The 80 Level Research team presented a new report where it explored the indie games genre and closely looked at its audience trying to understand who indie gamers are, what fuels their drive to play, which game attributes lead to purchase, and more.
Video game industry experts from Xsolla, 80 Level, and Interpret give an overview of their collaborative market research report, where indie games expanding genre was studied – particularly the heavy indie gamer audience. The result was a deep dive into every aspect of the people who make the movement unique: Who they are, what fuels their drive to play, which game attributes lead to purchase, and more.
The final research report was published in July 2022 and presented by Xsolla President Chris Hewish at Gamescom in August. Don’t forget to download the full version of the ebook based on this research here.
Back when AAA products (funded by enterprise studios) dominated the gaming industry, indie titles had a steep hill to climb to gain a decent chunk of the market. Only a few independent game creators managed to break through the constraints of their $100k to $500k budgets. They broke past the ceiling, not with traditional marketing but with social media savvy, smart partnerships, innovation, and sheer tenacity.
Today's indie game industry can easily boast some of the most diverse, creative, and popular releases over the last few years. Indie fans have a wider choice than ever and won’t give their loyalty away so freely.
Gamers who favor independent titles are special. They sincerely appreciate the game experience and express a kinship with the bootstrapped passion that drives indie developers to create their magic without a traditional publisher or investor support.
Three Segments of Gamers: Research Methodology
Heavy Indie Gamers
This group played five or more indie games in the past twelve months. This segment is passionate about indie games actively and deliberately. They see gaming as a crucial part of their identity, spend more than five hours a week playing PC games, and try to be aware of indie game releases.
Casual Indie Gamers
Casual gamers played one to four indie games in the past twelve months. This category isn’t always looking for indie games consciously; they just sometimes stumble upon indie titles. Casual Indie Gamers are more active players than the Traditional segment.
These users played one or more AAA or AA games in the past year and no indie games. Games are not an integral part of Traditional Gamers’ identity; instead, they are an optional activity. This category spends around three hours per week playing games.
Of the user segments researched, Heavy Indie Gamers are the most attractive audience for indie developers. This group considers gaming a part of their identity and respects the struggles of the independent developer or studio. They spend over five hours a week obsessing about and playing the latest game releases.
Player Preferences: Genres and Gameplay
What do Terraria, Stardew Valley, Limbo, Hades, and Papers, Please have in common? Heavy Indie Gamers spend the same amount of time endlessly playing these games!
Whether it's these titles or other big indie releases, Heavy Indie Gamers are serious players in general and are eager to discover something new and unconventional. These gamers schedule more play time than average, spend more money on games, and fully invest and immerse themselves into the game.
Heavy Indie Gamers don’t just concentrate on indie games; they play everything. In fact, more than 35% of them like to play more games in general. Their most popular genres, however, include Open-World, RPG, FPS, and Action-Adventure. Casual Indie Gamers’ top genres are very similar to Heavy Indie Gamers,’ with less preference for RPG games.
When we look at heavy indie gamers’ preferred genres, story-driven open-world action/RPG is the type of game they like to play the most. They want to have an impact on the game, on their playthrough. The journey of the player is the focus!
Styles and Gameplay
Indie Gamers prefer games with many options, expansive worlds, long sessions, and characters they can customize to their tastes and preferences.
Ready to Spend
Let’s take a closer look at where this group’s indie game dollars go and what motivates them to spend.
Heavy Indie Gamers are annual super-spenders compared to other gamers, dipping deeper (and more often) into their wallets to grab the titles they love. Annually, Heavy Indie Gamers fork out $405 compared with Traditional Gamers’ $195 and demonstrate double the indie game purchase power ($164) of Casual Indie Gamers ($85.)
Marketing Tips For Indie-Developers
When considering tactics that help users find your game, think video. Gameplay videos and streams are the top resources Indie Gamers rely on when shopping for a new title, and (based on the numbers) they spend a lot of free time watching them. They’re also the main purchase trigger when faced with a buying decision (true for 25% of Heavy Indie Gamers).
Publisher Name Recognition
Most of the survey respondents could not identify the name of the publisher or developer of a specific game, even if they had played it recently. The takeaway? A big publisher or developer name doesn’t necessarily equate to guaranteed success. Projects from unknown or newer studios can still be successful – just remember to appeal to what the audience wants and ensure your game is visible across many popular platforms.
Finally, if your company already has a successful title, a reference to that game in the promo materials for any new project can help draw attention to the game. This promotion will help your new game resonate more with the audience than the developer’s/publisher’s name alone.
Indie games are getting more popular every day. Heavy Indie Gamers spend more hours, money, and energy in the gaming world than Traditional Gamers. In short, they are loyal and engaged.
The target audience for independent titles may be smaller than AAA games, but it holds more potential for your business since indie games attract Heavy Indie Gamers.
While the Traditional Gamers segment is at risk of future purchase stagnation, Heavy Indie Gamers are currently spending more year-over-year. They are also more likely to continue this trend going forward. We conclude that times are changing, and making the right type of indie games (popular genres and format) may be a pretty safe bet for savvy game developers.
To summarize the main findings about the heavy indie gamers audience, the research team set up two essential checklists with the following recommendations. The first list highlights the elements of the game that attract Heavy Indie Gamers, while the second list focuses on the main insights for promotional strategy.
- Invest in influencers who make gameplay videos;
- Twitch and YouTube are the most efficient marketing channels for Heavy Indie Gamers;
- Facebook and Instagram are good channels for target ads;
- Put games on Steam, and don’t neglect discount promotions;
- Refer to previous successful titles (if there are any) in the campaign.