Keep the Lights On: Making Money During Development

3D and UX Design for Games, VR and Animation

Keep the Lights On: Making Money During Development

April 26, 2012 Uncategorized 10

 You know you want to go indie full-time but you’ve still got rent to pay, bills are piling up and you’ll probably need to replace the fridge that’s going to explode in 2.5 months. In this post you’ll find a list of funding strategies aimed to keep the lights on until you’ve got the game people will pay you to finish.

Will Make Games for Food (Creative Commons Photo Credit: bugbbq)


Let’s break this down into Pre-Prototype and Post-Prototype funding, as the business game changes significantly once you’ve got something playable that’s worth following.

What I mean by Prototype: we’re talking COMPLETE prototype here, a horizontal slice of the entire user experience – it may not be pretty or have all the bells and whistles yet, but even in this early state it’s scratching an itch the player didn’t even know they had. It’s Satisfying.


Pre-Prototype Rent Money


Requirements: Everything on this list has been selected because it either monetizes development OR it doesn’t actively demand time away from it. Which means you’ve got to figure out exactly what the hell you need to develop! Get yourself a Milestone Minutiae list: something that breaks down, in the most minute detail, each step you’re going to take to get from where you are now to Awesome Fucking Prototype.

Consulting/Services for Hire: If you’re doing something because it’s going to help you make a better game, save you time or grow your business – then I bet someone else out there needs it too.

  1. Create a profile and respond to jobs that match your development needs on outsourcing/freelancing sites: Elance, Sologig, vWorker
  2. Create a list of local companies who need what you’re doing for yourself. Ask to meet them for a coffee to find out if what you’re doing will save them time or money – and offer to do just that.

Teaching/Tutoring: Either you’ve figured out a better way of working and there’s someone out there who would benefit from knowing what you know OR you need to get better at a certain discipline to make what you want to make.

  1. List out all the unique skills and knowledge you’ve accumulated over the years and the methods you’ve learned to deliver that knowledge. Pick the ones that you’ll be depending on the most to develop your game and grow your business.
  2. Contact all the highschools, colleges and universities within a short drive of you and ask to talk to the head of whichever department is responsible for those specific disciplines
  3. Talk to them about delivering once off workshops, running short courses even casual teaching.
  4. Use your development byproduct as teaching materials!

Create eBooks and Video Tutorials: The same materials you would be using as teaching guides for schools and colleges can be sold as digital products online.

  1. Use a desktop recorder like Camstudio when you work. Turn that into a how-to workbook and sell it from your website.
  2. Send your how-to workbooks to training sites like Digital Tutors, CartoonSmart, Gnomon, and; Offer to turn that into a video tutorial series for a flat fee or a percentage of profits.

Sell your Byproduct: You are going to be producing so much STUFF during the course of development. Everything you produce can be packaged and sold to help fund the rest of your next milestone.

  1. Turn your Concept Art into Tshirt designs and sell them on Design by Humans 
  2. Package and sell scripts and code on Binpress, Unity Asset Store and SellMyApplication
  3. Promotional photos and personal photo albums can be sold on iStockphoto
  4. Art assets can be packaged up and sold on the Unity Asset Store and TurboSquid

Sell 3D Prints of your Art Assets: “You could also set up a shapeways shop  for selling 3D printed assets you create as a by-process, though you may need a bit of a following first. From what I understand, they do all the hard work like taking orders / sending them out you just need to supply the models.” [Submitted by Matthew Graham of The Alcoholemist. Thanks Matthew!]

Sell Old Stuff on Ebay: Vintage comics, games, figurines, the nordictrack stairmaster you bought but never used – there’s a new home out there for all of it.

Lifestyle and Expenses: The easiest way to make money is not to spend it! Take a machete to your budget, cut anything that doesn’t need to be there and look for ways you can save money.

