So how hard it is to make a living off indie games?

Recently I’ve posted two links relating to how much money indie developers make. I find this quite interesting partly because I have a keen interest in indie games myself, but also because an old friend of mine works full time as an indie developer. How much a risk it is to take it up full time depends a lot on how much you have to lose by say, quitting your job. In some cases I tend to view games as an art form, much like other forms of media such as movies, books, paintings, etc. This is particularly true for indie games, as indie developers have more freedom to express their own interests and ideas through their games, as opposed to large development teams working on mainstream games. Like any artist though, it seems that being an indie game developer can be a bit unpredictable in terms of income.

So let’s consider an example of developers to get an idea of how lucrative it has proven to be for others. Usually we don’t know how much these developers make out of their games, but luckily the developers of Dustforce and the developer of Cook, Serve, Delicious was kind enough to give us a breakdown, among others.

For the purposes of this article I will use Dustforce as an example. In the article on the Dustforce sales figures (see link below), it was mentioned that the minimum cost of developing a game comes down to the cost of living, multiplied by the time needed, multiplied by the team size. Of course, cost of living can vary greatly from one individual to the next, so that is something to keep in mind. Let’s cut to the chase though: Dustforce racked up a total of 668,490 USD after a year of sales. This may sound like a lot, but keep in mind that the developers had to incur costs to run their business: legal and accounting fees, software licenses, server costs, and some travelling expenses. Add to that personal income taxes, and they were left with around 295,000 USD, which had to be split between the four developers. That comes to 73,750 USD for each developer after two years of development and one year of sales. They mentioned that for every 10 USD copy of Dustforce sold, 4.41 USD of it ended up in their pockets.

…they were left with around 295,000 USD, which had to be split between the four developers. That comes to 73,750 USD for each developer after two years of development and one year of sales.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles on indie game development lately, probably because I have fantasized about what it might be like to quit my job and only work on developing games. I wouldn’t give up my career to become a full time indie developer though, for several reasons. Firstly, I have invested considerable time (both in studies and work) to get where I am in my career, and I really find my job engaging and fulfilling. Secondly, I have numerous financial commitments (house, car, insurance, medical cover, bills, other everyday expenses, etc.), and quitting my job would make it nearly impossible to meet these commitments. Lastly, developing games is not something that I necessarily want to take make money off. Rather, I’m hoping that I can create something that people will enjoy, even if it is only one very specific group of people.

Would I blame anyone for quitting their job and doing this full time? Hell no. In fact, I have nothing but respect for them. I’ve always believed that people should do what they are passionate about, and with a lot of drive and a bit of talent they are likely to be successful in it. It is always good to have a backup plan just in case though. With all that said, I’ll leave you with this quote from the Dustforce development team:

“Without a doubt, yes, it was worth it. It is true that the final earnings, spread out among four people to account for almost 2 years of development is not particularly impressive, considering that more money could have been made at normal jobs, without taking the considerable risks that we took. However, it’s important to note that the entire time we were doing what we loved, not for the goal of a monetary reward, but in order to make something beautiful come into existence.”


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