Jeff Ward has a great article on Gamasutra about the viability of the indie scene these days, which ties right back into the recent blog post on new bosses and old bosses. He analyzes iPhone, XBLA, and PC markets, as well as the alternative funding model of getting investors in advance for a title.
So at the largely standard rate of $1, a single developer needs to push 57,000 copies of a game per year in order to support himself, or to push multiple applications which can reach that number. With the number of iPhones on the market somewhere around 6 to 10 million, how many sales can you expect? Mac Rumors reports that four apps easily hit almost a million sales, but what’s the data like for games, and indie games at that?
The most telling post probably comes from the developer of Dapple, who wrote a very long post on how much money he actually made on the product; he has sold a total of about 500 copies. In addition, this post on the price of apps versus their popularity shows very few indie games in the list and very little money being made, Fieldrunners (essentially an App Store Launch Title) being the notable exception.
The limiting factor, in the end, is still poking up above the noise. Good games like Dapple may not rise above the sea of apps based on quality alone. What can turn a Dapple into something more viable is marketing muscle — which takes money.
Part of the reason why Flash is so attractive to many developers is the fact that it has potentially large distribution. But most consumers do not scour the Net looking for Flash titles; they find them on portals, who do have limited shelf space, and then we’re back in the tyranny of limited inventory. But “limited inventory” is commutative with “marketing.” They are the same thing: the process of singling out specific products in the consumers’ eyes.
The Long Tail idea in general is dependent on the notion of reaching large scale. It said that every niche product has someone out there who wants it, and it is now possible to connect product with that audience. But the Long Tail never promised a real income based on that. Niche products must either be intensely targeted and able to command a premium within their niche, or be basically donations to the commons.