Aspiring Indie Devs, Take Notes

Indie games have been making waves in the gaming industry for years now. These games are often more creative and experimental than AAA games. As an indie developer, you should not be afraid to take risks and try new things often, these leads have the potential to create some truly innovative and unique games.

Article by
Becky Chase
Article date
August 21, 2023

Why managing AI risk presents new challenges

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The difficult of using AI to improve risk management

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How to bring AI into managing risk

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Pros and cons of using AI to manage risks

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Benefits and opportunities for risk managers applying AI

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Some of the first indie games to achieve commercial success were: World of Goo, Minecraft, and Super Meat Boy.

We, indie developers, are very engaged with our fans and often use social media and other platforms to connect with players and get feedback. While no one can claim that AAA games don’t have a strong sense of community, the type of community is different. Whether it’s creating a subreddit for fans to flock to and converse with each other, live Q&A’s, or contests! Anything to engage your audience and keep your players talking amongst each other and about your game.

Indie devs have a reputation for creating a very personal and rewarding experience for gamers. A loyal fan base can make All the difference for your game. Players and gamers are vital for word-of-mouth marketing.

A Few Successful Indie Games

Some indie games that have reached commercial success in recent years include:
  • Undertale is an RPG that tells the story of a human who falls into the Underground, a world inhabited by monsters. The game is known for its unique battle system, its dark humor, and its exploration of complex themes such as free will and determinism. Between the dark hidden lore, memes, and sarcastic comments, there are also three different endings you can achieve. This increased the replay value, especially since there were many hidden secrets and dialogue that you would have had to have played the game multiple times to find… unless you Googled for it. This game has a passionate fanbase, to the point one of YouTuber; Game Theory’s own Matt Pat, posted a theory video on the game and was almost canceled. Upon its release, it was the most downloaded game on Steam in 2015. Reaching one million sales within a year! It was released without any large-scale marketing, primarily relying on word-of-mouth marketing. It also won game of the year. In all honesty, I think Undertale was released at the perfect time, it’s a mixture of dark humor, sarcastic comments, and mechanics blended with the time period so well. Sometimes, timing is everything.
  • Stardew Valley is a farming simulator that allows players to build their own farm and live a simple life. The game is known for its relaxing gameplay, its charming characters, and its vast amount of content. In 2016, Stardew Valley was the most downloaded game on Steam, totaling 20 million copies worldwide (to date)! The creator, Barone, used Facebook to post screenshots, trailers, and gameplay videos on Twitter. He reached out to YouTubers and Streamers to play the game, while also relying heavily on word-of-mouth marketing.
  • FNAFs is a huge commercial indie game success story is unlike many other indie games, selling over 65 million copies worldwide, reaching 1 million sales in less than a month. It took the internet by storm, hundreds of YouTubers flocked to play the game and millions of viewers flocked to watch their favorite gaming YouTuber scream in terror. This game is known for its jump scares, deep and complicated lore, as well as, at the time, unique characters. A Five Nights at Freddy’s movie is slated to appear on the cinematic screen later this year (2023). The game also inspired hundreds of fan games, similar to the original, yet continuing to market the original.
  • Mortuary Assistant was an indie horror game that took the community by storm. Not only did it garner massive fanfare from YouTuber’s communities, with over 100,000 sales in less than a month; it also sparked controversy over YouTube’s censorship programs and ‘algorithms’. Several YouTubers posted videos criticizing YouTube in the wake of the game’s play. All that aside, Mortuary Assistant was developed by a single person, (David Cohen) using many free assets. Yet the engaging and unique game mechanics and experience made it stand out in a sea of indie horror games. The mechanics and gameplay are pretty accurate and have been praised by many for getting the details right. It’s actually a common misconception that David was training to be a mortician, when in fact he was not. He just did tons and tons of research while developing the game.
  • Minecraft is a 3D pixel art sandbox video game that allows players to explore, create and interact with a virtual world made up of blocks. By 2023, just about everyone has heard of the hit game, and as of July (2023), there are over 1.3 trillion hours of Minecraft-related content on YouTube. (The most-watched Minecraft video on YouTube is "Minecraft - Episode 1 - The Beginning" by PewDiePie, which has over 1.6 billion views.) Minecraft was created by just one person: Markus Persson, aka Notch, who created the game in 2009. Players have built complex machines in-game using a block called "Redstone," including a working hard drive, an 8-bit virtual computer, and even a smaller-scale version of Minecraft that is playable. Since 2009, A wide variety of educational activities involving the game have been developed to teach students various subjects, including history, language arts and science.
  • Terraria is a sandbox action-adventure game that offers a distinct gameplay experience. This pixel art game is one you are sure to recognize as it has a unique 2D side-scroller feel. Players can gather resources, craft items, construct structures, and engage in combat. You can create elaborate houses, mine for ores and gems, farm plants, and even summon powerful creatures to aid you in battle. This game was created by Re-Logic which consisted of Andrew Spinks, who designed and programmed the game; and Finn Brice, who, along with Spinks, did the graphic design for the game.
  • Subnautica is a first-person alien/ocean survival game. In 2018, it took the YouTube gaming community by storm. Fascinated by the graphics, lore, and creature design, dozens of content creators made everything from play-throughs, walk-throughs, tutorials, and lore videos. Manage resources, build shelter, and explore the world learning about the lore, and progressing through the story. Subnautica is a challenging game, but it is also very rewarding. The player's sense of accomplishment as they explore the planet and overcome its challenges is unmatched. The game's visuals are also stunning, and the sense of isolation and wonder that the player experiences is unlike anything else.

