pays off

Stardew Valley in itself is an accomplishment regardless of who created it. I mean, that kind of storyline and content, it’s amazing. But when you factor in the fact that it was completely done by one person. That really highlights that hard work in the end does pay off.

2. It’s about the journey not the destination

You got to keep in mind that Stardew Valley was originally never meant to be released commercially, it was a pet project, done for fun. But look at the results it yielded. The main point is that sometimes the journey is more rewarding than the destination and sometimes the process can yield unexpected but far more meaningful results.

3. Simplicity is key

At first glance, Stardew Valley seems immensely underwhelming and overhyped, especially when you look at the graphics. But that simple, minimalist design is that which makes it so endearing and sometimes less is more. A simpler design lets players focus more on the game’s storyline itself instead of focusing too much on mechanics and that lets them appreciate the game more.

4. There’s never just 1 way to do things

What Stardew Valley has shown us is this: You don’t need hyper realistic graphics or pander to pop culture to be successful. Sometimes just by being true to yourself, you can score a win.

5. Patience

Last and most importantly is – be patient. Give yourself and your project time, don’t rush or feel like you’re not fast enough, go according to your own pace and who knows, the next Stardew Valley might be your game.

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