“Should I go indie?”
This is probably a question many people in the video games industry
have asked themselves at one point or another. When working for a company, most employees will work for someone else’s game. And even if you’re the Game Director, you still have people to answer to and in the end the game is still the company’s game.
So it’s very tempting to start off on your own, doing that game you always dreamed of doing. And every year that goes by is another change to find someone else did a very similar game before you (especially if it’s something quite original).
If the idea of going indie has crossed your mind, I’d like to share some points for you to consider before starting:
Do you already have a game idea? How well developed is it? One thing is saying something like “I’d like to make a MOBA FPS that will take the best of both genres”. Another entirely is to already have outlined and designed the characters and their abilities, the NPCs, the level environment with all its possible interactions, etc.
Before even considering the idea of starting on your own, I’d suggest you try to define your game design as thoroughly as possible. If you have more than one game idea, even better. You can try to develop both designs, and later decide which one to focus and complete.
I’d write a bit more in depth about game ideas in another post, but it’s usually better to focus on designing a game that is aligned with your own game preferences and experience. It’s much easier to achieve a great level of quality this way. Deciding your game according to trends and contrary to your experience and liking seems too risky.
Current Free Time
How much free time can you spare to work on the game? Can you start developing it while still working at your daily job?
Almost everyone can start outlining the game design. But could you achieve a rough playable version of your game (basically a prototype showcasing the main game mechanics)?
Unless you have a comfortable amount of savings or external investment (which most of us don’t), I’d strongly suggest to start your game while keeping your job. With only a few hours per week, you can already move forward with the game while keeping the safety net of steady income.
It’ll also give you a taste of what it will feel like going indie full time, and you can even get feedback to see if the game has potential by posting it on social media or stores that allow for more experimental games like itch. If you like what you’re doing and what you’re achieving, I’m sure you’ll find more time to work on it while still keeping your daily job.
Going full indie would of course mean that you can allocate 100% of the time and make things better much faster. But you don’t need that at the beginning. It’d be like quitting your job before even doing interviews at other companies.
Can you afford not earning any money for an undetermined amount of time? Unless the game is a mobile hypercasual game, or it has mechanics that are simple enough to make its development streamlined and simple, it will be very difficult to estimate your completion date correctly.
The “problem” with indie games is that they are heavily leaning on the artistic-side of things (vs the business side), so everyone working on it want it to be perfect. This is great for players, as they can
play the game as per the designer’s vision (which can lead to very innovative and interesting experiences), but at the same time it can lead to huge delays on the dev side, trying to achieve that same vision.
Indie teams are usually very small, so developers need to take on tasks that might fall outside their comfort zone, or they have a lot less monetary and human resources to solve their problems. This usually translates in extra development time.
This is why you should carefully consider your personal finances before starting.
Can you also do some freelance work while working on your indie game? Basically swapping your time schedules: Your game becomes your daily job, and your extra free time is allocated in doing some freelance work. This can make it easier on your finances, but it carries the risk of burnout. The good thing about freelance is that you can choose when to stop and when to resume taking new jobs, it’s more manageable than having 2 full time jobs. If you think this might be an option for you, you can start doing a bit of research: networking with potential customers or any ex coworkers doing freelance, checking where the best freelance job offers are, etc.
If you have a significant other, maybe you can do the math and see if you can adjust your expenses to be able to live off one salary during the time you’re working on your project.
Alternatively, you can also try to do other unrelated side jobs that won’t require much time. I know people that started buying and selling certain products, either online or by word of mouth as a side job. It didn’t take much off their time and helped pay the bills. There are plenty of activities that might be able to provide some income without taking a huge chunk of time.
Another – albeit wilder – idea is to relocate to a city or country where your costs are much cheaper. Even if you have a team, most of the work is done on a computer, so for this kind of work, you can pretty much live anywhere. If you feel a bit adventurous, it’s a valid option. You buy more time to develop the game you want this way. And your savings will probably appreciate it.
No matter what you do, you should still probably list all your monthly expenses and remove anything that isn’t strictly necessary. Those monthly savings can come in handy if anything goes wrong.
Team & Experience
Do you already know if you will be developing the game on your own or you will need a team?
If you will be doing it on your own, do you have experience in all areas required to finish the game and market it? If not, you should start getting contacts for the people you will need to outsource the work,
especially if you’ll need them somewhere at the beginning.
If you need a team, do you know potential members (usually former coworkers)? While finding some great stranger online is possible, normally it’s always better to work with people you already know and trust. Are they interested in your project and the idea of going indie? It’d be better to approach them once you have the prototype, but you should at least have a game design document where they can fully appreciate it. You are selling your game to them at this point.
While you can personally live off your savings, you will still require some budget to develop a game: hardware and software, servers, store registration, outsourcing any work (art, coding, sound, voice acting, marketing, legal, accounting – whatever you might need).
Everyone on the team will be in a similar situation.
Very often, you hear developers struggle because one of their partners has abandoned the project after several months or years working together. This could of course happen due to several reasons, but the one that can and should be avoided is running out of budget.
You should do the math very clearly, so everyone joining has a clear idea of what they are getting themselves into. You’ll avoid surprises later.
I’d go a bit deeper on budgeting on another post, but roughly what you should do is:
– List all the big tasks that you need to implement to finish the game.
– Break down those tasks as much as you can, so they are simple enough you can estimate how long it’d take you to implement.
– Add up all those tasks time, and see how long the project will take [Estimated Time].
– With the Estimated Time, you should create a time range:
o Estimated Time x 2 = Minimum Time
o Estimated Time x 4 = Maximum Time
So if for example, you calculated your project would take 1 year, by doing this math you’d estimate the project will take from 2 to 4 years.
Adding 3 years on top of your best estimate might seem a huge overestimation, but the purpose of doing this preliminary budget for me is not to hit the exact amount of money you’ll spend, but to see how much a Worst Case Scenario would cost you.
This way, you and your team can consider if you can afford that sort of delay if it ever happens. Due to the nature of our industry, many projects end up being delayed (due to various reasons), even at the biggest most successful companies. Assuming you won’t run into delays seems overly optimistic, especially if it will be the
first full game you develop completely on your own.
There are many other things you should have in mind if you’re considering going indie, but I thought the ones above are the main ones you should focus on. I hope you find them useful.
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