Ryan Clark was in San Francisco to show Crypt of the Necrodancer at PSX last December. Across the way I was setting up my booth and as we sat waiting to go get some dinner, I pulled out the recorder and we caught up on how things have been for Necrodancer since it’s exit of Early Access and its tour around the world.
Ryan Clark was on the podcast about a hundred episodes ago back on Ep. 120. Our first conversation was about the novelty and discovery of Necrodancer and some of the plans for it moving forward. This was back in 2013! In the couple years since the game has come hit full release and has been a smash hit. Turns out his Early Access process was the developers dream. No major upsets, a steady stream of feedback on how people were playing his game and the ability to shift the design to better accommodate how the game was being played in the wild. Seriously, when talking to him about the overall process it seems like, ‘everything was coming up Milhouse’.
There were two major articles we also discussed that he authored. First was his article on market analysis of your game before you start developing it. Second was his 5 myths on the Indiepocalypes. Both are excellent reads and you should check them out to join in on our conversation.
So what does make an indie hit? Ryan lays out some pretty no nonsense ways of examining your game design idea before you begin to do the major work of bringing it to life. First things first, only a fraction of a fraction of all indie games that get made become real financial successes which enable the creators to build the next thing. And now with the advent of sites like SteamSpy it’s possible to look at games in a genre and figure out how lucrative your dungeon crawling / rhythm game / rogue-like game actually is. While there is no direct formula you can observe what the largest indie hits were in a genre and get a read on how much money that pulled it, and then cross it with other genres you plan to mash up and then guess how much overlap, if any, there is. So even if the best game in the genre you want to make your game for doesn’t make enough money to run your project, then you might need to rethink the scope of the project.
I think the biggest takeaway isn’t a that Ryan wants to disenfranchise creators from taking risks or making the games they want to make. Rather, if you can approximate the overall success and returns in a certain field and other projects, it will help creators at least attempt to scope their projects better. Scope of a project is the hardest thing to clamp down on, but the most important thing to remember when it comes to design. There is no design problem to big to solve, but as it was in my conversation with Adam Saltsman, at some point you need to release the damn thing. Time is precious, and scope is the ultimate destroyer of time.
Ryan also doesn’t buy into the doom and gloom that was being tossed around when the chatter was on the Indiepocalypse. He admits that there are tons more people in the field, but being a good designer and making a great game is not easy. Speaking from his own experience, as someone who has been working on games for a long time, it’s easier now to make and sell games than it ever has been and that’s great! We talk briefly about this topic at the end, but I suggest you read his post as it as expresses his thoughts better than me re-writing them.