The Indie Budget

It’s good to be back!  Thanks @mysterycoconut for the new format.  It’s gonna be great reading all the entries each day and I love that if I miss an interval I can still get back with it the next time (although I’m hoping not to abuse that power).  When I left you last time I was still working on my 5th game.  Unfortunately that’s the state I’m still at several months later.  It’s been a busy Summer, but looking forward to the Fall and Winter to get some coding done.  So today I want to talk about the Indie Budget and some thoughts/questions I’ve had.

Before I can talk about the indie budget I have to define what it means to be an independent developer.  I started searching around for a good definition and found many, ranging from

(By the way… take a moment to read the NinjaBee Dance article, it raises some good questions)

So that didn’t really help, did it?  I’m gonna go with a combination of the 3rd and 4th definition and twist it towards the app store.

“An indie is someone who designs apps with total freedom both financially and creatively and is motivated by passion, not money.”

I will say that I’m not not entirely immune to the money motivation.  I still aspire to hit it big like Tiny Wings, but if I didn’t have a passion for this, the money wouldn’t be a big enough motivating factor.

With that said… what is the indie budget?  I’m gonna define it as

“The indie budget is the amount of money spent to develop, market, and maintain an app.”

Not an overly complex definition.  But if an indie is motivated by passion and not money, then what does it really cost to develop an app?  I hear about indie budgets of over $30,000 for a one-person-developed app and see indies with fairly decent marketing campaigns.  Neither of those fit my personal situation.  I don’t give myself a salary for my time and my marketing costs are relatively low.  I would consider my indie budget is less than 5% of what I make.

But this doesn’t fit everyone (although I’m suspecting it fits a vast majority of us).  The Indie community spans a wide range of developer types.  Some committed full-time, some the weekend code warriors, and some (like me) coding when we find the time (and motivation).  So everyone has their own budget.  If I was doing this full-time then I would probably have to consider giving myself a salary.  If I was riskier I’d probably be spending more on marketing (although with my success at what I have done, that is debatable).

So when does income and budget start to dictate that you might not be an “indie” anymore?  If you’ve hired 5 people to program, do artwork, and create music are you totally free financially and creatively anymore? You are now tied to providing salaries and so finances start to dictate what you do.  You now have a difference of opinion on your team and are not solely the creative director.  You are now no longer totally in control of your destiny.  Perhaps “indie” means just that… INDEPENDENT… a team of one.  Hmmm….

I believe in total transparency if it can help others.  So with that I’m gonna publish my financial history in hopes that it will motivate (or demotivate) and put into perspective this whole indie business.  There are some stand-out indies who have made it big, but as I’ve said… I suspect I’m in the boat with 80% of us.  So I think these numbers will help.  In the 2.5 years since I started this adventure I’ve made $20,000 total on 4 paid apps (and 5 free apps).  I just brought up Quicken and my expenditures were just around $1000.  This includes marketing and service providers.  It does not include the $3000 I’ve spent on development equipment (1 iPod touch, 1 macbook air, 1 iMac, 1 iPad).  The equipment I consider the “justification” for my development.  If I wasn’t developing, I wouldn’t be buying this stuff.

Here’s my AppViz report (and if you aren’t using AppViz… why not?).  Click on it for an up close look.

The graph points out a couple of things.  It only takes a few weeks after that initial release spike to dissipate.  Christmas time is always good.  Since April my sales have really sucked (this might be in part to the restructuring that PlayHaven did that impacted my visibility).  Tramp Stamp wasn’t quite the hit that I wished.  I hope this helps.  Let me know your definition of “indie developer” and how much you think we should be budgeting for salaries and marketing.  Am I your typical indie developer or could I be doing more?

Until next time….


4 Responses to “The Indie Budget”

  1. DeveloperDT on September 4th, 2011 6:23 pm

    Good article. It is nice to know I am not the only dev out there hoping for a homerun app.

  2. Kyle Newsome on September 6th, 2011 6:42 pm

    Great article Doug! Thanks also for sharing the numbers, transparency all the way!

    The indie budget is a funny thing, and as you rightly point out, hard to define. The definition of “indie” could almost be “something hard to define” :p

    In my opinion, you are pretty much Indie until you proclaim you aren’t or the vast majority claims you aren’t and not before.

    In my opinion, Indie just means that you are
    1. A product driven creator (rather than marketing driven) of some relatively small size
    2. Not mainstream

    Indie Devs are the same as Indie Rock Bands as far as I can see, and just because you are bigger than nothing and have a publisher, doesn’t mean you aren’t indie any more. “Selling Out” (a.k.a becoming marketing driven) to reach the mainstream pretty much seals the deal though.

    I could be very wrong, but that’s always been my POV anyway.


  3. Doug on September 6th, 2011 7:17 pm

    @kyle Thanks Kyle. Great feedback!

  4. Greg Holsclaw on October 8th, 2011 9:20 pm

    I know this is a bit late, but thanks for the great post. I have read that the sweet spot for ROI for the Apple App store, games specifically, is between $50,000 – $150,000. This is since there are a ton of ‘cheaply done’ apps in the app store. It is just really hard to have a ‘break out’ game in just two or three months of one dev’s work.

    But you post has inspired me to both check into my internal motivations on why I went indie, and double check what is the best use of my time and money as I develop my first game.

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