Basically, don't give up, but if you need more details, that's what this article is for...
For anyone wondering what Cat Quest is...its only the most pawsome RPG ever made! It's basically Skyrim...with cats! And it's out now on Steam, iOS and Android!
Now with that shameless plug done with, we're just going to talk a bit about how to fail less as an indie(using Cat Quest as an example, of course).
Know who you are.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but the toughest part is not knowing what yours are. As developers, we all have that dream game we want to make right? But ask yourself this, at this point of your life, can you actually make that? I've seen so many companies fail simply because they tried to do too much, or tried to make a game they just weren't meant to make yet.
Lets use Cat Quest as an example. Honestly, we're just a bunch of nerds who like RPGs and stuff. So if we tried to do a dancing game for example, it would completely fail because we would have no idea how to make one. We won't know what makes a 'good rhythm' or how to even go about creating our own tunes.
We have seen companies that went under because they chose to develop a game bigger than them(because of trends), which forced them to hire lots of people, and then went under because their burn rate sky rocketed. Instead, see how many people you have, the skills you have, and what kind of game you can make with that.
Don't let market trends or 'good' business decisions dictate what game you make. Do something you're confident in and you'll make a good game, and that's half the battle won.
Know your audience.
More specifically, your platform audience. A game for Steam is very different from a mobile game, and that is due to the audience. Cat Quest is pretty much the same game on all platforms it's on, but we put in a great deal of effort into tweaking it ever so slightly for each platform.
The controls, for one, are drastically different. On mobile, you play by tapping your fingers on the screen, but on Steam, we built the controls from the ground up for keyboard/mouse and game pads. Steam users are really anal about these things, and if they feel the controls aren't treated with care, they're going to call you out for it. We would have got slaughtered if we had left the tap controls in. Instead, we changed it to a traditional 3rd person action control scheme, and we're so glad we did.
But even then, we still got burned for not supporting MFI controls on iOS. It was something we failed to consider and we chalk it up to a lack of research on the platform, so here's some advice for you guys; implement MFI controls!
There are other things to take note of too. Steam users love their settings, so make sure you have your resolution, sound and BGM settings all there at launch. Mobile users love their cloud saving(because they keep changing devices), so make sure you have those in too. Don't treat this as something you can add in after, these are all things users take for granted and expect out of their games. So if you don't want a 'thumbs down' or a 1 star rating, best plan this into your schedules.
Make sure your game feels like its made for each platform, and your fans will love you for it!
Publisher or not to Publisher
The question all indies ask themselves eventually; do I need a publisher?
To cut things short, we believe that if you are confident in self-publishing, that's always the best option. The simple answer is that you don't need a publisher.
But Cat Quest has a publisher, doesn't it? Well yes, and the reason is because we weren't confident, duhhhhh.
Okay, it's a lot more complicated than that. Cat Quest has a publisher on Steam, PS4 and Switch. However, we self published the game on iOS and Android. But the game also has a publisher in China....and I'll get to all these in a second.
For mobile, we had already launched one game previously, and we knew the market well. We also knew reps from Apple and Google who could help us push for a feature come launch day. Furthermore, we already had great contacts in the press. These are all things a mobile publisher would do for you, so since we could already do it ourselves, that's a no brainer right?
Now for Steam and consoles, this would be our first foray into it. We had almost no contacts, and little knowledge of the console landscape. Like in Zelda, it's dangerous to go alone, so we opted to sign with a publisher who was more experienced than us. The reason is exactly the same for China.
Publishers will take a huge share of the revenue, but a good publisher will also give you financial support and be a partner you can count on. The latter is very important, I would choose a publisher who is serious about your game, rather than a big and famous one who isn't.
So its simple really. First ask yourself if you are confident in self publishing. If not, go source for a publisher(and make sure you find a good one). If you're confident, ask yourself the next question...do I currently need more money to finish the game and market it. If the answer is yes, then see if there is any other way you can get said money. A publisher may not be such a bad option at this point then.
If you have the money and the confidence....then go for it. Publishers aren't always the answer, sometimes the answer lies within yourself.
But most importantly, don't give up!
Basically, it all boils down to this. The answer to how to suck less as an indie.
Don't give up and learn from your mistakes!
If a game idea isn't working, don't give up, and iterate on it.
If your first game fails, don't give up, and make the next one.
If a publisher rejects your game, don't give up, and try another.
Persistence is key. If you don't give up, and keep trying, eventually you will turn your failures into successes. You'll hear stories of indies knocking it out of the park on their first try, and good for them. We didn't.
It's a tough industry, but an immensely rewarding one as well. I can't begin to tell you the number of times the thought of throwing in the towel flashed through my head. When the stress sets in, the money is running out and everything just feels too overwhelming to bear, just know that if you keep at it, it's all eventually going to be okay. That's the one thing I've come to realize after all these years.
But if you give up, you'll never get to the part where it becomes okay. It's like Dark Souls, kinda.
So in conclusion, Cat Quest is available right now on Steam and mobile! It's also coming to PS4 and Switch later this year!
I'm joking...this whole article isn't a shameless plug for Cat Quest, obviously! Hopefully, the lessons we have learned would prove useful for you guys and the games you make. And if there are any things you disagree with, well you can go piss off!
(No seriously, would be great to hear if any one else feels differently! Always happy to learn how other indies do things!)