Zynga is estimated to be worth about $5 billion and can boast over 200 million monthly active users, it might seem as though there's little room in the social gaming industry for an indie gaming startup. I sat down for a chat today with Jeff Tunnell, co-founder of Dynamix, GarageGames and most recently PushButton Labs, and he assured me that yes, there is still ample opportunity for startups in the growing social gaming industry.When
With a career's worth of experience founding and running gaming companies, Tunnell offers these tips for those interested in starting their own indie studios:
1. Keep your day job. While a forty-hour-a-week job might not give you much time to work on your own projects, you do need to generate some income while you're building your startup.
2. While you want to make a great game, build an MVP (a minimum viable product) and get it out the door. Then focus on soliciting feedback to improve your game.
3. Build in and pay attention to metrics. This means more than just monitoring traffic. Track your daily, weekly, and monthly active users. How much time are they spending in a session? Is there a particular point in the game are they quitting?
4. Don't put all your games in one market. Develop for multiple platforms. Don't focus solely on Facebook or solely on iPhone apps, for example.
5. Monetize. Use advertising and virtual goods in order to generate revenue. Tunnell thinks that the new Facebook Credits program will likely be a boon to gaming startups as new users will feel more comfortable spending credits rather than handing over payment information.
6. Make minimal barriers to entry: make a game available for free. Make a game easily available - just a mouse-click, for example, rather than requiring a download or a lengthy signup.
7. Harness social media to build fans and to build your team. Use Twitter and Facebook to spread awareness about your game. Identify your fans and reward their loyalty when they spread word about your game. Use a blog to help build your online credibility.
A musician himself, Tunnell likens running an indie game studio to being in a rock band, a comparison we've written about here before. It's a long process from learning an instrument to becoming a guitar virtuoso. Then you have to find the right bass player. Sometimes you're out-of-tune. You start with covers of famous songs, perhaps and eventually start writing your own tunes. You will suck at first, but eventually you can make a living at it.
Tunnell blogs at Make It Big In Games, where you can read his other tips and insights on game development.