Keep Your Indie Studio Afloat with Virtual Training Apps

Virtual Training

Whenever I read about an indie game studio closing its doors due to financial troubles, my stomach knots. Witnessing such talented people pursue their dreams and be met by failure is heartbreaking. I understand the allure of becoming the next Rovio, but for most of us, it’s a siren’s call.

Just how difficult is it to become a successful developer? Take Facebook for example: in 2010 the average Facebook developer had about a .006 percent chance of turning a profit (check out my Cracking the Facebook Code presentation). iOS developers face similar challenges with the top 1 percent of their ranks bringing in one third of all revenue. Them ain’t good odds!

Don’t get the wrong impression. The purpose of this article is not to dissuade you from pursuing your dreams as an indie developer. Its purpose is to present an alternative way to use your studio’s talent to secure income so you CAN pursue your dreams. That alternative is making virtual training applications.

Why Your Studio Can Profit from Virtual Training Apps

  1. UNDERsaturation

    Compared to games, the virtual training space is relatively untapped. Sure, some crafty devs have started developing virtual training apps, but from a competitive point-of-view, these early adopters don’t matter. The virtual training space is so large that current competition has barely scratched the surface. To put it in perspective, think about how many industries train employees: energy, automotive, aeronautical, manufacturing, law enforcement…the list is infinite. Now think about the number of companies and employees in each industry worldwide. HUGE right? THIS is the virtual training market.

    Conversely, the game development market is busting at the seems with hungry developers all wanting a piece of the same pie: people to play their games…or…publishers to fund them. With such a limited audience and an already astronomical amount of competition, it’s no wonder 93 percent of games fail.

  2. Lack of Distribution Hurdles
    Most virtual training applications are proprietary, meaning they are installed and run locally or on an intranet. For developers, this is great news. Developing locally eliminates almost every major distribution hurdle associated with using a publisher or distributor. If you’re developing locally, you don’t have to worry about integrating APIs, learning new engines, waiting for your app to get approved, marketing your app, etc.
  3. Lots of Revenue without the Share
    If the first two reasons haven’t convinced you, hopefully the revenue potential will. Companies who train employees have sizable, dedicated budgets. According to Bersin & Associates the average company spends $1,202 per employee on training. When you think about how many employees some companies have, you begin to realize just how big their training budgets are. For developers, it’s always a good thing to target potential clients who can afford your services…and then some.

    Beyond their healthy budgets, companies typically pay per project NOT via revenue share. When you work on a project basis, you keep everything you earn, including that 30 to 40 percent you’d normally surrender. If you’re a savvy developer you might even charge on a per-seat basis. Throw an annual subscription fee on top of that, and you could be making some serious dough.

Feature image above courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.

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Emmy Jonassen is a marketing pro who helps indie developers build adoring fanbases. Marketing people who love buzz words call this "lead generation."

10 Comments on "Keep Your Indie Studio Afloat with Virtual Training Apps"

  1. Hi Emmy, thank you for that article – doing game based trainings is actually one of the pillars of narayana games and your article encourages giving that pillar a little more attention than I recently did. So once again: Thank you! Very much appreciated! :-)

    There’s one thing I’d like to point out, though: Distribution hurdles. If you do game based trainings for large corporations, you’ll have quite some fun with their IT departments … or rather: no fun at all. Like, if you want to use the Unity Web player (to integrate the game based trainings right there with existing Web based trainings), in most cases, they won’t have it … and they won’t let you install it either.

    So, you could fall back to Flash (Unity does have Flash export). One would think. But most of those corporations are on some age-old version of Flash (you can count yourself lucky if they’re on Flash 8 or 9). For the Unity Flash export to work, you’ll need the most recent version of Flash.

    So … ok, you decide to give them standalone players instead. Unity standalones don’t require any installation or anything. Should be the dream of every IT department. No … they won’t let you.

    To sum it up: Distribution is actually *much* easier when you develop games for fun people instead of poor employees sitting in some corporation behind conservative IT departments.

    But maybe one shouldn’t target corporations in first place ;-)

    Like, guess who was really interested in one of the game based training demos I’ve created. Phillip Morris. To improve their cigarette sales team. Seriously. They can keep their money. ;-)

    So … do you have experiences offering game based trainings to smaller companies? That would probably much more interesting in fun (but also less money, I’d guess).

