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 (which you can read about here) I talked about putting together your team. In this article I’ll focus on some of the worthwhile things I did on Abandon Ship after those initial couple of months getting started.
So things are really in motion. You’ve been making great strides on the game, you’re executing your plan, and the team is in place. There is a long way to go, but you’re making progress.
What now? Below is a list of things you should be bearing in mind as development enters the next phase.
Start Building Momentum!
By now you should have a solid understanding of what it is about your game that will resonate with people, so start promoting those aspects in social media. If you happen to have a unique visual style (cough cough like Abandon Ship), this can be a useful entry-point for people.
Take advantage of #screenshotsaturday on Twitter, as several sites keep track of this and post the best games in a round-up format, which starts to draw traffic your way. I’ve been surprised by some of the things that have come out of a post on Twitter, and the point is that you have to start by putting yourself out there to have a chance at gaining opportunities.
Create a Dev Blog or other articles that people will find interesting, and ensure they contain links back to your main website. Try to get bloggers to share it, as all of this will slowly make your website better optimized for search engines: when people go looking for you, then you will appear higher up the search rankings.
It may feel like you’re shouting into the void, but just because people may not respond doesn’t mean they’re not listening.
Analyze Your Website Traffic and Social Media
By using all the various analytics available to you, check your website traffic and social media comments. Using Google Search Tools, check once-a-day to see if there have been any new articles about you.
Leverage anything you can to keep active on the scene – a new article gets posted? Share it on social media. Keep a track of what goes down well with people and learn lessons about how best to maximize potential.
I keep a massive excel that lists all of our social media posts and how well they do. This plugs into monthly graphs that track how many followers we gain, newsletter subscriptions etc. When you study the data, it can be enlightening or surprising in equal measure, and by using this data it can inform your future plans.
Celebrate your Successes
By this point, you’re still a little snowball rolling down the hill. Eventually, you want to be the avalanche, but you’re a long way from that. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate your successes, however small.
A website covered you? It may not be a big-hitter, but it’s still a success, right? Acknowledge your successes when you get them! People are attracted to a success story and want to feel a part of it.
Be on the Lookout for Additional Funding
There are lots of funding opportunities available, and now that you have something decent to show, it’s the right time to apply for these sorts of initiatives. We saw the Round 1 Funding for the UK Games Fund back in November 2015 but felt it was too early for us to apply. We waited for the Round 2 Funding in April 2016, felt it was the right time to apply and succeeded.
Note that if you’re going to approach investors, be prepared for rigorous due diligence, not just to establish that the game has potential, but also to confirm that your company is worth entering into a relationship.
Start Building a Press List
When the time comes to contact journalists, you want to be ready with a nicely arranged excel to make your job easier.
Occasionally, people will be contact you, but this will be a minority experience. Look at Youtubers and press outlets across the world, find appropriate contact details, and add them to the list. Sometimes digging a little to find the right journalist is worth the time investment, as contacting journalists who aren’t interested in your content is at best inconsiderate and at worst damaging to your company.
If you feel that your game has a certain resonance with players of a certain type, and those genres do well in a particular region, look more into outlets in that area. Don’t just focus on the big guys—focus on the smaller sites too. If you started a new band, you wouldn’t expect to play stadiums as your opening gigs: you have to put your time in on the pub-circuit, so to speak.
Blow People’s Socks Off
There are a few moments in development where you’ll get peak coverage. Your first unveiling and final release are the most likely high points. When you approach these phases, any supporting materials (such as screenshots) should be as good as you can possibly make them. Make sure everything is “on message” and communicates what you want it to.
There is a lot out there competing for people’s attention, and news cycles move fast. If you can bowl people over, then don’t underplay it—blow their socks off! You need them to tell their friends and spread the word! All aboard the hype train!
Manage your Time
There are only so many hours in the day and it’s important to maintain a healthy work-life balance (I could do a better job of heeding this advice myself!). Sometimes, it can feel overwhelming just how much there is to do. Come up with mid- and short-term lists of things that you need to do, plus dependencies that could hold up development and make sure you stay on top of things.
Utilize free (or very cheap) project management tools like Trello or Jira to help visualize your plans and how they come together. You should have an idea of what systems work best for you, but the point is to make sure you’re managing your time as efficiently as possible.
Keep an Eye on the Big Picture
While it’s important to take care of the details, never lose focus on the “Big Picture.” Constantly ask yourself how the short-term list of work fits into the games Core Pillars. If they don’t, then is that task a distraction/waste of time?
Keep Track of Finances
Arguably this is one of the most important aspects to stay on top of. If you don’t have any money, you’re not likely to finish your game!
The bare minimum you need is an accurate financial forecast. If you’re paying other people then you have a responsibility to them as much as yourself. Nothing will destroy a team relationship faster then not being paid on time: everyone has bills to pay. I find that even though there is very little deviation from my financial plan, it can still be a bottom-clenching moment at the end of every month to see my ever dwindling savings go down another chunk to pay myself and others.
If you were to have lots of unplanned expenditure on top of this, it could totally derail your project—and if this is happening frequently, then you haven’t planned well enough.
Keep your Plan Current
As you develop the game, you’re constantly learning. Some things may not have turned out how you expected or you may have thought of new features that are crucial to the game.
All of these should be constantly updated in your plan, so it’s as current as possible. Minimize wastage as you can’t afford to spend time doing something that isn’t contributing to the games success, or realizing the Core Pillars.
Resist sticking your head in the sand and avoiding problems: they’ll need to be dealt with at some point, and the longer they’re left, the more damaging they could become.
Personally I feel that I’ve been an Indie for long enough now that the “From a Proper Job” title isn’t appropriate anymore, so I’ll end the series here. I really hope the articles have been helpful to you!
I’ll probably write some more Indie-focused blogs from time to time under a different title, so watch out for them. If you have any questions (about the game, the articles, the industry at large or otherwise), please don’t hesitate to contact me, and keep an eye out for other Abandon Ship news!