One of my major goals in game development is to learn as much as I can about other peoples’ experiences making games. This is partly to learn what works, but far more importantly to learn what doesn’t work and why. I read a lot of postmortems, I read a lot of game design theory books, and, possibly most importantly, I watch a lot of lectures.
Here are some wise words from Tom Francis on the making of Gunpoint:
(The game footage in the beginning is a little loud, but the rest of the talk is fine.)
One of the things that he says, that I consider very important, is that you need to keep in mind what features of the game have the most value for the player, and put the most effort into the features that have the most value.
In marketing terms, successful Indie games are designed to imply a maximum value proposition just by showing off the game itself.
Indie games in general succeed by offering things that big budget games do not offer at all. The smaller the budget, the more flexible the design can be, and vice versa. This results in many more kinds of Indie games than big budget games, which means that each developer is free to develop their kind of game according to the needs of their audience. Instead of needing to fight other large companies over the largest audiences, Indies simply find new niches with new audiences in them.
However: finding the niche is just the start of the potential value proposition. Making a high quality game that fits in that niche and communicating that quality to prospective customers is the rest of the value proposition. The more efficient the production, the higher the quality of the product. The more efficient the production, the better the value proposition.
There’s a lot more to write about this. For one thing, I’m sure you can think of more than a few games that managed to break even or even profit without the makers caring about the quality of the product they delivered. They succeed because they use a completely different strategy, and no one loves them for it. But more on that later.