The Rise of the Independent Game Developer

Independent developers might not have as many resources as their larger studio counterparts have to offer, but it seems that the barrier to game development at least has been made a little bit easier to jump lately. A recent announcement from Unity, one of the most popular game rendering engines on the market today, delivered some good news for game creators, making Unity technology available for free on the iOS, Android, and Blackberry 10 platforms:

“Today, we’re taking another step on this long road: as of right now, independent Unity developers will be able to deploy their games to Android and iOS platforms completely free of charge. Update Unity and you will find Android and iOS build options (previously basic add-ons) ready and waiting for you to use.

There are no strings attached, no royalties and no license fees. This is just an extension of Unity Free which we launched in 2009. Individual developers and startup studios can simply download Unity and get going on mobile game development.” – Unity CTO David Helgason, “Putting the power of Unity in the hands of every mobile developer”

A video of this announcement can be seen below:

This dropping of licensing fees for these particular platforms means a significant savings; features that used to cost $800+ are now free to use. This shift in pricing structure can make the difference for a struggling developer looking for ways to cut costs, in addition to effectively making the higher revenue paid levels a little bit easier to access as well.

Independent mobile developers now have access to the same tools used by some of the most successful development studios out there, including Rovio – whom we all are familiar with from a little game called “Angry Birds”. This change in prices will potentially bring an increase of top-tier games from developers previously unable to break into this somewhat exclusive group due to budgetary restrictions, as well as an influx of new investment possibilities for budding indie developers.  

Indies using Unity

Unity is one of the most popular game development platforms out there, and this is made especially apparent looking at a couple of the most recently Intel-sponsored contests:

Ultimate Coder Challenge: Going Perceptual

  • Code-Monkeys and “StarGate Gunship”:  Used the Intel® Perceptual Computing SDK, sensors, Ultrabook™, Sony Tablet Tap 20 Unity, and our own Unity Plugins for Stargate Gunship. They also took advantage of Unity’s flexibility: “We plan to write multi-touch plugins as well as full perceptual plugins for Unity 4 and windows 8. Currently Unity does not support either but we have the tools and the knowhow to create our own pathway.”
  • Brass Monkey/Infrared5 and “Kiwi Catapult Revenge”: Used Unity and C#
  • Sixense and “Puppet in Motion” (winner): Used Unity to develop their prize-winning entry
  • Simian Squared and their pottery app: Used Unity along with their proprietary engine, Simian Tech

Intel® Perceptual Computing Challenge (Phase 1)

  • Lin Yunfan and JOY (Grand Prize Winner): App developed on the Intel Perceptual SDK with Unity 3D
  • Andres Martinez and 3D Head Scanner: “Delivered as a Unity project to be integrated into games and 3D apps. A Unity developer can use this project to create a personalized avatar character for a game. Or it can be used to export a 3D model for many other uses such as 3D printing.”
  • Nancy Hoffman and Perceptual Museum Exhibit: Used Unity3D asset and tool packages to accelerate +development (GUI/interaction, asset management, code samples, etc.)

Positive move for indie and cross-platform development

Cross-platform development is gaining more momentum as manufacturers continue to build a wide variety of consumer devices. Tools and frameworks that make cross-platform development as efficient as possible are vital for developers – and it’s not only the big studios that can afford to do multiple apps for each platform, if a smaller outfit has the right tools, they can manage to do it just as well.

A report titled “Cross Platform Mobile Development Tools Market Analysis and Forecast” published by Smiths Point Analytics reports that the market for cross-platform mobile development tools exceeds $1.6 billion right now, and is expected to reach $8.2 billion by 2016:

 “Developers are taking a number of cross platform development approaches and successful developers will match the right tools and approach to appropriate requirements and use cases. With the complexity of mobile app development continuing to grow, the tools vendors’ ability to reduce development time and increase application reach is generating significant opportunities. This new trend in mobile application development will also help fuel and more open and prosperous mobile app ecosystem.”

In addition to the above report, a recent survey conducted by the Game Developers Conference of more than 2500 North American game developers who attended the popular conference in 2012 or plan to attend in 2013 offered some intriguing insights on independent development outlooks:


  • Independent game development and smaller indie teams are making steady gains. 53% of respondents identified themselves as “indie developers”, and 51% of these had been developing games for less than two years.
  • 46% of the respondents work with organizations of ten people or less. Around half of those worked with an established publisher on their last project.
  • Smartphones and tablets are what most developers are working on, with 55% of respondents currently creating games on these platforms. 58% plan to release their next projects for smartphones and tablets.
  • Don’t count out the PC: 48% of developers are developing current games for this platform, and 49% are planning their next games for the PC.
  • Overall, tablets and smartphones are grabbing most developers’ time and interest, with 58% and 56% (respectively) interested in developing games for these platforms.


The independent developer certainly has fewer resources to support the rising list of device models and platforms for which to develop apps. There’s also the marketing budget to take into account, app optimization, and simple marketing. The idea of scaling in order to compete could potentially lead to independent developers banding together to make a bigger splash in the industry – after all, many hands make for light work. But with the advent of more tools like Unity being made available on a wider basis freely to those who can use them, competition should start getting more interesting in the developer ecosystem.

 We’re seeing a definite push towards more mobility and accessibility in the gaming ecosystem, just as we are in the general computing ecosystem overall. Mobile games have just made gaming accessible to a much larger population. It’s not that the console and PC gaming market is getting smaller, it’s that the casual game market is growing steadily larger and larger. The emphasis is on mobility and accessibility, more ways to play, and different business models that make computing and gaming as user-friendly as possible for the user, along with more channels for developers to get their games released.

As competition continues to heat up in the form factor ecosystem, there’s no doubt that manufacturers will continue to offer a wide variety of devices for a wide variety of consumers. That just makes sense. This poses a unique opportunity for developers, since all these devices will have different requirements for an optimum app experience.  From consoles to PC to mobile, there are a lot of choices out there for game developers. Problems are inherent on whichever platform they choose, and it’s going to be intriguing to see where the industry continues to head. As a developer, what do you think is the current state of game development and where is the industry headed next? Please share your comments with us.



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