We’re going to cut to the chase: you’re here for the tips, and we’re here to give them to you. Without further ado, let’s jump into these 9 useful business tips for budding game developers!
1. Know Your Numbers
To make a living from indie games, you will have to start running your own business. There is no way around it. If this idea scares you, or you find it largely uninteresting, then get yourself a commercially-minded but creatively-sympathetic business partner immediately. In addition, you should try to get hold of a good business accountant (hard to find!) and read up on the laws of running and starting a company. Get your paperwork done and file as a company.
After you get your business up and running, you’ll need to know your numbers. You must have a good web analytics package on your website: this is the single most useful piece of marketing advice anyone has ever given me. Without this, you won’t know why your game is selling or not selling. Google Analytics is immensely powerful and free: we highly recommend it.
2. Know Your Potential
Up next are sales projections. How much money can your indie game make? Well, we’ve now seen that a statistically insignificant percentage of indie games can sell over a million copies! More sanely, Amnesia, an indie game from a developer with an existing fanbase, which features graphics approaching AAA quality, has managed to sell nearly 200,000 units. Other indies are delighted when their games break 10,000 or 20,000. Industry veteran Simon Carless has some rather interesting sales stats on every platform here, breaking it down very elegantly. You’ll want to use this data in conjunction with your market research to figure out how many sales your game is capable of. If this confuses you in any way, we’re always an email away and will be glad to give you free advice ([email protected]).
3. Know Your Opportunities
Persistence is the most important trait you’ll need as an indie developer. You’ll need to make mistakes, learn from them, and carry on anyway. You have to love doing this in order to do it at all: that’s why the indie games scene is one of the best places to be in this cruel world! Also, indie developers are banding together and collaborating at an ever increasing rate. Look at some of the cross-marketing in games like Super Meat Boy, or projects like Cliffski’s ShowMeTheGames.com. Getting actively involved with the indie games community can really benefit your work.
4. Know Your Payment Model
Think of your payment model as part of your game design. Here’s some food for thought: free-to-play games incorporating virtual goods offer the highest possible ceiling in terms of revenue on PC and Mac right now. They allow customers who love the game to pay more than average, and they also capture small amounts of revenue from players at the other end of the scale, who otherwise might not buy a “full version” of the game. However, just because something has the highest ceiling does not mean that’s where you should aim: it may simply not be suitable for the type of game you want to make. Remember, we’re in the “Anyone Who Wants to Make a Game” category here: you’re doing this because you have something you want to create, not because you want to make the most money possible. So, it’s important to know that traditional “pay-once” titles are still very viable for individuals and small companies.
5. Know Your Value
If you do go down the pay-once route, we would urge you to look into DLC and ways of offering more value to customers who truly love your game. Pay-once arguably offers more opportunity for immersion and scope than free-to-play, so you may well gain some very passionate fans who would love to get hold of more content. It’s also more customer-friendly: you don’t have to keep badgering people to give you money every five seconds. That could lead to a more meaningful relationship with your customers.
For a good example of how to make the most of long-term customer commitments in gaming, look at Penny Arcade. They make products and hold events that their fans love; they have a truly mutually beneficial relationship with their community. There’s no reason that an indie game development company couldn’t adopt the same approach.
6. Know How to Position Yourself as an 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.
7. Know How to 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.
8. Know How to 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 games to achieve a retro look in the 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.
9. Know to 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.
[ Want to get your indie game on the map? Need your game published on Steam? We can help! ]
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A shoutout and H/T to Daniel Doan and Barbara PM for authoring this article.