Goodness, the list could go on and on. It only goes to show that Indie Games are getting better and better. The bar is high for others who want to break into the market.

Each of these separate indie games had something unique to offer.

Indie Game Trends

Here are some trends that are shaping the future of indie games:

The rise of crowdfunding:

Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have made it easier for indie developers to get their games funded. This has led to a surge in the number of indie games being released, and it has also helped to level the playing field between indie developers and major publishers. This is something our team plans on utilizing for the development of our new game, Daisy’s Diary, down the road. Follow Nexrage Gaming for updates and sneak peeks as to what we’re working on next!

The growth of the mobile gaming market

The mobile gaming market is now the largest gaming market in the world, and this is having a big impact on indie games. Many indie developers are now developing games specifically for mobile devices, and this is opening up new opportunities for indie games to reach a wider audience. Our game Junk Odyssey was developed with the mobile market in mind.

In 2022, there were over 600,000 indie games released on mobile phones, so beware of a saturated market. In that same year, indie games generated over $9 billion in revenue on mobile phones. Currently, action games, simulation games, and casual games are the most popular and downloaded mobile games.

The increasing popularity of esports

Esports are becoming increasingly popular, and this is also having an impact on indie games. Many indie games are now being developed with esports in mind, and this is leading to the creation of more competitive and skill-based indie games. Like Rocket League or PubG!

The Rise of Digital Marketing

We’ll talk about this a bit more below, but the widespread use of digital marketing creates the perfect outlet for indie developers to share their projects, ask questions, build community, and of course market your game!

Find your Niche and Community

Building your game for the masses is usually not a good idea. Creating a detailed customer or gamer profile of your target market will help narrow down the mechanics, art style, and dialogue of your game.

There are thousands of games released every year, and it can be difficult for a new game to stand out from the crowd. However, there is still a place for niche games in the market. In fact, niche games can be some of the most successful games of all time.

A niche game is a game that caters to a specific audience. It may be a game that is based on a particular genre, theme, or style of gameplay. Niche games are often overlooked by the mainstream gaming audience, but they can be very popular with their target audience. There are a number of reasons why creating a niche game could be the success you've been looking for all along. First, niche games are less likely to be saturated than mainstream games. This means that there is less competition for your game, and you are more likely to stand out from the crowd.

Second, niche games often have a very dedicated fan base. This means that your game is more likely to sell well, and you are more likely to get positive reviews.

Finally, niche games can often be more creative and innovative than mainstream games. This is because niche games are not constrained by the need to appeal to a wide audience. As a result, niche games can often offer a unique and refreshing gaming experience.

If you are looking to create a successful video game, then consider creating a niche game. By catering to a specific audience, you can increase your chances of success.

What Makes a Successful Indie Game

The future of indie games is bright. With the continued growth of the gaming industry and the rise of new technologies, indie games are well-positioned to continue to grow in popularity. As indie games continue to grow in popularity, cloud gaming is one new technology that could help them reach even more players. Cloud gaming allows gamers to play games without having to download or install them, which could make it easier for indie developers to get their games into the hands of players. Stay tuned for additional blogs covering topics like cloud gaming, esports, and trending game mechanics!

Each of the various indie games we listed above has unique gameplay, mechanics, visuals, marketing, and community engagement and reactions. They’re all vastly different, however, share one thing in common. Near commercial success.