    • Emmy says:

      Thank you for the comment and insight Jashan! You bring up some really, really GREAT points.

      I do have experience in virtual training applications, but I never encountered that issue. When I worked at Dassault Systemes, virtual training apps were the bread and butter of the game engine that I marketed. However, when we worked on such an app for a client, the client would buy a license(s) of our engine, which would force them to install our player to use the application. So there was an understanding beforehand that in order for the application to work, IT would have to comply.

      When you contract with these big guys, do you have conversations up front that the success of the application hinges on ITs compliance to install third-party player software? If not and you encounter these issues, how do you typically deploy (i.e., if not Flash, Unity standalone, Unity Player, etc., what do you use)? I can completely understand working with “conservative” IT departments, especially in larger corporations. The bigger you get, the more processes, protocols and safety regulations in place, but there has to be a compromise if the corporation is going to start moving into the digital age ;) I’m interested in hearing more about your experiences.

      • So far, we’re just in the “demo phase”. In other words, we have something set up that we show and discuss with clients. In most cases, the discussions stop when the plugin issue comes up because for most potential clients, that just won’t work because their IT would not comply ;-)

        It’s a long-term thing, though, and time works for us. My feeling is that this thing will really start running when Unity has an HTML5 build target (not really on the horizon, yet … but I believe something that will eventually come) and browsers that fully support game-ready HTML5 have been deployed in those corporations.

  2. bil says:

    What game is the picture from ? Looks interesting.

    • Emmy says:

      It’s actually not a game at all. The screenshot is from an oil rig training simulation built by Dassault Systemes on the 3DVIA Studio engine.

  3. Anthony says:

    Great article! Like you said, there are vast untapped markets out there, hungry for the types of tools and talents game developers can provide.

    A few years ago I, like all new hires in my organization, had to sit through hours and hours of mandatory OSHA training presentations – like watching paint dry. I thought to myself ‘There has to be a better way.’, and it wasn’t too long before I realized that there was – turn it into a game!

    Far from the first to conclude that training didn’t have to be tedious, I learned during my research that John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, had turned his sketch comedy talents towards corporate training ( This discovery just reinforces the notion that some things are boring, not because they are intrinsically so, but simply due to lack of imagination.

    • Emmy says:

      Thanks for the comment Anthony. This is a great point and so true. In addition, this is yet ANOTHER reason why developers could be successful doing virtual training apps: there are SO many training opportunities out there just waiting to be made more engaging. AND tons of companies looking for that kind of help.

  4. Joan Rieu says:

    First of all, which distinction do you make between a “virtual training app” and a “serious game” ? (Or is that just another name for the same thing?)

    While the market itself is very attractive for all the reasons cited in the article, I wonder how easy it is to actually start making one of those. It is clear that companies are interested in that kind of software, especially big companies. I’m not talking about the technical difficulties evoqued in Jashan’s comment above. Instead, I’m wondering how you would actually pick which app you’re going to make.
    As you said, the spectrum is quite large, but are companies interested in a “generic” app you could license them (ie, you’d make one for multiple clients). Or would you rather pick a company and make an app just for them. Ie, are the companies’ needs usually specific ?

    Finally, from the perspective of a indie dev and not a studio, do you think there are apps to make with a small scope which would still be needed by said companies? Or is there an inherent complexity behind the need for a training app?

    Thanks for this article!

    • Emmy says:

      Hi Joan and thank you for the comment.

      To respond to your points:

      - In this article, I’m using virtual training app and serious game to mean the same thing.
      - For your second point as to “how you would actually pick which app you’re going to make,” this is largely dependent on your business model. Obviously making a white label product is more cost effective once you have the product built (i.e., you don’t have to build custom solutions over and over, you can just change a few colors, logos, etc.), however you may run into issues where a company DOES want too custom of a job to use. In that case you would need to do it on a project-by-project basis.
      - To answer your third question: yes, I do believe there are some serious game projects with a much smaller scope. In certain cases, I have known indies that have collaborated with larger companies to take on just portions of a larger serious game project. This greatly helped them keep projects to a manageable size. This is of course another option and perhaps more manageable way to get into this line of business.

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