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The Riftbreaker » What it’s like to be an indie developer

Hello Riftbreakers!

We often emphasize that EXOR Studios is an indie developer and The Riftbreaker – is an indie game. Indie is short for ‘independent.’ As a company, we are self-funded; all our ventures are financed by our previous games, and we do our own publishing. Such a business model comes with many advantages and just as many, if not more, drawbacks. Today, we are going to tell you why we decided to go this route, despite the many risks, and what it means to be an indie developer in the gaming industry. We will also give you examples of how these aspects relate to EXOR Studios’ past and current projects.

Switching to the self-emplyed indie lifestyle was a giant leap of faith. In the end it was worth it, but we earned a couple of grey hairs along the way.


One of the things that led the founders to create EXOR Studios was the full creative freedom that being an indie developer offered. The founding seven members of EXOR moved on from modding and into the game development industry by joining a larger company that did ‘work for hire’. They often developed ports of well-known games from bigger platforms for mobile devices. While that experience was very valuable, they had to follow strict guidelines and were not in creative control of their work. The year 2007 was also on the brink of the industry shift, in the form of digital games distribution. Skipping box printing and retail distribution allowed developers more opportunities to get their games out into the hands of players worldwide.

The entry barrier into the industry was significantly lowered, and small studios like EXOR, or even individual developers, could try their hand at releasing a video game. This allowed them to publish smaller-scope but still ambitious projects that would most likely get rejected by most publishers. It gave those developers a chance to try out their ideas in the wild, gain valuable experience, and build their portfolio. It also meant that they could finally make games they truly wanted to make. No more work for hire, spinoffs, or tie-ins. The freedom to make the games you want to play is the biggest advantage of being an indie developer.

You need a lot of time to test your game properly. Luckily, when you’re independent, you can decide a lot of deadlines for yourself. If you miss with you shot, though, everything can explode, just like the base in the gif above.


Lately, there have been many games that released… undercooked. They could have used a couple of months of final playtests, polish, and bugfixing. Unfortunately, developers often have to release games in an incomplete state because they need to meet deadlines. In case of AAA titles, a release date is sacred – the entire marketing machine is built around the game’s release date and moving it is almost impossible. A lot of people rely on you doing your job in time, which builds pressure. Being an indie developer gives you the ability to set those deadlines for yourself. You know your abilities and limitations, so you can make an educated guess on how much time you need to bring the project to a close. It’s likely you will hit delays and roadblocks, but without a parent company breathing down your neck.

Players kept asking us for the release date of The Riftbreaker for about a year after we released the Prologue version. “Come on, guys, the game is ready. What are you waiting for?” We knew that the game wasn’t good enough yet. We decided to put off the announcement of the release date until we had a beta. We then took that version and polished it until it was worthy to be released to the general public. It paid off in the end. We believe it’s going to work like that for co-op as well.
We’ve got an entire article on the tools we use to make games, check it out if you’re interested!


We’re all different and have varied preferences when it comes to pretty much everything. That includes game development tools, which can vary wildly from one another, even if they serve the same purpose. Artists have their preferences when it comes to 3D modeling software, and programmers have their favorite IDEs. While it’s possible that a developer could adapt to new tools quickly, nothing will beat the comfort of working with a piece of software that you have been using for years. Working as an indie developer, in most cases, you can choose what programs you want to use for the job. You can even decide which engine you want to use to create your game. In larger studios, it is much more likely that the toolset is going to be ‘forced’ on you, which can lead to a lengthy adaptation period, especially if the technology is proprietary.

Our artists have been working in various 3D software, but when the Blender revolution came around, we gladly made the switch. Blender’s personalization options, its expandability using various plugins, and its intuitive interface made the transition smooth. We never looked back. However, it was only four people. Imagine forcing 100 artists to do the same. We can almost guarantee it would take a lot of time and effort.

No story here. Just a gif to break the wall of text 🙂


Being an indie dev doesn’t mean that you are cut off from the business world altogether. There is no escaping that. Still, you are granted a much bigger degree of freedom when it comes to making decisions for your game and company. You can decide which platforms your game is going to be released on, what kind of marketing campaign you want to run, and who you want to work with. You do not answer to shareholders or the publisher. However, this is a double-edged sword. The responsibility for all these decisions is yours and yours alone. If you fail, you may go out of business before you can even realize what is going on. On the other hand – if everything goes right, you will reap the rewards.

