4 common mistakes indie devs make and how to avoid them

by Michelle Ao on Nov 20, 2018

The passion of indie developers is undeniable, and you can witness their dedication to bringing their concepts to life. But when indie devs decide to turn their hobby into a career, things become complex quickly, and there are many more factors to consider than just making a great game.

If an indie game is designed well, its content can lead to effective monetization and a bright future for indie studios. But there are some common mistakes that indie developers make when starting their businesses. Here are four of some of the most common mistakes indie devs make and how to avoid them.

Dreaming too big

As an indie, it’s easy to get caught up in thoughts of creating a complex and vast game, but is that achievable with the available resources at your disposal? When indies sit down and start making games, they often find that it’s hard to bring these these ideas to life because they simply don’t have the resources.

So in the early stages of ideation for your indie game, ask yourself what’s feasible for you. Simpler is usually better when it comes to making your first game or two. It’s ok to dream big, but remember that your ideas must be viable. You want to avoid getting attached to an idea, only to find that it’s unrealistic after spending countless hours on a game.

Flappy Bird showed the world hyper-casual’s potential.

Keeping your games simple doesn’t mean lowering the quality of your games. Take the use of minimalism in hyper-casual games as an example. These games adopt simple mechanisms that make them approachable, but don’t let the simple art and game mechanics fool you; these games can be complex, challenging, and rewarding for players. As a result, we’re now seeing a boom in hyper-casual games among indie game developers.

Not researching your competition

Another mistake indie game developers commonly make is having a laser-focus on their own games and not paying attention what’s happening in the broader mobile games market. One of the easiest ways to get a leg up on the competition is simply understanding what works for them. Study their game mechanics, but also how they market their games. How is your competition optimizing for the App Store and Google Play? What type of ads are they producing, and why do they work? What can you do better? Resources like App Annie and Sensor Tower can help indie developers gain deeper market insights.

AppLovin ASO mobile blog image

Browse through the games in the same category as yours. Analyze different themes and trends, and note which games show up repeatedly with different search terms. Then download and play them to get a better understanding of why they’re popular within a specific genre, but also look for what could be improved. This includes analyzing UI elements, game loops, ad types, ad frequency, how they integrate in-app purchases, etc.

It’s also important to analyze why players are attracted to the game. Take the success of Flappy Bird for example. What are the game mechanics and elements that set it apart and contribute to its success? On the surface, Flappy Bird’s simple game play and quick sessions make it addictive. Digging a little deeper, researchers found that touch latency made Flappy Bird that much more challenging for players, who had to overcome the game’s controls.

Ignoring or not seeking feedback

It’s easy to get hyper-focused on the details of your game, but having an objective eye is necessary for success. Get feedback from fellow developers—go to industry events like GDC to network and get different perspectives on your game or to scope out industry trends. You can also tap into gaming communities like Reddit, KTplay, Facebook, and various gaming-related forums. Leveraging opinions from these communities will help you find problems and solutions that you may not have thought of.

Gaming communities are also a good way to get your most passionate fans to help test pre-release builds. These fans will be your biggest advocates, so it’s wise to listen to what they have to say. Fluffy Fairy Games found that communicating with their fans proactively helped build a sense of ownership over their game. “Users really feel like the game is theirs and that we’re building it for them,” says Fluffy Fairy Games’ Director of Business Development, Nate Barker.

Not investing in marketing

Many indie developers have devoted themselves to the production of games, but often neglect to devise a marketing strategy from the get-go. Many indie developers often attribute the lack of capital, resources, and expertise as reasons for not having a marketing strategy until after launching their game. While your game may be innovative and fun, it won’t matter if people don’t discover it.

The fact of the matter is that marketing is an extremely important aspect of getting your game noticed and into the hands of players—and you don’t need a multi-million dollar ad budget to accomplish that. Here are some free and low-cost methods of marketing your indie game:

1) Social media:

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch are all free and are good ways to build your community organically. You can communicate with users by posting interesting behind-the-scenes content, like a development diary. By creating genuinely interesting content, you’ll also bolser your game and brand via search engine optimization (SEO).

2)App store optimization:

An often overlooked aspect of marketing your game is app store optimization, or ASO for short. There are more than 2 million apps in the App Store and nearly 3 million in Google Play. If your game listing isn’t optimized for search, it’ll get lost among your competitors.

Think of ASO as SEO for the App Store and Google Play, as many of the same tactics can be used. For ASO, you’ll want to ensure your game’s icon, images, screenshots, and video are instantly captivating. For video, show the core gameplay to let potential players know exactly why they should download your game. All text, including your game’s description and title, should feature keywords that you want to target, just like with SEO.

ASO rewards A/B testing, so make sure you continually iterate on your game’s listing. A small lift of a few percentage points across millions of downloads can have a noticeable impact on your business.

3) Game communities

As mentioned above, indie developers should build communities from the start of development, even if you don’t have a complete game to show. This lets you test ideas with an objective crowd who is willing to take time out of their day to provide you feedback.

Communities allow you to exchange ideas, share project updates, and promote your game organically. Fans who stick around your community will be your most hardcore fans who will help you spread the word about your game. Social networks, like those mentioned above, offer a free way to build your presence and community.

4) Make creative creatives

As your game and business grow, you’ll have enough revenue to begin investing in user acquisition (UA). One of the most important things about UA is fairly obvious but can be difficult to pull off: having unique and high-quality creatives. As consumers have gotten used to advertising over the years, the expectation for quality has increased. A low-resolution ad or one that copies competitors too closely will get lost in the noise.

Video is by far the most popular ad format on mobile today because of its effectiveness at increasing engagement, especially with rewarded video. Video allows you to clearly communicate the most enticing part of your game in a short amount of time. Playable ads are also extremely effective, as they can provide demos for your game, allowing players to get a feel for it before they download.

One way indie devs can craft better creatives is to follow the data. A/B testing, like with ASO, plays an extremely important role in marketing your game. Experiment with different ad variants to test things like colors, gameplay footage, subtle animation changes, and more. Constantly building, testing, and iterating will help make your ads perform better and make your UA strategy more cost-effective.   

As an indie developer, you will inevitably encounter a variety of new challenges. But remember to be patient and avoid the common mistakes we’ve listed in this article. Whenever you face a new problem, just accept it as a new challenge and embrace your failures.

Michelle Ao is Marketing Director for AppLovin China.