This post by Gary Burchell originally appeared on the Abandon Ship game blog.
“From a ‘Proper Job’ to Indie” is a series of articles that describe what it was like going from Full Time employment into the world of Indie Development. Last time, I talked about the game-related elements I focused on early in Abandon Ship’s development. This time, I talk about expanding your team.
You may be one of those incredibly talented developers that can make an entire game by themselves. If you are, I hold the greatest admiration for you! For most people, however, there are skillsets they don’t possess, and this means having someone else on your team to fulfill that need, whether that person is a business partner, employee, or contractor. Essentially, when you’re looking for people to expand your indie team, no matter what their relationship to the company is, you need to look for some common traits.
Expanding your Team
There are a lot of things to consider when looking for new team members.
The first should be identifying the skillset you need and making sure that person can fill that gap.
Secondly, ascertain whether you think you could work well with that person and how they’d fit in with the team dynamic. This is hard to gauge given that you may not have even met the person if you’re working remotely, so you’ll need to rely on your gut feeling. It’s not that you all have to be best buddies: more that you don’t want anyone who is going to needlessly piss off other people and upset the balance. A cohesive, communicative team pulling in a unified direction is more productive then a fractured group of individuals.
You must also balance cost versus experience. It’s all well and good hiring someone junior/cheap, but will they be able to get the job done? The more experienced person may be more expensive, but if you know they’ll knock it out of the park and do it faster, it is something that bears consideration.
You want your whole team to be filled with people that are diligent, professional, and dedicated. In the games industry, it’s not hard to find people that tick all those boxes!
Where Should I Look?
If you’ve been in the games industry, you’re probably familiar with ex-colleagues that you want to work with. This is a really good place to start because you know that person and will understand what they can do, how well they can do it, and how they’ll fit into the team.
Sometimes you’ll be surprised by what you find. One day, I happened to be on LinkedIn, and the algorithmically generated “People You May Know” section popped up a face that I recognized. After following the link through, I realized this was someone from a Student Competition that I mentored years ago. After some due diligence and early discussions, I came to find that this person was a perfect fit for the project. So keep your eyes and ears open: you never know what opportunity may crop up!
Where Will We Work?
This will be determined by a lot of different factors. If your team is spread across the country (or even different countries), then remote working is your only choice. If you happen to live close to each other, then rented office space is an option.
However you will also have to factor in expense. Office spaces cost money but will improve communication. There are tools that help ease problems for remote teams (we use a combination of Slack and Skype, which are both free, and Jira, which has a one-time $10 fee if you host your own server)—but they can’t replace the immediate nature of turning to someone next to you to discuss a feature. However, if you’re working from home, the money saved on office space can go into the game.
You also need to consider what works for you. If you’re working from home but are easily distracted, then going to an office may be crucial in terms of your productivity.
If you decide that renting office space is the best option for you, then it’s worth shopping around. There tend to be shared office space initiatives and even start-up focused places that offer good rates and greater contract flexibility. If there is a strong development scene in your area, you may even find like-minded people to rent together. Here in Guildford, one such example of this is Rocket Desk.
Next you need to decide how your new team members fit into the company.
A business partner is someone who will have a stake or shares in the company.
If you’re going to have a business partner, the most important thing to establish is: “Can I work with this person?” And not just when times are good: when times are bad. Really bad. Making games is tough—there will always be conflicts and disagreements—but if you can resolve those and move forward, you know you’re partnering up with the right person. (Editor’s Note: This article is just good relationship advice in general)
But be prudent and set up a Shareholders’ Agreement to cover eventualities. No one can predict the future, and this acts as a safeguard for keeping the company in the current shareholders’ control.
Employees and Contractors
Unless you’re flush with cash, I imagine most start-ups will be hiring people on a Fixed Length contract. Regardless, make sure your employment contract is a games industry suitable one (there are templates online for free) and tailor it as you need to. Remember, these agreements are to protect both parties, so be fair in your negotiations and be willing to discuss clauses. Hopefully, once it’s signed, you won’t ever need to refer back to the contract except to check payment dates and amounts.
Always remember that happy people do good work, so foster that “we’re in this together” vibe. Give them responsibility, and don’t micromanage them. Treat them as an integral part of the team and, unsurprisingly, they’ll feel invested.
What About My Role in the Team?
You need to lead.
I’m lucky enough to have run teams in the past, so I can draw from personal experience here, but being a team leader is a crucially important role because you set the tone.
So lead from the front. Charge into the battle that is game design as the vanguard of your developer army. Be inclusive and transparent. Operate from a position of trusting people to do their job. Be logical and fair. Be decisive, yet humble enough to ask for help or other people’s thoughts.
In short, be a leader, not a manager.
With the team all set and ready to go, be prepared to spend a percentage of your time planning out work plus providing direction and feedback. This time will increase the bigger a team you have, but by following this guide you’ll have everything in place to deliver your vision.
In the next article, I talk about what happens after you’ve gotten past those initial couple of months and are now a fully-fledged indie developer!