Who doesn’t like a story of underdogs achieving big? In the gaming industry, everyone likes indie game developer success stories where hearts and souls go into creating something special on a tight budget that become some of the most successful indie games you see today.
Time and again, we have seen an indie title coming up and thriving in a fiercely competitive market where a few mistakes can land you in the dustbin of the internet.
Despite the challenges, there has never been a better time for indie game developers than now. Since 2008, Electronic Arts and Activision have shifted their focus to big game franchises, leaving the ground empty for indie creators.
Although there is no shortage of talented indie game developers around the world, some deserve special recognition. Therefore, this write-up will discuss some of the best indie game developer success stories the internet has to offer us today and maybe learn a thing or two from them on how to develop a successful indie game.
- Founded: 2012
- Most Popular Title: Stardew Valley
- Founder: Eric Barone
Concerned Ape was founded by only one man back in 2012. Its hugely popular game, Stardew Valley, was created by that one man, Eric Barone. Eric, or the Concerned Ape, had a dream of being amongst the indie game developer success stories.
Inspired by the famous classic farming RPG, Harvest Moon, Eric started building the game alone in 2012. All alone, he wanted to realize his vision without involving anyone else. It took him 4 years to come up with Stardew Valley. However, the hard work that went into it ensured it was an instant hit soon after its release.
The fascinating thing about Stardew Valley is its depth and intrigue. Apparently, it is a simple game. However, upon exploring it, you come across its various layers.
As of 2021, Stardew Valley has sold more than 15 million copies and is still counting. Thanks to its hardworking creator, the game has earned a cult following and is one of the top-rated sim games on the market today.
Eric is no sloth, so he is working on another title called Haunted Chocolatier. He hasn’t put a release date on it yet, as he wants to make sure he releases it only when it’s truly ready.
Yacht Club Games
- Founded: 2011
- Most Popular Title: Shovel Knight
- Founder: Sean Velasco
Yacht Club Games has been amongst the top indie game developers for some time now. It was founded by former director of WayForward Technologies, Sean Velasco, who wanted to do his own thing.
Shovel Knight is its most popular title; that was first announced in 2013 and released in 2014, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign. With its retro aesthetics, it has been praised by both critics and gamers. Built on an engaging narrative and memorable characters, it has been a major hit.
The goal of the Kickstarter was stretched, allowing the developer to add more content between 2015 and 2018. Each new campaign was as large as the original game, making the developers change the game’s economic model.
There has been a total of 6 installments of Shovel Knight till now, and the seventh is in the pipeline, expected to be released in 2022. The game has truly catapulted Yacht Club to the ranks of indie game developer success stories.
Anyone new to indie game development can make some quick hands over these recommended types of games.
- Founded: 2009
- Most Popular Title: Cities: Skylines
- Founder: Mariina Hallikainen
Colossal Order is an independent Finnish game studio that was founded in 2009 by employees of the mobile company, Universomo. Its publisher is Paradox Interactive, which tests, markets, and sells its products.
The company had a hard time collecting funds for its game Cities in Motion, which was already under development at that time. However, they got help from some private investors.
They got advice from experienced game developers and signed a publishing contract with Paradox Interactive. It was awarded the Finnish Game Developer of the Year award in October 2015.
Their most popular game, Cities: Skylines, was published in March 2015 and competes directly with SimCity and City XL. It is an open-ended city-building simulation in which players do urban planning by managing every aspect of the city they build.
The game also supports modding, and prepackaged modding can be used to affect core gameplay. One can tweak the game in various ways, such as unlocking the population tier, producing unlimited funds, and upping the difficulty level.
Being amongst the most successful indie game developers, Colossal Order has undoubtedly produced a massive hit in Cities: Skylines, with more than twelve million copies sold as of 2022.
- Founded: 2020
- Most Popular Title: Vampire Survivors
- Founder: Luca Galante
Luca Galante is amongst the most famous game developers around the world. He has been creating games for a long while now. According to Luca himself, he created games in his spare time and kept looking for a job.
He couldn’t find one in his home country, Italy, so he moved to London in 2010. He taught himself coding and kept grinding until 2020 when he thought he had gained enough experience.
His most famous title, Vampire Survivors, was released on December 21, 2021, and became an instant hit. It was inspired by Magic Survival, a game that Luca played, and he wanted to create his version of it.
The success of the title ultimately led Galante to quit his job and focus only on the game. He was assisted by some friends and later hired a team of freelancers to accelerate the development process. He plans to bring the game up to an industry-standard game engine soon.
The game is set in rural Italy, where hordes of monsters descend and destroy the surroundings. The Belapese family steps in and vows to rid the area of these monsters by fighting them. They visit several locales where monsters are present and fight them till the end.
Studio MDHR Entertainment Inc.
- Founded: 2013
- Most Popular Title: Cuphead
- Founder: Chad & Jared Moldenhauer
Not mentioning Studio MDHR in the list of most successful indie game developers is unfair. After all, their title Cuphead has sold over 3 million copies in its first year only.
We can call the Studio MDHR a family affair, with two brothers, Chad & Jared Moldenhauer, at their helm. Chad’s wife, Marija, is their resident artist, who played a vital role in the development of Cuphead.
