Team17 MD Debbie Bestwick shares tips on how indies can form a sustainable business after their first hit
2013 will undoubtedly go down as “the year of the indie”. We’ve witnessed a raft of highly original, innovative and quirky titles that have captured the collective consciousness of modern gamers.
Sometimes created by a small team, often just by an individual, indie games are labours of love that elevate their creators to the status of development gods. But can lightning strike twice?
The difficult ‘second album syndrome’ applies equally to game development. The trick is to repeat the successes of your first title and learn from the many mistakes you made along the way.
Developers need to understand their business model and try to plan a rolling strategy that extends 12 months into the future. The world of gaming moves so quickly that planning ahead any further than this is a waste – unless you have a crystal ball and can see the future, in which case you’ll clean up anyway. Remember the plan should be understood and agreed by all those you work alongside. It’s critical the whole team shares the same vision and drive.
Think working out how much your game will cost to develop is easy? Be warned: calculating how long a game will take to develop, multiplying that by each team member’s monthly salary and then adding a small contingency will only lead to a troubled future. When planning a new project don’t forget to factor in those not-so hidden costs too. Accountant and legal fees don’t come cheap, insurance and taxes take their toll and equipment, tools and office space all push your budget along an ever upwards trajectory.
It could be that you’ve struck a publishing deal or perhaps you’ve enlisted the help of a financial institution or investor. Either way, only borrow what you absolutely need. Do not weigh a project down with unnecessary finance because you think you need or want something out of the ordinary. If you created your last game without the need for extravagance then you can do the same with your second. If you genuinely want to grow your business for the long term, it needs to be sustainable. It is vital that you reinvest your profits if you want to reach financial independence for yourself and your team.
COVERING YOUR BASES
You use the right side of your brain because you’re a free-thinking creative genius. Spreadsheets, reports, sales data – they’re a bore, right? Well, yes. But make sure you have someone who relishes all that stuff. Having someone commercially minded in a business development role is vital. Let them handle all the mundane stuff hour by hour. It’ll free up your time and thinking and they can fill you in on the bottom line detail rather than you struggling with that side of the business you’re really not into.
Your next project may need a larger team. That’s great; you’re moving on up. But ask yourself one simple question before taking an individual on, “Do they add value to the business?”.
Be specific in what you’re looking for and moreover, what skills you need. If you can fill a role with someone who has a primary skill you need but a secondary one that could come in handy then snap them up. If they are simply bringing skills your team already has then they’re dead wood and your business will end up carrying them.
It’s likely that you are self-publishing your game on one of the many digital stores out there, be it Apple, Google, Sony, Microsoft or Steam – others are available, you know who they are. Make sure you’re on first-name terms with your account managers; be nice, they’re there to help. It’s likely these stores contain far more product than your average High Street retailer and you know how difficult it is to get prominent shelf space in traditional outlets.
Work with your account managers on how you can get maximum exposure for your game in the limited electronic storefront. Have art banners ready prepared and keep abreast of deals and offers being run that you can get involved with. It’s not always about week one sales. Careful sales planning can bring in significant extra revenue months after a game’s initial release.