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It appears that there are ways to make money with flash games through portal and aggregator sites and embedded ads.

But I do my programming in C and C++. I've started a prototype which relies on a few existing C++ SDK's. The game would have to be downloadable. Is this just a labor of love, or are there any ways to make money from this type of game? Does anyone pay for shareware anymore? What other options are there?

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It is mostly a labour of love as you can't really plan for success. For every indie success story there's thousands of people with 1 or 2 sales. Apart from that, the internet is filled with indie success stories, an afternoon of googling should give you more info than this page will give you. –  Kaj Aug 13 '10 at 22:40

7 Answers 7

There's a few choices that I can think of:

  • Sell your game on a portal, such as bigfishgames.com. It's not for everyone - you lose a degree of control, and the content on these places is decidedly casual. However, they get a lot of traffic and take care of the business of selling.
  • Sell your game on a console based portal, such as XBox Indie Games. The problem with this is you end up having to sell a lot of games at a very low price (usually around the $1 mark).
  • Sell them yourself. This is probably the hardest, but is the best long-term strategy. A good example of this is Positech Games. Cliffski has been doing this for a long time, and has built up a following over the years. Spiderweb Software is another good example.
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Make a really good game. Get it on Steam. Market it effectively (generate enough buzz on gaming websites/forums)

But the most important step is making a really good game.

Kind of surprising to see suggestions of 'go for mobile development', given how oversaturated with $0.99 titles the iPhone app store is these days? - might have been a great idea 2 years or so ago - but isn't that gold rush well and truly over? - or have the new Apple devices re-ignited it?

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I imagine most people don't create indie games necessarily to make money. If they are thinking that way a lot of people might be thinking in long term monetary gains. IE they would rather put a game down on their resume that shows they have experience making a game which could possibly give them a leg up on others who don't. Then you can say you started to make money from your indie game when your employer tells you it was your game you listed on your resume/cover letter that set you apart from others.

You also got to consider the crowd that your game will be bought by. The most impressionable gamers are probably the younger ones who can't afford games right away and must wait for something like a BDay/XMas or beg their parents to buy it. More than likely the only games they will be subjected too will be the heavy marketed games by those who throw millions into it. That leaves you with a smaller crowd of people who are more curious about what could be fun on an XBox/Mobile device etc. rather than actively seeking out the best indie game ever made. You might even then be hard pressed getting someone to pay more than $5 for a game if they think they won't play it more than a couple of hours or while they are on a plane or something.

You also must consider that anyone you distribute your game through is probably going to take a cut of your profits as well. Someone may say they have the tools to advertise your game but they sure aren't going to let you use them for free when there are 100's of other good indie games out there that can be sold as well.

So all in all if you are trying to get into indie games for money you probably have the wrong idea. I think the best thing to do is put it down on a resume. If you think it gives you a leg up in the hiring process then it definitely has a positive expectation on your future monetary gains.

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Thank you for the well thought out answer. Personally, I'm not in it for the money or the resume experience. At my age, I'm not planning on jumping careers any time soon. This is just a hobby project. I'm making the game because I want to play a game like this. I'm just wondering if there is any upside beyond that. –  AShelly Jul 22 '10 at 1:53

You could sell the game e.g. via

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Apart from selling it, see:

Is there any way to earn money with an open source game?

I realize this isn't strictly an open source game but many of the concepts above apply.

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The indie market isn't that great for game programming unless you do something that is not desktop specific (mobile is a good option).

The problem:

Think in the eyes of the user here. You have the option of getting a game from a well-known company or a some person you've never heard of before. Also, its just that one person vs. a team of people.

The answer:

You could go to a mobile device like iPhone or Android. They emphasize the fact (and even pushed it out to the non-programming world a little bit too) that indies can now make great programs to with their help (which is their APIs and Frameworks).

Also, for mobile development in particular, I know a lot of friends in high school that just think that phones can't really handle the power of really popular games (which is true) and therefore make the conclusion that you only need one or two people to make a very good game for that platform that they would buy.

So, I would just switch over to another thing like iPhone or Android and use their RAD (Rapid Application Development) technologies.

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If you plan to work on it for some time you could also try "open development". Release an alpha version soon, and try to get some people to play the game - for free, at least in the beginning. After some iterations and updates you could go for a subscription service. Or maybe you even find people to work with, that way. If it doesn't pan out, you can still open source the game and make fame instead of money.

Check out Wolfire's Overgrowth to see an example for open development: http://www.wolfire.com/

You can follow the same model on iPhone/Android but I'd discourage you from going mobile in the moment. Just like bluescrn says in his post: the market is so saturated that it's close to impossible to make a splash nowadays.

Why I'm arguing that you should go this way is because I think it is very hard to get your first game right. And even harder when you work alone. You'll need feedback. And the best way to get that is to build a - real or virtual - community.

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