Some of the major takeaways from the games above are:
  • Create a Strong Atmosphere, this can help to make your game more memorable. Players are more likely to remember a game that had a strong atmosphere than a game that was simply fun to play.
  • Tell a Compelling Story, which usually creates characters or scenarios that players relate and connect to. Making your game more immersive and enjoyable.
  • Design Challenging but Fair Gameplay, if your game is either too hard or too easy your player will quit. Now, occasionally a game that is difficult to play may garner mass attraction, like the Souls games, or games like Getting Over it.
  • Create a Sense of Progression, if it doesn’t feel like the player is making a difference or progressing the story, the player is more likely to quit. Ensure that the pace of the story and mechanics is either up to the player or steadily moving along.
  • Incorporate Player Choice, this has been an increasingly popular genre of game, the insinuated power of choice makes the game feel more immersive. Your players are part of the world, making real choices that affect the game’s outcome, dialogue, or other NPC.
  • Using humor can help to break the tension in a game and make it more enjoyable. This is especially true in games that are challenging or stressful. Humor can also help to create a sense of connection between players and make the game more social. This is because humor can help players to bond over shared experiences and laugh together.
  • Creative and Unique, creative stories, dialogue, and visuals automatically perform better. Usually, creative = unique.
  • Listen to Feedback, the community and beta testers may provide feedback or suggestions that may help your game succeed. The larger your sample size, the broader feedback you’ll get. Now while not all the feedback or suggestions should be implemented, use your best judgment, the feedback, and suggestions may prove to be the sentiment of the gaming community as a whole.
  • Keep the Game Fresh, adding new content regularly like DLC or game packs will keep players coming back, to finish playing or to replay. Give your players enough content or gameplay to keep them coming back. One of the biggest draws of Minecraft is how often you can restart and have a completely different experience. There are also mod packs, server games, and different challenges!
  • Have Fun! If you have fun making the game, the players will have fun playing the game. Of course, engaging mechanics, a compelling story, and other various elements don’t hurt either. 😊

Recent Indie Game Trends


Generally, it’s best to focus on a game's unique selling points, a feature, or a mechanic that sets your game apart. Showcase the game’s visuals or graphics, highlight the story, and tease story elements or the overall goal of the game. Be sure to start marketing your game early. Social media is a great way to get the word out. Start with small teasers, using trending audios, and hashtags, or get influencers involved. Having a strong social presence can foster a sense of community with your players.

While talking about community, there’s a big difference between an indie game and a AAA game. Yes, big AAA games have a community behind them, however, the personalization and closeness indie game developers have with their community is different. Getting involved in local game development meetups or groups can be a great way to get the word out about your game as well.

A popular marketing tactic used by indie game developers is guerilla marketing. There are several different examples of guerilla marketing tactics that businesses use. This tactic isn’t just used by small companies, it’s regularly used by large corporations as well. It’s a great way to mix it up, startle your audience and advertise in an unexpected, nuanced, or surprising way. An example that was recently trending is the Grimace’s birthday Shakes, the trend was started by McDonald’s marketing team. Other examples of guerilla strategies are ambush marketing, street marketing, viral videos, and undercover influencer marketing.

TikTok marketing is being used by indie developers due to its algorithm. Statistically, your videos on TikTok will be viewed by more users than on YouTube Shorts. Instagram Reels is another good place to showcase your game, depending on its aesthetic seeing as Instagram is still a very aesthetic visual-heavy platform.

Indie Developers are also creating YouTube channels to talk about, showcase, livestream, and post other videos related to their game. And obviously, don’t forget about humor. It’s an important tool any game marketer can have under their belt. Humor helps us relate to our fellow humans on a different level.

Lore and Game Theory

There’s a whole YouTube community centered around game theory and lore. Game Theory boasts nearly 20 million subscribers, and regularly garners roughly 2 million views per video. With over 1,000 videos relating to big names and indie game lore, the creatives behind the channel can be attributed to the success and additional marketing of several indie games. Matt Pat has covered games like FNAF, Undertale, Amanda the Adventurer, etc.

While this is just one channel, there are thousands of other channels dedicated to video game lore and story. Create an engaging atmosphere with deep lore, and your game is bound to be covered by a few of these channels.

Assets and Graphics

We’ve seen many games last year and this year come out with less-than-stellar graphics. Yet they are huge successes. Games like Amanda the Adventurer, Mortuary Assistant, or Garten of Ban Ban. While these three games have been a massive hit, a lot of that is due to successful word of mouth. Which cannot always be counted on. Visuals and graphics of your marketing or store pages are the first impressions your critical first users will see. Be mindful and test graphics to see what audiences respond to best.

Beware Genre

Puzzle platformers used to be a hit, they’d perform and generate buzz and revenue. However, since 2018 there hasn’t been a huge success. (Apart from Little Nightmares and Inside). The genres that tend to generate the most revenue are Action RGPs, FPSs, and City Builders.

