Thinking about creating small desktop games, who is this market?


I'm thinking about starting to build and publish small desktop games and

puzzles. My background is 10 years of server c++/java programming. No GUI experience, and no gaming experience. I just love games.

How hard is this market? Can anyone give me real life insights of this desktop indie small games mIsv industry?


asked Oct 29 '09 at 17:13
238 points

9 Answers


I would say desktop is a bad market for this, unless you are doing flash games. I would encourage you to look at doing this for mobile audiences and on hand held platforms like the PSP and DS.

To expand on this, there are really a number of reasons I suggest this.

  1. Most mobile/hand held gaming systems have a distribution channel that all of their customers are funneled into. This means potentially large amounts of customers having a chance to see, and purchase your game. While you still need to do marketing in most cases, often these channels also feature rankings that if your able to climb will usually result in high sell volumes and being picked up by outside press and review sites easily. This can lead to your product becoming self sustaining simply from holding a high rank, and no other marketing campaign happening.
  2. Developing for a fixed platform such as a game console or Iphone is much easier to do than developing for the PC sea in some ways. There maybe more technical debt that needs to be payed in order to be able to successfully develop for them, but the strength is that you have a single hardware configuration.

With PC you have thousands of different hardware configurations, graphic cards, etc. This can becomes a huge compatibility and support nightmare quickly. This is why there are hardware compatibility labs and testing services that run successful businesses around this service, as you really need to test on a huge range of hardware. You also need to worry about frame rates and system requirements. With a console you don't have any of this, you code it to work on a given console and it works the same way across all of them.

Note that this is also true for the at large mobile cell phone market, and some others like Android, you end up needing in this case to test on tons of different devices that also have different hardware configurations and limits. This is why I really recommend Iphone/Flash/Hand held game consoles (PSP/DS/GBA)

answered Oct 29 '09 at 18:03
Centurion Games
626 points
  • Yes, piracy is lower on some of these mobile platforms, but the number of mobile units is much smaller than the number of gamers with PCs. Does the larger audience compensate for increased piracy? – D Thrasher 14 years ago
  • Piracy is bad in most markets (Xbox Live Arcade, and a few others being the notable exceptions), but more importantly is the fact that he is talking about casual games. Casual pick and play games are huge in the mobile, flash, and hand held markets. In addition most of these markets have easily accessed stores that are integrated with the device, and funnel all customers to the same location. This funneling effect can greatly help with sales, on the PC you don't have this, and the customer based is scattered and you need to worry about the distribution channel much more. – Centurion Games 14 years ago
  • PSP is not a good example though since they do expect a very high quality game and generally they won't take indie developers unless you come with something really good. – The Dictator 14 years ago
  • Look into the PSP Mini's publishing program, its still difficult to get into, but it is open to indie developers, and costs a lot less, there is also no concept approvals needed. – Centurion Games 14 years ago


It's a tough, tough market to make PC games, but it also has a vibrant indie game community.

In contrast to the other answers here, I'd argue that desktop-based games can be easier to start with than with mobile devices, because the barriers to entry are lower.

If you develop for a mobile platform, the makers of the device act as gatekeepers. You'll often need to purchase their developer tools and framework. You'll need to submit your product for their content and quality review.

Developing a flash-based game might be a good compromise, but it presents challenges of its own. I highly recommend reading Lost Garden, a great blog about indie gaming with a focus on Flash.

If you're not plugged in to the indie PC community, I recommend going to GameTunnel and checking out some of the games and developers featured there. Many indie developers have blogs or articles that highlight aspects of developing games and the business of gaming.

answered Oct 30 '09 at 01:38
D Thrasher
894 points


As with any new endeavor, you first want to get an idea as to the target market.

For instance, how much, now, do you play these type of casual games?

For an example of one revenue stream look at: But, again, it depends on who is in your target market. This will be of more interest to 30+ yr olds, most likely.

For the younger market you are looking at IPhone and Android, but neither are really using C++ and games that run on their social networking sites.

If you can make a chess game over Twitter for example, two can play, and others can monitor the game, and that may be of interest, but how would you possibly make any money off of it?

Any of these will require you to learn new platforms and languages, and get into GUI work, unless you stuck to Twitter games.

So, for you the barrier to entry is high due to your lack of experience in this area, if you have someone that has considerable java experience, for example, then you may be able to do something moderately quickly on Android, if that person also knows OpenGL (the 3D graphics for Android).

It is doable, how much work, how profitable, depends on the details of your ideas, and the implementation.

You may be able to get some work by writing some casual games for people to use on a business website, for example, "Dress up your child" at GapKids. This would get you experience in doing casual games, and perhaps be a source of revenue.

answered Oct 30 '09 at 03:29
James Black
2,642 points


I have been a Palm game developer and had success selling casual games. Here is the outline if I were to start again.

Build a browser based HTML5 game using javascript and the canvas tag.
Don't go for fancy games, just basic puzzles to begin with.
The benefit of this approach is that now you can use phonegap like tools to package it for Android and iphone. It also works on desktop and you can host a free version on your site.

answered Feb 3 '11 at 01:40
420 points


Desktop sounds so 90s. Just kidding but desktop is hard. There is too much friction for the average user - find online, download, install, etc. It's, like 93%, easier to open a flash game in the browser and 85% of users can do it. (totally made up numbers)

Then there is the piracy - finally a user installs your game, but you don't get any money off it. 2D Boy, the makers of the superb World of Goo, reported 90% privacy for the pc version of the game. This article on their blog discusses that. There wasn't any DRM, but still 90% is too much.

I'd advice you go for mobile, social or consoles:

  • The iPhone is big, but kind of hard to get noticed (like any market).
  • There is good opportunity in flash especially in the social networks. Facebook is huge (see Zynga, Playdom, Playfish) and Twitter based games might be just taking off (I don't really think there is much value in twitter games myself). Plus you don't really need that fancy graphics (you still need good looking graphics though).
  • I'm not really sure how consoles are doing, but the Wii Ware and Xbox Arcade look fine.

Oh, and a great graphics designer is a must.

answered Oct 29 '09 at 19:23
Slav Ivanov
1,146 points


I'd say just focus on making one game, and keep improving it over the time and simultaneously launch it over as many platforms as possible. Multi-player games and especially building a community around it works out quite well.

Anyway I suggest that you should first pick up a game development book and learn more about the art and science of game development.

answered Oct 30 '09 at 01:13
Arpit Tambi
1,050 points


Take a look at the game maker. Creating a game is super easy, then you can create desktop executables AND web versions of your game. Plus, a $25 license for the full version of the game maker - can't beat that. Just try to play a few of the games their users have made - very impressive stuff.

answered Oct 30 '09 at 01:55
Ben Mc
421 points


Personally I'd try iPhone as starter.

  • It's easier to develop (artist wise and coding wise, people understand the limitations and won't expect a Halo 3).
  • Selling is easier, payment etc. all will be taken care for you easily
  • No piracy
  • People don't want to spend $5 over the web, but most of the iPhone users are used spend money on iTunes

Also XBox Live and PSN got similar feature but they expect a very high quality and polished games. Since this will be your first game development experience you might not get there right away.

answered Oct 30 '09 at 07:07
The Dictator
2,305 points


Not to totally disagree with fm, while the Iphone is a great development platform and I completely recommend it, there is piracy. Actually most iphone games/apps have a 50-90% piracy rate and are usually pirated within a hour of being released. (There are automatic tools that break the DRM, strip a few things, and upload them to torrents.)

Sorry about the additional, answer, but I currently lack the reputation to comment.

answered Oct 30 '09 at 08:07
Centurion Games
626 points

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