An indie developer’s life is far from glamorous. What the public perceives as a developer’s life and reality is very different. More often than not, indie developers have full-time jobs to fund their passion. Others might have someone supporting them whether it’s through a family member or crowdfunding. It’s not an easy job and so many aspiring developers give up because they lack the budget to create the game of their dreams let alone market it.
So the question becomes, how can you make games without little to no money?
Thanks to demand, many engines are free-to-use, with caveats. You don’t need to pay a dime into Unreal or Unity unless you actually start making money ($100,000 for Unity and $3,000 for Unreal). These free editions do have some limitations to them, but if you’re fine with it then you might as well jump on one of them. If you want something completely free then check out Godot Engine. It’s an open source software that allows you to make 2D and 3D games. While it uses its own proprietary language, if you know python you should be able to get the hang of it quickly.
There are several places you can download free assets but one of the most popular is opengameart.org. You can download almost everything from 2D sprites to 3D textures. While free, you’ll want to check out the licenses attached to the artwork before you make any changes as not all of artists allow you to modify their work. If you do end up using an asset from the site, make sure to properly attribute the artist in your game. You can also check out this article for more sites that offer free game art.
For music, there are a handful of options, but one of the best is Free Music Archive. You can browse hundreds of songs in 15 different genres. You’ll need to be careful when choosing which song to use as not all have the same licenses. If you intend on using the song for commercial use for your game, you’ll want to avoid CC-BY-NC-SA and CC-BY-NC-ND songs. These are meant for noncommercial use only. Like the art assets, you’ll need to properly attribute the artist of the song if you intend on using it for your game.
Sound effects can be a bit trickier to find. There are dozens of sites with amazing sound effects, but many of them require you to pay to actually download and use them. Freesound is a great resource if you don’t mind spending some time sifting through all of the user uploads. Look for sounds that have a Creative Commons 0 license as this means the creator waives all rights to the work and you can modify or use it as you please. It’s possible you won’t find exactly what you need here, but you might find something that is close enough.
If you want to try your hand at creating your own music, you can use tools like Tracktion 4, a powerful digital audio workstation (DAW). It allows you to mix or remix your music. This is a full DAW so you don’t have to worry about missing out on any features. If you’ve got the money, you can upgrade to the newest version which only costs $60.
If you’re an artist with no coding skill it might be a bit harder for you to find snippets of code to make your game. In that case, you might look into engines that have a drag-and-drop interface like GameMaker. The problem is that the free version of these engines usually don’t have as many features as the Pro versions. If you’re okay with these limitations then try it out. You might end up liking it so much you pay into it. Luckily many of these engines end up having a sale on the paid versions at least once a year. If you decide you want more features, keep a look out on Steam and the engine’s site for announcements.
If you’re not in any rush to push out your game, you can find plenty of free tutorials on YouTube that can teach you the basics of different engines. Unity and Unreal have great beginner tutorial series and even walks you through making your own games. If you can spare a few dollars, Udemy has some amazing online game programming courses that walk you through the basics from explaining the syntax of the code to how different code can provide the same outcome. Udemy often has discounts on their classes almost every month so jump on one during these times.
Adobe might be the industry standard for creating digital artists, but there are some free options you can check out. GIMP is the open source answer to Photoshop. If you’re familiar with Photoshop it might take some time to get used to GIMP’s interface. Once you do, however, you’ll realize it is every bit as powerful.
Inkscape is the answer to Adobe Illustrator. It’s a great tool for creating vector drawings and especially useful if you want to make create a voxel style game.
For 2D animation the Spriter free version has plenty of features to get you started. Rather than animate every frame by hand, Spriter allows you to rig up different parts of your character onto a basic skeleton and then move them via pivot points. It reduces the time you need to create a professional-looking animation. Just remember, you need to divide up your sprite into different parts in order to get the smoothest animation.
If you’re a 3D animator, there’s no better free tool than Blender. It’s powerful enough to create ultra-realistic renders and can do everything you can do in Maya such as: fast rigging, UV unwrapping, full compositor and more. It even has a full game engine, though you probably don’t want to publish anything you’ve actually made in there. With that said, it’s great for prototyping. The best part about Blender, besides being free, is its cross platform on Mac, PC and Linux.
Of all the necessary steps needed to successfully launch a game, marketing is by far the most time-consuming and hardest. This is especially true if whether you’re s solo developer or have a small team. Marketing requires forethought into your market and consistent, but friendly communication with them. You need to post something everyday on the right social media networks and interact not only with people who comment, like or follow you but with thought leaders and influencers. It’s a full-time job. The problem is most indie studios just don’t have the money to bring on a marketing firm or even consultant. If this sounds like you, there’s still hope.
The best way to stay organized and in the loop is to have one place where you can keep an eye on most, if not all, of your social media profiles. Hootsuite is a great service where you can do just that and the basic version is free. You can follow keywords that interest you, keep an eye on your feed and even respond to comments. Besides this, you can also automate your posts, which will save you a ton of time in the long run. If you don’t like Hootsuite, you can also check out Buffer, which offers the same service but also adds the ability to create your own image, complete with typography.
Besides social media, there are a few basics you should set up. These might cost you some money, but you’ll ultimately get much more by implementing them:
- A website: this sounds so basic, but there are still many developers who do not have one. You can get a domain and hosted server for under $20 a month.
- Business cards: you’ll want to carry some around to hand out. You don’t have to keep it limited to events. Hand it out to anyone you chat with. You never know what might come of it.
- Development fees: whether you’re submitting to Android or Steam, each one requires you pay a fee upon submitting your game. There are places you can submit for free like gamejolt or itch.io.
So if you’ve been interested in creating your own games, but were worried about the cost, take heart! Creating a game doesn’t necessarily require a ton of money. However, if you do end up going the budget route, it will take you much more time.