Why Do Indie Games Fail? (5 Surprising Reasons)


Indie games can be incredible, but they often fail to impact the market. There are many reasons indie games fail, but you can avoid them if you know what they are. In this article, we’ll explain indie developers’ most common mistakes and how you can avoid them so your game is wildly successful!

Now, here’s what you came for!

The number one reason Indie games fail is because of poor marketing strategy. Other key reasons include the audience of the game, publicity from streamers and Youtubers, originality of the game, uniqueness that stands out, and bugs that ruin gameplay.

In this article, we will cover each of these reasons for failure and how you can avoid them. But before that, let’s back up and discuss what it means for an indie game to fail.

What Is Success or Failure For An Indie Game?

Failure, just like success, is totally subjective – it can mean different things to different people. For indie game devs, success or failure is relative to where you are in your development journey.

If you’re starting as an indie and maybe entering a few Game Jams, just finishing a game is a success. Plus, there’s gaining valuable experience and insightful feedback along the way. 

More experienced indie developers who release games commercially measure success by financial results. So, we can quantify success with questions like:

  • Did the game recover its development costs?
  • Did it make enough profit to fund the development of the next project?
  • Did it turn into a long-term money-making machine?
  • Can we afford rent this month, or will we have to move in with our parents and find another job?

Success and failure are personal. Don’t beat yourself up too much if your game didn’t sell a million copies in its first two weeks. Nobodies perfect.

What Are The Top Reasons Indie Games Fail?

Poor Marketing or No Marketing At All

An indie game’s marketing campaign is vital to its success. A poorly executed marketing campaign will result in few people knowing about the game and fewer people buying it. A lot of developers get marketing wrong or ignore it, which is why it’s our number one reason indie games fail.

Another issue that can tank a game’s success is inappropriate marketing. Famous examples of inappropriate game marketing include:

  • Including a bikini-clad, headless and limbless woman’s torso in the game’s special edition – fortunately, the torso was a useless piece of plastic junk rather than rotten human flesh.
  • Offering grieving families money to put billboards on gravestones. The Church of England said that they wouldn’t allow it to happen and that “There was enough fuss with plastic flowers in churchyards.”
  • Building a companion app to promote a game by allowing players to put hits out on their friends.

Although Innapropirate marketing is terrible, having no marketing at all is arguably worse.

As of 2022, there are over 50,000 games on Steam, 1,000,000 on iOS, and 600,000 on Google Play. It doesn’t matter how good your game is; if potential customers don’t know it exists, they can’t buy it!

To avoid failure, remember that marketing is as important as development. So, allocate a reasonable portion of your time and budget to it.

Not Targeting An Audience

A target audience is a group of people who exist in the world who would be the most interested in your game based on their habits and interests. 

Not targeting an audience early on makes it nearly impossible to find people who will be excited about your game and support you. Unless you don’t have a hype audience ready to play your game as soon as it’s released, you’ll struggle to get those all-important sales and reviews.

To avoid failure, remember games are still a product that needs marketing, and the first step is to find an audience.

If you’re looking for more information on target audiences, check out our article on How to identify your game’s target audience?

No Coverage From Streamers or YouTubers

The impact of whether streamers or YouTubers play your game is up for debate. Some developers believe their game failed because it didn’t spark interest among gaming influencers.

In the current gaming industry, the optimum publicity for a game often comes from YouTubers and Streamers. Usually, they have the audience you want to reach. 

2016 analysis by Twitch showed that when a viewer watched a game on Twitch, their odds of purchasing the game within 24 hours went up substantially. They attributed this “watch then buy” correlation to Twitch, as the experience is more representative of what it’s like to own a game than a two-minute marketing trailer.

In a similar 2021 study, researcher Feray Adigüzel found that video game reviews on YouTube have a significant impact on sales.

Other developers argue that Streamers and YouTubers do not bring many new players to their games. 

Sometimes, getting streamers’ coverage might harm your game’s sales. Single-player games that have a linear narrative or need little skill to play are a poor fit. But, if your game is highly dynamic with procedural generation, non-linear narrative, or multiplayer, this is a good fit.

To avoid failure in this area, decide if your game is not the type that would perform well on a stream or video before pursuing this avenue of marketing.

If you want to learn more about marketing on Twitch, check out our article, How to market your game on Twitch

Way Too Many Bugs

Unfortunately, bugs lurk in the code of every video game. But for indie games especially, they can be a death sentence. As developers, we may forgive the odd bug as a minor inconvenience, but players are far less forgiving.

One of the reasons bugs are so deadly for indie games is that they can quickly spiral out of control. A few bugs here and there might not seem like a big deal, but if they start to pile up, they can ruin the players’ experience and lead to negative reviews.

If debugging is the process of removing software bugs, then programming must be the process of putting them in.

Edsger Dijkstra

Games are complicated software with many systems and mechanics that must work together seamlessly. Programmers will tell you that the larger and more complex a game, the more chances of bugs. The complexity of games means it is almost impossible to eliminate all bugs before lunch. In the AAA games world, Cyberpunk 2077 is a prime example of this.

To avoid failure, remember to test your game thoroughly before release and be prepared to patch it frequently. If you can’t seem to get the bugs under control, it might be best to delay the release until you’re confident the game is ready. After launch, ensure you have the resources to track, respond and fix bugs as soon as possible.

Lack of Originality

With thousands of games released yearly, standing out from the crowd isn’t easy. With so much competition, it’s essential to have a game that feels original and fresh.

Lack of originality means you don’t have anything that makes your game stand out from other games. Few people care about games that try to be like everyone else, following the same old tropes repeatedly. When you follow the crowd, your game will get nowhere compared with a game standing on its own, ready for a new group of people to love it.

“Originality is about taking known elements and combining them together in unique ways”

Jacque Fresco, social engineer and futurist.

As an indie game dev, you are in a position to take risks, having the freedom to explore innovative/ unique ideas, which would be too risky for an AAA studio. This freedom will allow your game to stand out, unlike the clones of existing titles which cloud the market. An example is the puzzle platformers which have been overdone, saturating the market, meaning there is less demand for this type of game.

To avoid failure, make sure your game has a Unique Selling Point (USP) – something special that sets it apart from the competition. It could be a new take on an existing genre, a unique art style, or innovative gameplay mechanics.

If you’re looking for guidance on finding your USP, check out our article, How To Find Your Games USP: Unique Selling Point.

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons why indie games fail, but by avoiding these common mistakes, you can give your game the best chance of success. Remember to focus on quality, be original, and market your game effectively to reach your target audience. With hard work and a bit of luck, your game could be the next big hit!

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Aron Marriott-Smith

Aron is a hobbyist indie game developer. Before building this website, Aron spent many years helping businesses market their products and services.

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