  1. Reduce Rent: Move somewhere cheaper. Find flatmates. Move into your Great Aunt Ruth’s Basement
  2. Find cheaper utilities/phone/internet providers: See if you can get a better deal or bundle
  3. Use free and open source tools
      • Blender instead of Maya
      • Gimp instead of Photoshop
      • Google Docs instead of Microsoft Office
  4. Withdraw cash once per week: Pick a petty cash budget and stick to it (as opposed to hitting the ATM when you go out for food).
  5. Avoid bank fees: $2 here and $1.50 there can easily add up to a couple hundred by the end of the year (which you could have spent on asset packs, legal fees, etc).
  6. Learn to Cook and Cook in Bulk
  7. Reduce medical expenses: take better care of yourself!
      • Eat real food ( Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food).
      • Sleep 7-8 hour a night (seriously, you can’t afford a sick day)
      • Exercise 30 min a day (go for a walk at least!)
  8. Cancel Memberships: Instead of going to the Gym look into Minimalist/Bodyweight Fitness.
  9. Buy Local and In-Season: Real food gets real cheap when you cut out the distribution/manufacturing middle man. Visit your local markets, ask what’s in season, throw it in a slow cooker and nom.
  10. Don’t Buy New: Borrow games and books instead of buying them. Get clothes at op-shops or raid your friends closet (they haven’t worn that Black Sabbath t-shirt in YEARS!)


Post-Prototype Growth Funding


Requirements: An Awesome Prototype. The difficulty mode of each of these goes from Normal to Crazy Insane when you’ve got nothing but a slide show, a smile and yet another Great Idea. Give them something that’s already satisfying, will clearly be awesome with a bit more funding, and your chances of successfully raising capital to make that happen improve significantly.

Crowdfunding: There are of course a variety of crowd funding options out there now (RocketHub, Pozible, IndieGoGo) but Kickstarter is where users go when they want to invest in something. Create a Kickstarter account and spend copious amounts of time studying successful kickstarter campaigns to work out what they did right – and do those things! Not in the US? Get friendly and make yourself an American friend 🙂

Alpha Pre-Orders (known in my Incubator as “The Minecraft Model”): Everything you learn about engaging potential users through content (gameplay videos, blog posts, concept art, interviews, quirky donation perks) can be applied to selling pre-orders and accepting donations from your site. Will post more content around selling products from your own site as I work out my own e-commerce stuff here for Indie Bits!

Investment Funds: The best example of a sustainable funding model in our industry continues to be Indie Fund. Established by visionary developers, all successful in their own right, the fund aims to provide an alternative to a historically destructive publisher driven investment model. Talk to these guys when you’ve already got an awesome prototype and you’re bringing something new to the craft of user experience design.

Venture Capitalist Funding. Be fucking careful here. Most VC’s make their money when they flip your company after 3-5 years and you’ve become something worth selling. Go through those agreements with a scalpel and be prepared to be ruthlessly strict about who owns what IP, the right to bring on other investors, who makes the decision to sell, etc. You’ll want lawyers to make sure their exit plan doesn’t include anything that’s going to cost you your business. Don’t let upfront cash buy you.

Angel Investors. Still potentially fraught with peril, again the clarity of your contract is your only defense here, but Angel Investors on average tend to be more open to long term ROI (Return on Investment if you’re new to biz dev terminology). They’re looking to invest in something that will generate a nice passive income – and actively buying and selling companies is anything but passive! The first angel investor you find probably won’t be interested – but they WILL introduce you to the next one who might. Getting referrals to meet with other angel investors is the key here. Paul Gray, Biz Dev Genius over at Bubble Gum Interactive, has some great resources on approaching investors and is constantly updating their blog with valuable insights for startups.

The 3-Game Publishing Contract: After the release of Journey, ThatGameCompany’s final title owed to Sony, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of this particular publishing model. You create three titles exclusively for that platform then you’re free to keep making games on your own terms. IP Agreements are extremely precious here – the publisher gets those three games but you need an even split of profits if you’re going to fund your development AFTER your contract with them ends. Make sure it’s clear that you keep all your tools and anything made in your own time outside of the three approved projects belongs to you.


