Why Competition Is Good For Your Indie Game

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Why Competition Is Good For Your Indie Game

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I am not kidding! Trust me, I understand where you’re coming from. With the start of my indie game dev journey, the idea of competition often stirred doubt. We all want to hold onto this feeling that our games are unique - that no one else has created as amazing of a product as we have envisioned. It spirals even further into this fear that competition, especially against large AAA studios, will draw away attention from our indie game titles.

These are valid points to consider, but they should not stop your game dev dreams. The purpose of this blog is to reshape how we view competitors within the game dev space. By seeing the benefits behind competition, we can set aside our doubts and focus more on the creative energy that fuels our passion projects. With this, we can explore the following four benefits that competition brings for indie game devs:

  1. Work Off The Proven, Successful Aspects of Other Games
  2. Recognize That Competition Widens Your Targeted Audience
  3. Utilize Feedback From Other Similar Games
  4. Adopt The Larger Developer Support Networks Behind Popular Titles

Let’s begin!


Work Off The Proven, Successful Aspects of Other Games

With competition in the indie game dev space, there’s solid reasons for why dozens of players tend to stick to certain titles and genres. Often, there is a certain formula behind these developed games that players can easily sink time into. One of the easiest examples in terms of mechanics is “crafting.”

  • Are you playing a FPS? - I bet it has crafting still
  • How about a RPG or sandbox title? - It nearly requires crafting, right?
  • Even just a puzzle, click-through game? - Some aspects of crafting may be there

It can (and has!) been debated endlessly on if crafting has become too commonplace, but the point still stands. Players continue playing games with a crafting mechanic, and they continue to perform well. Competition helps bring these observations to light, and it’s worth paying attention to while developing your own game. If other larger titles have already done the work of testing mechanics with a wider audience, then you may as well rely on the results.

The key note though, if you hadn’t already guessed, is that including these proven aspects of popular games should never be a direct copy/paste situation. Competition brings in lots of players, and they may have become bored with existing options. As an indie game developer, you are in a special position where you can breathe fresh life into the seemingly familiar parts of gaming.


Recognize That Competition Widens Your Targeted Audience

For a financially stable future in indie game development, the not-so-secret detail is that people will need to buy your game, and that requires marketing. Competition won’t necessarily take care of marketing for you, but they will help in drawing new audiences towards certain genres or gameplay patterns. My perspective used to be that competition will simply “steal” players away from your game, but I have seen the exact opposite. With competition, players become so invested with games that they continually look for alternatives in the space to stay engaged.

The top example would be the “Flappy Bird” mobile app that was published in 2013. If you recall the app stores around that time, you may remember that 100’s and 1000’s of Flappy Bird clones popped up. All of those developers saw the opportunity within the growing space of endless, scrolling tap games that likely caused you to toss your phone across the room. They were not worried about the competition - they openly welcomed it and recognized that competition only allowed for more players to potentially see their game.

I definitely don’t want to promote this style of development, both in terms of copying others directly and going for quick cash grabs in a changing environment. However, I think this communicates the overall idea well - competition should not be seen as a roadblock to your game. Competition is like a free, neon blinking arrow to audiences that point them more towards your game.


Utilize Feedback From Other Similar Games

This point falls closely in line with the first point, in that we can gain a lot of insight from competitors. Beyond relying on the successful aspects of popular games, we can also utilize the feedback that comes from their related communities. The most passionate, invested players are often the loudest within gaming communities. Feedback typically varies in terms of usefulness, but we can at least find common trends in how players feel about their favorite games.

If players respond harshly about a specific mechanic, such as “it’s too grindy” or “I didn’t enjoy this version of it,” we can brainstorm ways that we would address it, assuming it has similarities in our own game. Perhaps the core idea is solid, and just the execution itself is lacking. Again, we never want to steal ideas, but we can at least identify where players get held up in other games so that we can approach those elements in a more informed manner.


Adopt The Larger Developer Support Networks Behind Popular Titles

Popular games naturally attract the attention of other developers who want to achieve success in that same space. Given the context of indie game dev work, this often yields tons of tutorials, example projects, guides, articles, etc…

It is through competition then, that increased support becomes widely available for popular features. For those of us who need that extra time and care to learn new skills as developers, these resources are incredibly valuable. There’s comfort in knowing that numerous other developers have already trekked a certain development path to yours, leading the charge through unfamiliar concepts.

As an example, I have experienced the opposite side of this point. With my first title, Echolite, a major part of the gameplay loop is building, connecting, and upgrading machines in order to automate work. When developing this system, I initially turned to top games under that category. I’m certainly going to miss some titles, but at least through searching, this came down to just two games - Factorio and Satisfactory.

Especially for more complex systems like conveyor belts, my only frame of reference was a few older documents describing the approach to these two games. For a beginner such as myself, this was overwhelming! Even searching online for development guides on conveyor belts was limited, consistently being in other formats like 3D, physics-based models that were not easily scalable to my game. I wasn’t looking for the perfect tutorial - just one that would help point me in the right direction, but this never occurred.

Certainly, factory/automation games have a dedicated audience, but the lack of competition actually hindered my development process. I was still able to figure out a custom implementation, although much more time was invested upfront than I had originally anticipated.

I bring this example up to reinforce the idea that competition surrounding your game is a blessing in disguise. With more developers focused in that direction, you have a stronger support system for approaching complex design challenges.


TL;DR

I strongly recommend reshaping how you view competition within game development. Even if it’s just to help ease concerns while you develop, that is totally alright! It is always worth repeating here at Sparkful Studios - everyone has a unique, creative perspective on the world that can be channeled into game development. Instead of seeing studios, games, etc… as competition, see them as fellow creative devs, all supporting one another to entertain and inspire the world!