Indie Game Business with Jay Powell

by Brandon Pham
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“Once you get through that first phase of realizing that you’re doing a startup and that everything is on you. I’m like, its a weight on my shoulder if you know we don’t have food on the table and that’s my fault but when you start bringing on a team of people you know, I started worrying a whole lot more about the business.”

— Jay Powell (Founder of Indie Game Business)



The hardest thing to do in the game industry as an indie to date HAS to be, telling enough people who would like a game like your’s, that you’ve made it and they should try it. Getting your game noticed without having big bucks at your disposal like major publishers do is near worthy of a presidential award. So in our hopes of making that task even one step easier, we took an hour to talk with Jay Powell who came bearing gifts…

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Jay: “Just as a quick intro, I’ve been on the business side of this industry for 20 years. I was the person who landed some of the first deals for people like People Can Fly, Starbreeze, paradox studios. I go way back to the 90’s when we used to put games in boxes and shove it on a shelf. Then 9 years ago, I started a consulting firm where we do, biz-dev, marketing, licensing consulting. We help developers and publishers and conferences and service providers because we track over 600 publishers and over 4,000 plus developers. We can quickly go, “Ok you need a team that can do an IOS game, you know a runner on IOS and we can sort through our tag system and all this backend and spit out a list of it. And then one of the things that’s always bugged me is there’s no way for developers ot learn business. We have all of these colleges and universities that are like, “We’re going to give you a game design degree”, They do art, and producing but they don’t do business. So we started our twitch show about a year ago, to share the knowledge that a lot of people can’t get because they cant afford to go to GDC and all that stuff.

We know a lot about putting on a show and the feeling of offering your “amazing” niche content to your community, but as it’s growing you could get discouraged when you look at the 3 people or less watching your content. It may suck to know your putting an hour into something that 3 or less people see, but at least there is comfort in knowing that when it exists online people can find it later, and in the end your viewership could be drastically different from when it aired live.
It really does take a certain type of person to just create like this and be comfortable / ok with that kind of viewer support if it’s your business. To shoulder that and still push on…

Jay: “Once you make that first step the first time, and the Powell Group is my second company… It just turned 9 this year, but for 3 years before that I started another startup with three friends of mine but we all worked together at the first place I worked for nearly a decade. Once you take that step the first time and you understand that you know… Your days of a regular paycheck are shot and here in the US anyway you’re probably either not going to have insurance or you’re gonna have crappy health insurance then because you’re running a company it gets a lot easier after that you know? Once you get through that first phase of realizing that you’re doing a startup and that everything is on you. I’m like, its a weight on my shoulder if you know we don’t have food on the table and that’s my fault but when you start bringing on a team of people you know, I started worrying a whole lot more about the business.

But I’m going to flip it around and ask you about issues that you see with developers in the industry and what barriers to their success are you hearing about commonly, Larry?”

Well, where I sit as a developer myself who’s also in the industry, though I’m on the indie side now, I’ll say it’s like discoverability is always my biggest fear. Like, alright I have this great thing but so does everyone else and we’re all yelling in the same room trying to get the hot girl’s attention (so to speak) or just trying to get the people ni the room to give us their attention and not give it to other people or support us or whatever. Knowing that I need to find a way to make a boom fast, for cheap and get as many people as possible who could like my product to find my product… Discoverability is always that problem. Even if I have everything else right, if I don’t have a way to get the word out to the people who should be hearing it, it might have all been for nothing and so I think more than anything that’s the thing that stays in my mind the most even MORE than making a quality product.

Jay: “Without a doubt, the most frequent email message, phone call that I get and I cant help with is “our game is launching next week and we have no budget, can you help with it?”. No! Nothing, and may God have mercy on your soul there’s nothing I can do for you, or anyone can do for you. That issue hasn’t changed in 20 years, its the same issue that I saw when I first started, developers don’t have the mentality of “This is actually a business” but if you don’t make money on your game you’re gonna have to go get another job while you make your next game and you know we’ve had several guests on the shows that have emphasized over and over, the minute your game has a screenshot, you need to start building your audience. You need to start buying ads on facebook and twitter and instagram or anything.

Justin French had a great article on Gamasutra a few weeks ago talking about how to, you know, especially early on, drive everybody to your discord and use discord as your community hub service. It’s getting developers to understand that you can’t just make a great game, you have to make a great game and tell everybody about it.”

I would even add onto that before you even FINISH making that great game GO TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT.

What bothers me about it now is it feels like people aren’t on the pulse. Yeah but they call themselves businessmen or businesspeople and say “All we got to do…”. Whenever I hear “All we got to do” yeah I like, in my mind I’ve already folded my arms and I’m like alright here it comes. I hate when people get out of touch and don’t know it or don’t try to do anything about being out of touch. They aren’t surveying the market and seeing “Wow, it’s difficult or the cost to acquire each customer is super high right now, what creatively can we do to try to mitigate that.

We started a podcast three years ago and this is true facts, we want to make and sell games and we’re like “lets start this podcast and build a community who get to know who we are, we’ll even give them value by interviewing guests by offering our opinion by doing all this great stuff, who knows when the game part will actually come through but like, by the time we get to that point imagine where the audience will be”.

Jay: “We are as an industry tuned to think of what we do as art, that’s the mentality that we have. With that comes the whole, if I make something pretty, engaging, or fun people will automatically come. And it’s not true, and it gets back to the fact that no one teaches and reinforces this early on in the industry.”

What are you seeing from the bigger companies that are stumbling right now, we’re seeing a lot of fumbles with PR. And when those fumbles happen, can you give us a front row seat as to what’s going on behind closed doors? To us it seems more obvious but maybe there’s something you know going on that we don’t?

Jay: “It absolutely staggers me how some of these companies don’t realize the basics and so what we just thought, we can start with EA. Battlefront 2 ended up going so poorly that the CEO of DIsney called the CEO of EA. “Hold on a second, I need to call these guys”. “DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH WE PAID FOR STAR WARS”. It just shocks me and I think part of it is because these companies get, they get tunnel vision. They get an understanding of what they’re used to. Its not that EA doesn’t understand microtransactions, their FIFA world Team card game in the FIFA game makes them millions of dollars but they cant seem to understand that maybe this is a different audience and they dont wan’t that. I was so impressed when Respawn launched Apex Legends just out of the BLUE! But within a week, I had a post saying do not expect Apex Legends to monetize like fortnite because they missed the boat. The skins you can buy, there was no way to actually flaunt it and that’s why people buy skins and dances. It’s like when you’re looking at someone 200 yards out playing fortnite you can still tell that dude’s dressed up like Mr. Doburger. When someone’s 200 yards away in Apex, you don’t know what skin they have and don’t really care because they’re shooting at you, the game is much faster.”


  • Connect with Jay Powell:

Twitch | YouTube | Podcast | DiscordEvent 

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