Indie Opportunities
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 4 (April 2004)

Indie Opportunities

Contrary to popular belief, the independent game-developer community is not made up entirely of nerdy teenage boys who spend more time stealing other people’s code than creating their own. A comprehensive new survey from Acacia Research Group called “The Amateur/Independent Game Development Tools Market,” shows that while this group contains its share of absolute beginners, it is made up largely of professional adults who are well educated, experienced, and willing to devote serious time and money to develop games for a rapidly expending and diversifying market.

To conduct the survey, Acacia polled independent game developers on the Web sites they tend to frequent, including The results showed that the majority were males over the age of 21, that nearly three-quarters had attended "institutes of higher learning," and that a third had game-development industry experience. The data also revealed that approximately half the respondents spend between 10 and 30 hours per week on game projects that earn 20 percent of this group between $500 and $50,000 per year and another 5 percent between $50,000 and $100,000 per year.

When it comes to paying for development tools, more than 90 percent said they purchased software over the past five years, and nearly 40 percent spent from $500 to more than $5000. However, on the downside, nearly 30 percent said they pirate development programs, and 25 percent admitted to stealing more than $5000 worth of such tools.

How do they justify stealing? Some say it is excusable because they're not making money from their work. In fact, those who make the least steal the most. Other pirates feel it's acceptable to use stolen software when the vast majority of features in a program go unused. For example, stealing Photoshop for pixel art is fine, some say, because buying such an expensive package wouldn't make sense for such limited use.

Despite the lost revenues from pirating, Acacia's five-year projections show total sales of development tools—including both content and coding software—to the independent game-development market will rise steadily from roughly $30 million this year to more than $55 million by 2008, a compound annual growth rate of 16 percent.

Several factors are contributing to the rise of the independent game-development market. First, the Internet has enabled information exchange between developers and provided a ready-made production pipeline for even the most under-funded projects. Second, there has been steady growth in the tools for creating game content—and these have become more accessible to non-professionals, both in terms of price and usability. Third, and perhaps most significant, there are more opportunities to develop content for a greater variety of games than ever before, even for the emerging "serious games" now being designed for education and training purposes (see "Serious Games," February 2004, pg. 4).

Independent game developers would do well to seek out these new opportunities, as well as use the new development and distribution tools available to them. And tool vendors would be wise to look beyond the tapped-out high end of the market for new customers and meet the needs of this emerging market by providing users with relevant tool sets at affordable prices.

Phil LoPiccolo