You’ve called up your programmer buddy, your artist cousin, your uncle who makes chiptunes in his attic, and your neighbor who works marketing. You’re all sitting there in your garage, super excited to start your first indie game. But do you really know what you’re attempting? Every day, hundreds of indie game projects begin and end. You don’t want to be one of the many failed studios out there. Keep an eye out for these ten easy to spot mistakes that you should try and avoid to guarantee the success of your studio!
1. OVERCROWDING YOUR TEAM
You’ve probably heard the saying “too many cooks spoil the broth.” It might seem like a good idea to have a huge variety of people on your team, but in reality it causes so many complications. How do you allocate tasks? Do you really want to micromanage all these people? What if a teammate gets jealous? How do you take everyone’s opinion into account? Are you going to share equity? It’s much better to stick to a small, competent team. Look at the hugely successful indie studio Vlambeer. They’re comprised of only two guys at their core, and they have created masterpieces like Nuclear Throne! Could they have done it with a lot more people all working at once? Probably not as easily.
2. DREAMING TOO BIG
There’s one word that will rule your life as soon as you get into the world of development: scope. These five letters put together dictate how much time and energy will go into your project, how polished it will be, how much money you’ll spend on it, and so much more. Put simply, the scope of the project is how large or small it is. Are you making a tiny flash game, or are you developing the next Final Fantasy installment? Know your scope from the beginning, and be wary of scaling up or down without considering all the factors involved. If you’re about to dive into your first project, don’t expect to end up with something on par with League of Legends or Runescape. Start slowly, and eventually you could make something huge!
3. REINVENTING THE WHEEL
Powerful tools like GameMaker: Studio and Unity3D exist for a reason—to make your life simple. Why spend months and months toiling away on a game engine when you could have built upon something that was already out there? You’re probably thinking “but it must look so amateur to use pre-existing engines. They’re so basic!” Ever heard of the game Hotline Miami? Risk of Rain? Overture? Those hit titles—along with many many more—were made in GameMaker. These software suites and engines are very versatile and while some may be basic when you start off, they give you the potential to make something huge and dynamic.
4. NOT ACCEPTING FEEDBACK
One major piece of advice for aspiring game devs? Have people playtest your game. Spend half an hour identifying your target demographic, find a bunch of friends who fit the bill, plop them in front of a computer, and see what they think about your game! It’s crucial to get feedback at every step to make sure that you’re heading in the right direction. Developers always need to be thinking about what their audience will enjoy. Some people believe that you should make the game that you love and ignore what the public thinks, but I beg to differ. If you want your game to sell and become a viral hit, the public needs to appreciate it. Make sure to incorporate your audience’s feedback into your project!
5. TRYING TO DO IT ALL
Find me a single game developer who codes, draws, 3D models, rigs animations, composes, voice acts, sings, markets, edits video, and designs, and I shall crown them the lord of the indie game world. Two words: core competencies. The key to success is doing what you do best and outsourcing the rest. A lot of developers hesitate at the prospect of things like hiring a PR firm or commissioning art. If you spend your time divided between being the CEO, CMO, COO, CTO, CFO, and CLO of your studio, you’ll never get anything done, and the work you get done will be subpar. Know when to outsource work to freelancers or teammates, and your life will be much easier. You’ll have more fun focusing on what you are good at, and things will come together much more quickly. Be careful though; keep Mistake 1 in mind! P.S.—if looking for people to outsource your work to, check out Fiverr or Reddit’s /r/gamedevclassifieds and /r/slavelabour! These sites are great for finding adept assistance without hurting your wallet.
6. NEGLECTING TO TAKE BREAKS
If you work yourself to death, nothing good will come of it. Your health will deteriorate, you will be unhappy, you will not enjoy your project, and life will be miserable. Many indie developers are so intent on getting their game finished that they forget their priorities. Remember: you have a life outside of development. It seems obvious but it’s true: don’t forget to take breaks! They’ll lower your stress levels, keep your brain working efficiently, and help you stay focused. Plus, spending time away from your project lets you see things from an outsider’s eye. You might implement a feature on Friday night, take Saturday off to watch movies and sleep (highly recommended!!!), then come back to work Sunday and realize how silly your idea was.
7. FORGETTING TO STAY ORGANIZED
There’s a reason services like Trello, Dropbox, and Google Apps For Business were created. Use them! They’re all very easy to set up, streamlined and optimized for teamwork, and will save you so much time and energy. This goes back to Mistake 4; don’t try and create your own systems when what you need already exists! Some might cost you a little bit (Google Apps is $5 per person per month, not too bad) but trust me, once you start using them you won’t be able to stop. If you’re organized and on top of your to-do list, game development will be a cakewalk.
8. GETTING INTIMIDATED BY THE WORKLOAD
Lists, lists, lists. You know why it seems like you have a million things to do? Because you have a million and one things to do. It’s hard to sugarcoat the fact that making a game requires a lot of work and learning (that’s why services like Start Game Devexist!) However, once you sit down and work through what needs to be done in a systematic, logical manner, the task doesn’t seem so daunting. Many developers get overwhelmed and try juggling everything at once, but all it takes is some lists, priorities, a can-do attitude, and focus, and anything is possible.
9. KEEPING YOUR PROJECT A SECRET
The whole point of creating games is for people to play them. So why spend hour after hour slaving away to create an awesome, polished product if nobody knows about it? Many indie developers think that they should keep their games hidden away until they’re deemed “presentable enough.” Bad idea. Start growing your fanbase as soon as you start working! The developers of the retro indie hit SanctuaryRPG started sharing builds on their subreddit community pretty much as soon as the game became playable! It was hugely beneficial for them to have a willing audience of people to get feedback and ideas from. Games become successful through community-building, so get started ASAP or find someone to help you out!
10. GIVING UP
Don’t quit. It’s trite but true. Don’t be the guy with 50 prototypes and no finished product. Be the guy with the game that you can be proud to show off to all of your friends. There’s nothing more exciting than watching the guy you’re sitting next to on the bus playing your game on his phone. Game development is more than just making a game. The learning experience you’ll get by following the process through to completion is amazing and worth the struggle. It’s easy to give up when things are tough, but you need to treat every failure as a learning opportunity and don’t feel like it’s the end of the road if you hit a roadblock. Remember, it’s only through adversity that real growth happens.
Ten mistakes that have dragged many indie studios down into the depths of Tartarus. Keep an eye out and catch yourself before you fall into any one of these rabbit holes. Who knows? Your game could be the next big thing.
Special thanks to Roger at IndieJuice.tv for this article.
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