Chad & Jared had no formal training in game development when they founded Studio MDHR. To make up for it, they hired a team of professionals to build Cuphead. It took them mighty 7 years to develop the game, but the efforts were well worth it. Cuphead is unlike any other game, making Studio MHR rub shoulders with the top indie game developers.
The game was created by hand, and each frame took around 25 minutes to complete. The process was complicated, and reams and reams of paper were used. It is the biggest reason why Cuphead kept missing its release deadlines.
It won’t be untrue to say there is nothing like Cuphead in the gaming world today. All the hard work has proven fruitful, as the game has sold over 5 million copies. And for that, it deserves a firm spot on the most successful indie game developers list.
Team Shanghai Alice
- Founded: 1995
- Most Popular Title: Touhou Koumakyou: the Embodiment of Scarlet Devil
- Founder: Jun’ya Ōta
Team Shanghai is another addition to the indie game developer success stories. It has only one member, ZUN, who is responsible for everything from programming to art and sounds.
He has also collaborated with others to create printworks and music albums. The original name of Team Shanghai was ZUN Soft, which was changed to the current name after the PC-98 era.
The reason behind naming it Shanghai is because of the city’s cultural significance. According to ZUN, Shanghai perfectly blends the western and oriental styles, and Alice brings a feminine, gothic touch to the name.
The Touhou Project by Team Shanghai has multiple games under its umbrella, which are set in the mountainous region of Gensokyo in Japan. Usually, the game is centered around an incident that changes the balance of Gensokyo, such as flying ships, mists, otherworldly invasions, etc.
The game officially has no English version. Yet, several western versions have been released thanks to its fans, making it one of the most successful indie game developers.
- Founded: 1990
- Most Popular Title: The Escapists
- Founders: Debbie Bestwick, Michael Robinson, Martyn Brown & co.
The games produced by Team 17 truly stand out as they do not bound themselves by genres. With unique gameplay, compelling graphics, and regular support, they have become a serious force in the indie game industry. They currently have a net worth of $60 million pounds.
The first game ever released by them was Worms World Party back in 2001, which was an incredible hit at that time. Since they have released so many titles over the years, avid gamers have stumbled upon one or the other.
Since the Escapist series has been their best one yet, you should check out the titles under its umbrellas, such as My Time at Portia and Yooka-Laylee.
- Founded: 2014
- Most Popular Title: Hollow Knight
- Founder: William Pellen
This Australian indie game developer took the gaming world by storm in 2017 with the release of their first title, Hollow Knight. The game has stunning visuals and an engaging storyline. It was also challenging and made you really work to achieve something.
What’s truly remarkable is that they have achieved all of that with a team of only three people: William Pellen, Jack Vine, and Ari Gibson. Developing such a complex game with amazing music and complex mechanics in just 3 years is truly exceptional.
Hollow Knight has sold over three million copies within a few years, which is a remarkable achievement. And for the exceptional milestone, they deserve a spot on the list of the most successful indie game developers.
The grind doesn’t stop at Team Cherry, as they are gearing to release a sequel to Hollow Knight called Hollow Knight: Silksong. The previous release date was February 2022, but it was delayed. However, the game is expected to be released within the next few months.
- Founded: 2009
- Most Popular Title: What Remains of Edith Finch
- Founder: Ian Dallas
This American indie developer has carved its own niche in the gaming world by staying committed to its roots. Although its most popular title is What Remains of Edith Finch, The Unfinished Swan was also a special release.
It took the audience to a monochromatic world where anything was possible. It was praised by both critics and players and got stellar reviews from IGN and The Escapist. Giant Sparrow started working on it in 2008 and released it after 4 years in 2012, which shows dedication to their craft.
What Remains of Edith Finch was similar to Unfinished Swan but had a much larger impact because it was released on PC and consoles. It still is one of the top recommendations for indie games. Giant Sparrow has amassed revenue of 6 million dollars.
- Founded: 2009
- Most Popular Title: Hades
- Founder: Amir Rao, Gavin Simons
Supergiant Games is another story of persistence and passion. The founders, Amir Rao and Gavin Simons quit their jobs at Electronic Arts and decided to pursue their own thing. They hired Daren Korb for music and several freelance developers for help at various stages of development.
Their first ever game, Bastion, was published in 2011 and received critical acclaim. It was nominated for the Game of the Year lists too by various journalists. Their next title, Transistor, was released in 2014, featuring a female protagonist called Red. Another title, Pyre, was released in 2017.
Their best game was Hades, released in 2020, which won the Best Indie and Best Action awards. The gameplay mechanics in Hades are truly stunning, offering a silky smooth experience. It also offers captivating audio and endless replayability. Let’s see what Supergiant Games comes up with next!
The Bottom Line
There are many famous indie game developers around the world, and we have included some of the best indie game developer success stories here. The gaming industry is a dull affair without indie contribution.
Top indie game developers put a lot of effort into their titles, as we have seen with examples like Cuphead. Years of grueling work results in something truly artistic and pleasing. And for that, we’d be thankful to the famous indie game developers toiling in silence to bring something valuable to the world.
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