The Tech Behind Successful Indie Games

Jeremie St-Amand
Jun 15 · 3 min read

This article is a follow up from a tweet I made about tech decisions for indie teams: https://twitter.com/batinsse/status/1136693653542514690

Since it got a lot of traction, I wanted to have more and better data, and give more detailed results. I gathered two different sets of games:

  • >90% user ratings on Steam/Metacritic
  • Financially successful or very popular

So you’re probably saying that this is all very subjective. You’re right! I think it’s still interesting to devs who have preconceived ideas about indie game development.

I also applied these filters to choose the data:

  • No visual novels/erotic games — These occupy a large part of the top 100 games by user reviews, since they have a very passionate niche. Most of them are made with KiriKiri/Ren’Py, which would not be used for another type of game.
  • No VR games — Again this represents a niche, and the tech used is almost always Unity, sometimes Unreal. I want the data to reflect the reality of “classic” games, played with a screen.

Top Games by User Review

Here are the results for the top 100 Steam games with the “Indie” tag with 5k+ user reviews.

I put game frameworks such as XNA and libGDX in the “custom” category. Here are the frameworks used for the custom engines:

It’s also interesting to see if there’s a difference between 2D and 3D games.

Top Games by Financial Success or Popularity

Now let’s look at 130 indie games that were considered “hits”, either financially or by popularity, with no regards for reviews. Of course I don’t have the actual data to measure this, but top grossing games at different points in time, media coverage/reviews and blogs/post-mortems can help here.

I wanted to add user scores for this data too but average and median were ~7.5 accross the board, so this metric was not useful.

Tech for ALL Indie Games

Now here’s the data for all indie games, from itch.io. First, let’s look at the numbers for prebaked engines and game frameworks:

And now the numbers for lower level libraries:

We can see Unity totally dominates here. Interesting!

Data

Here’s the sheets for all the data, but it’s quite messy: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1teGFwbh_Ov1si_9aa8RAk1PANOd5AWL-56yJNuTpUec/edit?usp=sharing

If I made some mistakes in the data, please let me know so I can update the charts accordingly :)