Consulting companies are a very common type in the software development world. One day, one company decides to outsource the development of a certain product or the maintenance of a service to a third-party provider that knows better. This is also happening when implementing video games, though the usual model is still the single company that builds its own product. Furthermore, there are freelance consultants that are specialized in certain parts of development: defining the initial video game idea, designing levels, or developing for a specific platform. Even if right now you or your company are making video games you can consider “yours,” it is possible that if you do things right, some clients will be knocking on your door so you can do the same for them. Whether it’s a fellow indie dev looking to collaborate on a game jam or someone offering to pay money for your services, facing clients is never easy, but at least some of these tips can help you through.
1. Position Yourself as the Expert
After the initial struggle, your sales team (or even yourself) have gotten the contract to start working on a video game for a client. Remember, you were hired before others because the client already considers you the expert . . . so act like one! However, what does acting like an expert exactly mean?
- Clearly expose pros & cons of every game design your client would want and take a stand for one singular option, explaining why you see it as the best option. Avoid aces up the sleeve.
- Explain the stages and the methodology you will use during your project. The client does not need to force you to work their way if your team has already proven that they give good results in past projects.
- Say no. Probably one of the most difficult ones but the most effective if you use it with caution. If the client wants to take the path that goes directly down the gutter, it’s also part of your job to tell them it is likely they will fail. Rather that saying no directly, just start the sentence with something like, “Why don’t we.. . . . ?”
- Give examples of popular or recognizable video games to prove your points. If during an argument you cannot convince them with the power of logic, tell them that Candy Crush or Pokemon Go have done it that way. Those video games are synonyms of success, which will probably be your client’s main goal.
2. Treat Your Client Like a Part of the Team
This is the main challenge when you create a video game for others. It’s great if you feel the video game you are building is like your child (even though you will give it away to some extent when the project ends), but your client probably feels the same way.
You must involve your client from the very beginning and let them decide the biggest and most visible parts of the video game. They do not need to know about every single line of code—most clients do not know about how much “buried” work a video game has inside (that is why they hired you in the first place)— but they should feel as if they’re using your expertise to make decisions coherently. If you feel that some feature is a must-have for your customer, try to include it (even if the idea doesn’t improve the video game and only if it does not make it worse).
Name one person that will be in charge of communicating internal decisions to your team. It’s better this way. Otherwise you will end up having conflicting feedback from different departments. If it is not possible for your client to have this person, take someone from your own company to act like the “Product Owner,” gathering feedback from different stakeholders. Make sure this person is a good communicator or all the people involved in the project will not feel the final product as their own at all.
3. Be Transparent
I have met some people that don’t agree about being transparent with clients, something understandable if the project is a complete mess but you still want to get paid. If you are able to build a relationship of trust with your client when things are going good (normally at the start of the video game development), they should be ready to hear the bad news as well.
Tell them about all the work your team is doing, even if someone is researching about an eighties Arcade video game to achieve a retro look in the video game you are developing. Make your work valuable every time.
If you use a tracking tool, do not be afraid to share it with them. If your client wants to get involved, it is a good thing they see the progress of the development tasks.
4. Provide Demos ASAP
I usually advocate for the use of functional documentation that represents the agreement between your client and your company. It is a useful tool that help both parties avoid surprises during development. However, for video game implementation projects, it loses its power because it is difficult to reflect how a video game will be like in words.
That is why you should directly start implementing the gameplay even if you do not have much detail about how the final version will be like. By observing your client’s reaction about what they are playing, you can take many conclusions. Agile practices are the key in this kind of projects, and there are tools like Construct2 to help you prototyping game plays quickly.
If you do internal demos, invite the client as well. It is a great moment for everybody to get excited about what has been achieved and do some brainstorming about next phases.
The Golden Rule
Summing up, you should treat your clients as you would like to be treated if you were paying some company to develop your video game. Try to put yourself in their shoes, but make them wear yours as well.
What about you? Have you had any experience as a freelance? Have you ever worked with external stakeholders and used some of these tips in the past? We would love to read so in the comments!