Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

9 June, 2006

Weekend Design Challenge: Starting out indie
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:22 AM

I posted about this in a comment, but it really deserves a mention on an article.

Jeff Tunnell, one of the leaders of GarageGames wrote an awesome entry on his blog called “Five Realistic Steps To Starting A Game Development Company”

Go read the article, and keep that blog in your bookmarks; it’s a great read.

Inspired by this, our design challenge is going to have a business taint: Describe a game you could make on the cheap.

Details below.

Some arbitrary restrictions to keep this interesting:

  • Budget: $50k for development (we set aside some for marketing!)
  • Team: 2-3 people, working for equity (assume 20-40 hours per person per week)
  • Schedule: 18 months
  • Distribution: Digital download
  • You cannot rely on masses of volunteer help

Given those restrictions, what kind of game would you build? Big bonus points for doing a schedule, budget, and sales forecasts.

I’ll wait to post some of my ideas until after a few others get posted.

Really put some thought into this one. It’s a good exercise.

Have fun,


  1. I’d love to say that designing games on the cheap is fun and educational, but it doesn’t look like there are a lot of ideas out there for them. Perhaps you could share some of your ideas for this challenge Brian?

    Comment by Bartoneus — 12 June, 2006 @ 6:16 AM

  2. I think i could possibly make a schedule… but budget and sales forecasts waaaah :(

    Comment by Jpoku — 12 June, 2006 @ 7:53 AM

  3. Why is business scary?

    Okay, so nobody seems all that interested in my latest challenge ( Too much business taint, I assume?
    So, let’s talk a bit about why business is so scary, and why it’s still important to pay attention to it.

    Trackback by Psychochild's Blog — 13 June, 2006 @ 12:19 AM

  4. Here’s my quick contribution:

    Title: HERD! (all caps and exclamation!)

    Synopsis: A cross of cowboy Pokemon, Spores, Animal Crossing and Monster Rancher, HERD! is a game of escalating herding challenges through tricky terrains. From docile sheep to silly clowns to temperamental, fire-breathing dragonbats, the HERDvatar must protect and lead the herd to safety against savage predators like wolfdaemon, killer rabbits, and the legendary Pikanues through places like Tiger Leaping Gorge, Dragon Carved Canyon, and Happy Hunting Ground.

    Marketing Angles:
    1. Like Pokemon, it’s a game revolving around lots of interesting and cute creatures with kid-safe personalities
    2. Like Spores, you can create and evolve your own creatures
    3. Like Animal Crossing, it’s an open-ended real-time environment revolving around a ranch instead of a house
    4. Like Monster Rancher, fighting and defending virtual pets is a key game feature

    1. Advanced 3D graphics and sound (ok just Java and Flash)
    2. Broad selection of fascinating herds, dodgy predators, and tricky terrains
    3. Extensive range of preset strategies like ‘Hackensack’, “Stampede”, and “Methane Fog”
    4. Job, Campaign, and Online modes
    5. Fully customizable
    6. Lots of irrelevance, references, silliness, humour, and grandeur.

    Comment by magicback (frank) — 13 June, 2006 @ 1:01 AM

  5. I’m working on a “game” (really more of a graphic adventure) that I’m probably going to do in Flash, but because I’m a glutton for punishment and like challenges, I want to see how much I can execute in CSS (yeah – you can put your eyebrow back down now).

    Forgive the lack of details, but basically it’s a space fantasy aimed at pre-teens with lessons about life woven into the prose without being preachy (the emphasis is much more on entertainment than imparting my ideas of morality or anything — it’s more an attempt to spark young people’s interests in various topics).

    While it is, again, more graphic adventure than anything else, I have developed a fairly deep branching map that will allow for dozens of replays (think: non-linear Myst).

    I know it really doesn’t fit the mold of “game”, but I don’t have the resources to execute anything that requires significant programming, art, or other assets. But, this way my budget is $0 (not including my time).

    For the sake of our requirements here:

    Budget = $0 (time donated)
    Team = 2 people – myself and a friend who is a graphic artist (I will actually be doing everything, but he’s standing by to finalize my art)
    Schedule = I plan to be done in 6 months
    Distribution = definitely digital and free
    No mass volunteer help

    Comment by chabuhi — 13 June, 2006 @ 8:17 AM

  6. A cell phone game which uses your cell-o-dex and gps to provide both single and multiplayer swarming, similar to the peace bomb design Harvey Smith showed off at the game design challenge last year. Either simulated bots (we’re talking minimal memory) would swarm due to in-game calls, or real people could be co-ordinated to meet in the same place at a specific time. The single player would give mission objectives like protest organization and underground party co-ordination, which would engender a sort of culture on the players and give them ideas for real life applications, which encourages all their friends to buy the same game and get proactive features like the ability to set a rally, rather than just respond to one.

    Comment by Patrick — 13 June, 2006 @ 8:21 AM

  7. For people thinking that the restriction are quite severe, try thinking in terms of stages.

    1. Launching the core game with $50k and sweat equity
    2. Build expansions as popularity picks up.

    The question is what goes into the launch package and what goes in expansion. A lot of companies fail at making the right calls on this. Particularly with large publishers, there are factors that have nothing to do with the quality of the game and forces bad design calls.

    So Jpoku’s plan could be stages of actual product launch and expansions. At launch the core system is there, and at the 3-month stages, new expansion content and features are added to bring in new players and keep old players interested.


    Comment by magicback (frank) — 13 June, 2006 @ 6:25 PM

  8. I quite like the 3-month development cycle idea Frank. Seems like an ideal ‘indie-publishing’ mechanism. You could probably quite easily get interest and continued funds with that sort of model.

    That’s for single player content at least. I think for standard multiplayer it might be trickier because of all the version mismatching and new content. Maybe possibly adding an update mechanism that triggers if you join a game with a newer expansion. Something like “Player X has ‘super fun expansion 1′ installed, would you like to purchase for £xx.”

    Although saying that, I remember a game where you could play for free but your weapons sucked. Since it was a team game though you could still support the paying players. And i’ve noticed some eastern MMO’s that let you buy better equipment for credits.

    Another idea I had business wise is that you give players map-making tools etc which are automatically pulled into the game (a la Spore) but with one addition – moderation. The development team and key community members get access to the pool, play the map, and if they like it, they authorise it to be pushed out to players, who now find the new content available to them. You could maybe charge micro payments for it, or an extremely cheap subscription that gives you access to everything including the regular expansion packs. That way you earn some money but also know that the content going out there has been playtested to be worth paying for.

    Comment by Jpoku — 14 June, 2006 @ 2:07 AM

  9. Owing to the length of my proposal I’ve decided to host it on my own blog. Hope you guys enjoy, it was an interesting way to spend my afternoon.

    Comment by Patrick McKenzie — 14 June, 2006 @ 11:38 PM

  10. Patrick,

    I was at a conference the past few days. I need to set aside some time to read your proposal. Since you cared enough to write something, I will try very hard to get some time to review it. If I don’t post anything up this week, just drop me a friendly email.

    Have fun,

    Comment by Psychochild — 18 June, 2006 @ 1:07 AM

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