It is vital to do your homework on the types of trending games within the last couple of years. Monitoring and making an informed decision on what type of game to make can be pivotal.


According to the list of Best Performing Games of 2017 (on Steam), there is a more than evident trend that dark and gritty games perform well.

Dark stories, humor, and visuals have always fascinated people. Dark stories are more engaging and feel more real with twinges of darkness intertwined.

One set of games not mentioned in the list above is Chilla’s Art games. JackSepticEye and other connoisseurs of the horror genre shout the games’ praise every chance they get. The games are grounded in reality, the only monsters are human - which strikes a chord with avid gamers and others alike. The gameplay isn’t anything special, but the story-driven play captivates audiences and leaves them with pits in their stomachs.

Other top-performing games from 2017 are The Witcher, PubG, Grand Theft Auto, Divinity Original Sin, Ghost Recon, etc. While it should be noted that these were trending in 2017, ESA found that in 2022 44% of gamers prefer dark and grittier games (up from 37% the previous year).

Good Reviews Don’t Equal Success

You may have an overwhelmingly positive review and score on the game store. But great reviews don’t automatically mean success. The world isn’t fair and people don’t always get what they deserve. Nowadays, creating a ‘good game’ isn’t enough to garner success.

Success for your game will be different than our games. Are you basing your success on revenue or downloads?

Game Development Tips

Game developers can create successful and engaging games by focusing on four key areas: innovative game mechanics, trends, graphics, and stories.

The video game market is constantly shifting and evolving. New genres, technology, and mechanics, are always being tested. By paying attention to trends, game developers can stay ahead of the curve and create games that are more likely to be successful. For example, the rise of VR gaming has created new opportunities for game developers. VR games can offer a more immersive and realistic experience than traditional games, and they are becoming increasingly popular.

Some of the resources our team uses to stay up to date on what the gaming market is looking for and other game trends are:

  • Game Informer
  • IGN
  • Kotaku
  • GameSpot

YouTube Channels

  • Game Maker's Toolkit
  • Blender Guru
  • Code Monkey
  • World of Zero
  • Brackeys
  • Gameranx
  • Video Game Dunky
  • Moist Critical

All of our game developers subscribe to or watch one or more of the resources listed above. Whether it’s to learn more about the game market, to brush up or learn something new in Blender, or stay up to date on game trends, being active in communities will be beneficial to both your development and your games.

Take a peek at a few of our subreddit recommendations: r/gamedev r/indiegames r/gamedevelopment r/gaming

Capitalize on unique graphics and designs (if applicable to your game) and marketing them early! Hundreds of indie game developers share sneak peeks, game mechanics, and small updates regularly on TikTok and Instagram Reels. These can be anywhere from 15 seconds to a minute to maximize view time and retention. Games don't end when they're released. Game developers need to support their games with updates, bug fixes, or new content. By supporting their game after launch, game developers can keep players engaged and coming back for more. By following these tips, game developers can continue to create successful and engaging games that players will enjoy for years to come.


Indie development is a treasure trove of creativity and innovation. The indie game market is constantly evolving, and there are always new trends emerging. However, there are a few key things that all successful indie games have in common. They are all unique, and creative, and offer something new to the gaming landscape. They are also well-made and polished, and they provide a great gaming experience.

Here are a few things that indie developers can learn from successful indie games:

  • Focus on your strengths. What makes your game unique? What are you passionate about? Don't try to be everything to everyone. Instead, focus on your strengths and make a game that you are proud of.
  • Create a great experience. Gameplay is the most important part of any game. Make sure that your game is fun to play and that it offers a challenge.
  • Polish your game. A well-polished game will make a good first impression and will keep players coming back. Make sure that your game is free of bugs and that it looks and plays its best.

Here are a few additional things that indie developers should keep in mind when developing their games:

  • Don't give up. The indie game industry is tough, but it is also very rewarding. Don't give up on your dream of making a successful indie game.
  • Be patient. It takes time to make a successful indie game. Don't expect to become an overnight success.
  • Have fun! Making games should be enjoyable. If you're not having fun, it will show in your game.

The gaming industry is constantly evolving, and there are a number of new trends that are shaping the future of gaming. Cloud gaming, VR gaming, and esports are just a few of the trends that are changing the way we play games.

These trends offer new opportunities for gamers and developers alike. Cloud gaming makes it possible to play games without having to download or install them, making gaming more accessible to a wider audience. VR gaming offers a new level of immersion and interactivity, making games more engaging and exciting. And esports is becoming more popular than ever, which leads to new career opportunities for gamers.

It will be interesting to see how these trends develop in the years to come. However, one thing is for sure: the future of gaming is bright.