I’ve read multiple articles similar to the vein of the following article posted on Gamasutra about the highs and lows of indie development, specifically the production and launch process. It’s intriguing to me in the sense of how the ‘gaming business’ is run on a local, one man level in comparison to that of AAA studios with budgets, perks and health care benefits…you know, the typical stuff.
Gamasutra, as well as other indie developer’s blogs, give massive takeaways that I wanted to preemptively learn from and apply before I get into the thick of my fledgling indie life. I’ve included blog links, specifically articles about game development and post mortems, and what I did before starting Cake -n- Iron full time. Hopefully my faint digital echo will help someone and be a great reflective notch as I go along.
My Thoughts: Is This Something I Really Want To Do? For the Rest of My Life?
I’ve always loved video games, though I will be upfront and say I wasn’t one of those kids that had the luxury of a middle class | upper class family who had the extra income to invest in my passion. I was lucky to get a NES and a few other systems, but I didn’t get my first computer until I was 17 and even then I didn’t learn how to code until I was 30. That being said, I ignored a lot of established coders, producers and designers for a while who thought they were giving me sage advance when stating that ‘I should try something else.’ Still, I was human and hearing so many dissuasions did fertilize my self doubt and I did other things. I worked boring tech jobs. I went back to the entertainment industry. I even stopped playing games for a while. I was jaded and felt it was rightfully so.
But, that all changed after a night full of needless overtime, wine, tears, looking in my closet and realizing that I had more business casual clothing than jeans. A former coworker over heard I was a gamer and suggested the Blackwell Chronicles to me. I never heard of it before, so with a leap of faith I bought the bundle and ingested the entire series over the weekend. 48 hours with only bathroom and food breaks. After Epiphany, I sat quietly and asked if I want to get back into games, but not as a fly by night developer but for the rest of my life. Do I want to make enjoyable digital experiences for people? Is that my calling? And my inner voice screamed ‘yes’; it preferred doing what it always loved instead of being in boardrooms that we both hated. So when my consulting contract came to a close, I did not renew it. I donated most of my business attire to charity and gave corporate a ‘polite adieu’.
I took the stance that this was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life and, to give a diet analogy, if I kept the fat pants in the closet means I’m giving myself a door to escape from.
Blog: I Made A Game!…Shit.
My Thoughts: Is This A Hobby Or A Business?
There are a lot of indie devs out there who participate in game jams, small mobile games, Greenlight bids and Kickstarters and some of them are pretty successful in their initial release of their first game, but a sad thing happens; they never make another. I’ve read development blogs about dev failure and it had me thinking: ‘Do I want to make games or do I want to make a gaming business?’
Despite what many in the industry thinks, the answers are not in the same vein. I was fortunate to work in white collar tech because it exposed me to the power of business acumen and what it can do to a product even if there is healthy competition with a nearly identical product. A prime example is analytics software company Tableau versus Microsoft’s Powerpoint. Those who live and breathe analytics in Seattle know that both products are damn near the same, but Tableau power markets a young, hip face with fancy t-shirts and Teslas. This is a more appealing image, thus Tableau is still beating out PowerPivot despite its massive improvements. As my old boss in post used to tell me, ‘Sell The Sizzle and the Steak Will Sell Itself.’ No one would’ve heard anything about Flappy Birds if it wasn’t for Pewdie Pie. Rovio, Notch, The Behemoth and Steam had long game vision with their platforms and included merchandise options.
So I did the following which I found a lot of devs don’t do initially:
- I purchased an LLC through Legal Zoom
- I bought a domain, server space and invested in a bare bones website for blogging, updated news and an email address that reflect this site, not Google’s.
- I talked to a lawyer about copyright law and contracts specifically for video games and technology.
- I established that I want CnI to be all about weird games and a brand should visually reflect that. So I talked with graphic artists to establish visuals and negotiated a fair price for upcoming work. The site is small right now but I want it to grow in delightful quirkiness.
- I created a business bank account that’s seperate from my personal funds; that way I keep all finances seperate and any sales made will automatically have 30% taken out for quarterly taxes. Yes, I did hire an accountant, too.
It may seem like a huge list and a huge investment; it certainly is but what I’ve learned from previous failed business ventures is business is not cheap. This will have to be paid for sooner or later which brings me to my last point…
My Thoughts: How Can I Have Enough Financial Runway to Make This Work?
When I was working in white collar America, I made a plan; I planned to save as much as I could and front load a lot of the cost of Cake n Iron before I walked away from my day job. Those were some hard months of beans, rice and lots of hot sauce, but I paid for everything out of my own pocket without touching my savings. Also, I paid off all my debt before doing this. My husband and I agreed that we would tighten the belt and become a one income household while I created my dream. He’s cool like that. We also don’t have any children. Now I’m not saying that you should pack up the wife and kids and ship them to Abu Dahbi, but I think having no debt and front loading all my cost put me in a great position to create without stress.
I know there will be some lean months, but I didn’t want to turn it into lean years. Further more, if I had to get a job, I could get a part time gig and still be able to help when needed. All in all, fiscally it works out and as I write this my prototype is done and going around to be beta tested, so I’m okay for now.
I know it seems like I did some overkill with the prep production segment of my indie adventure, but my background is project management and I felt that many businesses don’t fly because the adult stuff isn’t done first. Maybe I’ll write in the future saying I dropped too much cash and made an ass of myself, but right now, I’m sitting pretty and we’ll see how it goes.
Here are a few articles that inspired me to take the plunge.
- How To Be An Indie Developer – Mode 7 Games
- Finishing A Game – Derek Yu
- The Suspicious Development Manifesto
- Surviving The Post Indie Bubble Wasteland – Jeff Vogel (Spiderweb Games)