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I run Retronator, a blog about pixel art, and work on Pixel Art Academy, an adventure game for learning how to draw.

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Be prepared not to break-even

Retronator Blog

Something that didn’t make the cut in a big article I’m writing:

You need another source of funding. For us it’s the contracting work the guys at the research and development studio do. For you it might be your “other” day job or a rich uncle. Have enough cash to cover at least a year of giving it your best before you dive into it full time (and not like my lazy 4 hours of sweating per day, be prepared to work all day, every day).

When I wrote my business plan for Retronator back in 2008 I correctly assumed it would take me 3 months to create a game I could sell for $1 dollar. I correctly assumed that I couldn’t cover even my basic living expenses if the game sells under 10.000 units. At the time I was aiming at Xbox Live Indie Games, which didn’t even launch yet so I looked at sales figures for Xbox Live Arcade instead. I figured they won’t do nearly as good and took the lowest possible brackets as my estimates: 30k optimistic, 20k realistic and 10k pessimistic. Boy, would I have been wrong if I went down that path.

Instead we pursued the iOS market with Dawn of Play, not to say any less blindly. The market is better, but with the numbers we now know the most iOS independent developer make it’s just as hard to sustain yourself in the start.

Extra: you can now see that business plan (alas, in Slovenian) here.

The Unsustainability of Starting in Independent Game Development

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You know what gets me down? The fact that it’s hard or impossible to start from zero, make games, sell them and earn enough to cover your next one.

It all comes down to this graph from an interesting survey on iOS gamedev:

"What is really interesting to me is that developers do seem to generate more revenue over time (on average). This should be encouraging if you really want to make games, but your first game was a flop. Fear not! 50% of developers who have only released one game made under $500 on that game. However, the more games developers had released, the more per-game average revenue they seem to generate.”


Fear not? This looks motivating, but it really is scary as shit. What it means is that what I’ve always dreamed of — starting from zero, doing what I love and slowly making my way up — is impossible (unless you’re lucky and you hit a jackpot app right off the bat). Why so? Because it’s impossible to make a game on a $500 budget. It’s still hard to make a game with a $5,000 budget, which is as much as you can realistically expect for each of your first five games, but at least we’re getting somewhere. If you’re really frugal, you might be able to live on it for 4-5 months in an European capital. Or move to the third world and get twice as much time to make your game with that money. Or live with your parents.

It just doesn’t pay off enough. If you want to make games for a living, you have to start off with something else to get the initial savings up and have a big enough reserve, to get you through the first few releases that probably won’t cover your expenses. And that fucking sucks!

One For the Road

Retronator Blog

That just might be my favorite track from Guitar Hero 2, but what is the road I'm traveling on?

I've recently graduated and it's a pivotal point in my life. The student life has ended and it's time to capitalize on what I've learned so far.

I've created this profile earlier this year, when I started working on a prototype for a new game. It was after my first commercial game release and it was time to create again. Things were good, but it was the calm before the storm.

Real life intervened and I've spent the rest of the year finishing exams and writing my thesis. Then something unexpected happened. While I was waiting for my graduation date to arrive I've worked on a crazy experimental side project that could let me translate an iPhone game to Windows with little more than a press of a button. The button worked and my road took a detour to launch my first commercial game on Windows.

This is the start of my journey. Armed with a working Windows binary and a bag full of praising reviews, it's time to make it or break it. Real game development life. It starts here and now!

Matej Jan, a.k.a. Retro

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