One such example from the history of The Riftbreaker was our Game Pass deal. In exchange for The Riftbreaker being available in Game Pass on day one, we received extra time we could spend on polishing the game and bringing it to the best shape it could be. Without securing those extra funds, the whole story might have unraveled in a different way.

What we mentioned above are not all benefits of working as an independent developer. In general, you could sum it all up in one word: freedom. This freedom, however, comes at significant costs. Let’s talk about some of these costs now.

Mr. Riggs wanted to get heard, too. Perhaps he should start a podcast?


To say that the gaming market is saturated is an understatement. Dozens of games, big and small, are released every day. Players spend thousands of hours playing the giant titles that adorn the front pages of YouTube and Twitch. New AAA titles run marketing campaigns that reach beyond the internet and bombard potential players with information about newly released projects. Your game has to be really special to turn the heads of players around the world. The odds are stacked against you, but as successful indies have proven time and again – the challenge is not insurmountable. If your game is good, players will spread the word around.

Before the word about The Riftbreaker started making rounds around the web, we sent out hundreds, if not thousands, of emails, asking everyone and their dog to cover our game. Over 95% of those emails never even got a reply. Only after the demo version hit it big during the Steam Next Fest we started getting some coverage offers – some of them even coming from the people we tried to contact earlier. It’s a tough world out there.

You need to be able to adapt to difficulties and bad conditions, even if it means coding on a 19-inch CRT monitor.


Well, not literally, but without a large team behind you and resources from your publisher and/or stakeholders, you will face unexpected problems on your own. If there are technical problems, you might not even have a second tech person on the team to ask for help. You have to figure out legal matters and taxes all by yourself instead of having a dedicated team behind you. The same goes for marketing. If your PC breaks in the middle of the project, you’d better have a backup one ready for action because you are your own IT department. All kinds of things can go south while making a game, and you will be on your own, so be prepared for that.

At the beginning of 2020, we had to make the decision to allow people to work from home. Even though we had a VPN set up that theoretically allowed us all to work remotely, no one had tested it on such a scale and with that many people. The transition wasn’t without issues and took quite a lot of valuable development time.

Next goal: online co-op. We will get there, we promise you that. Our beta tests have proven very vauable so far.


Working on a smaller-scale project with a small, independent team does not mean there isn’t a lot of work. On the contrary – you will have much more work on your hands than in the case of a large team. In big studios, work is often divided into very specialized areas. One person is responsible for models of rocks. Another person does trees. Yet another person does gun models. There are separate job positions for AI, graphics, gameplay, and cinematics programmers. These kinds of lists can go on and on. In the case of independent developers, all these jobs often fall into the hands of one single person. One day, you might work on graphics, do some gameplay design in the next couple of days, and finish off the week by fixing a leaking kitchen sink. While undoubtedly exciting, jumping from one job to another is not the most efficient way of working and will likely make development slower than you would like.

Some of you probably learned about The Riftbreaker because one of the YouTubers you follow has covered the game at some point. We had to arrange most of such videos ourselves – we looked for relevant influencers, sent them review copies of the game, negotiated with those who wanted to do a paid video, and analyzed our actions to determine what worked and what didn’t. That took away time from other things we could be doing then. However, this work was necessary to get the word about the game out to people. It simply cost more than just money.

Our trophy cabinet. The road to each one of these memorabilia took a lot of work and taught us a great deal. We hope to learn even more along the way!


Indie game development is not a career that you can easily get in and out of to get some experience. It has to be a passion project, born out of a lifelong desire to make games you want to make and not obey any conventional rules. If you’re not fully convinced that this is what you want to do, you might go mad. However, the freedom to make your vision come true, limited only by your own abilities, makes it all worth it.

If you have any questions about indie dev life, or game development in general, ask in the comment section. We’re always on the lookout for new topics to share some behind-the-scenes knowledge about The Riftbreaker, EXOR Studios, and the gaming industry. You can also contact us directly through Discord at and during our streams every Tuesday and Thursday at 3 PM CET over on

See you there!
EXOR Studios