Got something to add to the list that’s worked for you? Post it in the comments! Even better, check out the contribute page and submit your own how-to article!


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10 Responses

  1. You could also set up a shapeways shop for selling 3D printed assets you create as a by-process, though you may need a bit of a following first. From what I understand, they do all the hard work like taking orders / sending them out you just need to supply the models.

    • Epona says:

      Awesome suggestion! Added to the list.

      Also Alcoholemist is looking stunning – is there a previs we can watch somewhere?

      • Cool, thanks. There is an outdated previs online, but my current internet connection bans me finding the direct link. It’s at

        ) We’re in the process of making a new, better one with the ‘final’ sets and characters, but it’s more of a layout than previs.

  2. Rebecca Fernandez says:

    There are a few options out there for those who need licensed software. We’re a part of the Microsoft Bizspark program: from which we get lots of free helpful software (including Windows, Visual Studio and Office) and a network of contacts we can tap into.
    This is win-win, you get free software when you need it most and Microsoft are likely to gain you as a customer when you’re able to support yourself. Only catch is that we have to tell people how amazing Microsoft are – which isn’t hard for us because (apart from IE) all their tools are pretty awesome.
    I’m sure there will be other things out there like this!

  3. tony oakden says:

    I’d add that if you are a programmer then don’t underestimate your tech skills. If you know how to set up a network, database, install software or even just plug a printer in there is probably potential for you to earn money in tech support. Setting up web pages for people is another great little money earner.

  4. Ivan Beram says:

    Inkscape instead of Illustrator — saves and reads SVG format, like those found via
    Paint.NET instead of GIMP — the whole floating windows thing I find irritating, even if the available normal map plugin is way better than some of the ones found for Paint.NET; plugins are the way to get most out of this program BTW.

    Kudos to mentioning venture capitalists and the perils with that road, and business angels. For the latter I think it’s more than likely not worth the time for most indies, unless you are developing technology or are extremely lucky to find a true “angel” who is interested in what you want to do, wants to invest so as to help out rather than generate a massive profit once he/she gets bought out, and, doesn’t really want to be involved with the day to day because they now playing games isn’t the same thing as making them. I think you’re simply going to waste a lot of your time with such approaches that you could be spending elsewhere. That is unless you have a business guy (perhaps an angel) who’s sole role on the team is business development and is happy to write an endless stream of business plans and docs for investors to look over and then to brown-nose the few that are interested. Otherwise most indies are going to have finite time to allocate when they aren’t: designing, documenting, modelling, animating, texturing, putting in funding apps for game (film) funding, handling all of their own marketing, learning how to do those things, doing a day job to pay bills, completing their studies, dealing with contractors, dealing with Centrelink, etc.

    But I’m a pessimist that way ;).

  5. Boon says:

    Bloody brilliant! Your post inspired my team and I to come up with non-standard means of monetization: We’re going to experiment with selling the assets we produce for our game on the Unity asset store. We hope that it’ll serve as a means of at least partially funding development. I’ll be sure to let you know if we have any success (or enormous failures, since that’s just as helpful to know!).

    I made a blog post about it here if you don’t mind off-site links:

  6. wonderful read!! Thank you for posting this all in one place. 🙂

    • Epona says:

      Hey Eric! Welcome to the site 🙂

      Glad you enjoyed the post – tried to strike that balance between as much helpful info on keeping the lights on as I could cram in one place without getting too overwhelming or specific to individual circumstances.

      Check out The Game Design Workshops for more resources on game design and shoot me an email anytime if you’ve got questions along the way.

      Happy game making!

    • Epona says:

      Also, since you’ve got the art chops I recommend looking into Game Maker as an introductory game dev tool. You’ll be able to create your own art assets obviously, but it will also get you comfertable with gameplay scripting.

      You don’t need to be a programmer to make games! (though every artist should learn to read code :P)

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