Indie Check List
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The following are major areas that you should seriously think of how you will staff. These are the major functions that you will need to staff for internally, contract someone to do for you, or select a partner to help you with.
Read over every entry here, but don't panic yet.
There are indie friendly ways to account for every aspect of this journey, its not free, its not easy but it is absolutely worth it if this is your passion.
In many regions you are legally required to register a business, even if its just you. In most cases its strongly advised that you incorporate and not simply "DBA" (doing business as). The specifics of this are highly dependent on region, deal with legal matters and are not appropriately advised on via a community forum or even this article.
Go see a professional that deals with Company Formation in your region and understand what your obligations are, and seek advise on what options might best work for you. Finding a local advisor or partner to help you here is key. Most regions will have state/government ran programs and initiatives meant to support new businesses, this is particularly common with new arts, technical and consequently game businesses.
If you're going to be buying anything or making any money then you need an accountant. You will always need an accountant so rather you staff this or partner, this will be a permanent relationship for you and your company. Its worth noting that many accounting firms also handle company registration and can advise on administration aspects. This is also highly specific to each region and deals with legal matters so taking the advice of some community forum or even this article is insufficient. Seek a local professional for advice.
As a game developer, even before you have a game ready to publish, you will be creating and using other peoples creations. Making sure you're complying with any legal requirements and registering any IP, names, marks, etc. as is required by your local regulations is critical and often overlooked. This is usually something that you Registration and Administration and/or Accounting partner may handle; that is you can usually find a partner that is suitable to advise and guide on all three of these aspects.
We strongly recommend Steam as your first and core platform. Steam is the gaming platform for PC, it has a low barrier to entry and your building your game on a PC so its the most native to the project ... there really is no reason to not launch on Steam.
How will you distribute your product? This is something you should think about early. It will dictate many other aspects of your organization, and likely have a significant impact on the design and implementation of any apps/games you create.
You will absolutely need to choose a trusted platform or multiple platforms. While it is technically possible to distribute your own games and apps, platforms do much more than just distribution. A key aspect of choosing a platform is the "Trust and Security" aspect. Why should a customer trust your app? How do they know it's not malware? Simple, if it's on a trusted platform it's safe.
Examples of Trusted Platforms, non-exhaustive (means there are other options)
- PC, Mac, Linux
- Xbox (yes they have a PC tool. Sony is working on something similar)
- Epic Game Store
- Consoles Each has its own official store
- Android and iOS Each has its own official store
For "PC" games (that is Windows, Mac and Linux games) the Steam platform is the largest and most dominant by a very long shot. If you plan to release a game on PC then you should plan to release that game on Steam. Steam API is a feature available freely to all Steam games and can add a lot of value to your game for your players. Heathen of course provides great tooling around Steam API.
Do be carful of the platforms you choose, especially if your considering exclusivity.
Our biased opinion is that you should treat Steam as your primary platform and then add additional platforms to your supported list as your bandwidth (skill and resource availability) allows. This recommendation applies to console games and "major" mobile games as well. PC is the most "native" platform to any bit of software and Steam is king on PC. There is little to no reason to not release on Steam and in general your Steam release should be the easiest to accomplish.
Love him or hate him this is not his story. Epic Game Store tends to be a place of forgetting for game releases big and small that is true for indie and AAA. If you got Epic Game Store make sure its not your only platform.
Small studios can often land some much needed funding via exclusive deals, however some platforms -especially when your available exclusively on them- can be harmful to your project and organization. In general PC gamers have an active hate of "exclusivity" to the point that some do track this behaviour and actively avoid developers and publishers that avail of it.
Steam Curator: Epic Games Sucks
A curator that recommends against any game that formerly had Epic Store Exclusivity
Another commonly outsourced aspect of game development as a business, especially for small studios and solo developers. Marketing requires time, expertise and scale to be effective. The marketing needs of small indies are quite unique to the needs of other businesses and even other forms of game development (mobile, AA and AAA). Be sure to consider the unique challenges of marketing and understand that developing your marketing strategy should generally happen before production of your game.
Marketing for note involves much more than advertising your game. Your marketing strategy will include an assessment of the market, audience targeting and other factors that will influence your design process and in particular will influence any potential investors. Engaging a professional marketing firm early to help establish a sound marketing strategy doesn't cost as much you might think and will greatly improve your chances of success.
Community is an ever evolving requirement of game development. In the early days, games were a matter of "fire and forget", released into the wild and not so much as a post release update. One way community management via "Blue Posts" ... looking at you Blizzard ... are likewise no longer viable. The current market effectively demands rich community engagement. A happy community can prop up a small scrappy game and a pissed off community can tank a AAA title with ease.
Classically community management has been handled by a "go-to-man" in each studio acting as a sort of "frontman" like one sees with rock bands ... and that is a major problem.
Good business will tell you that having any system depend on a "go-to-man" is a critical point of failure that will go wrong, its only a matter of time. Treat community and its management as you would any other important part of your business, and project and invest in it wisely.
These are the major aspects of production that you simply cannot get away with cutting corners on.
As "indie game dev" has grown in popularity, some tools, guides and articles might have lead you to believe that you can just buy the solution on the Unity Asset Store or DIY with some magical tool that trivializes it.
This however is not reality. In reality, each of these areas are skilled creative functions that involve more work than the uninitiated realizes, and so require consideration on how you will source these needs.
Seems obvious right? This is usually the one common thing we all (game developers) do or are interested in. That however doesn't mean we are all game designers and that we have a passion for it as our core skill. If you're not the game designer, you need to source for this fundamental requirement. Staffing up is usually the preference here but it is possible to contract or even outsource your game design.
No, you cannot create a professional fully featured game without dealing with engineering. I don't care what XXXX tool says on the box, that is not reality.
Engineering is not typing words into a compiler to "make computer go". 'The act of analyzing requirements, designing, building, testing and integrating tools and systems to resolve those requirements.' That is engineering. Or at least the main part of it you need an engineer for.
Visual scripting tools, blueprints, "code free" development tools ... they can all help your prototype. However, they are not a replacement for an engineer. Even if your project never requires a single line of code to be typed out, you will still require engineering as a skill to complete your project.
If you want to release a professional game you cannot be releasing it with Unity Asset Store artwork in it. Art assets on the Unity Asset Store and similar marketplaces are wonderful placeholders, inspiration pieces or even as a base or bash kit to work from when creating custom works. UAS Art Assets however are not production ready regardless of what is said on the store page. You might get away with it as a passion project done by a hobbyist but the moment you put that professional hat on and try to be a business, your clients and probably some of your peers are going to rip you apart.
Visuals (usually just called art but audio guys get offended
Rather its for your UI, world design, characters, VFX ... just like Engineering is more than "type words make computer go", visual art is a lot more than 2D images and 3D models. Sourcing a solution to create your visual design style and then producing the content in that style to meet your projects requirements is an obvious requirement for any game project.
As with visual assets, grabbing some royalty free SFX and music off some asset store, while perfectly fine for that passion project you did as a hobby, just isn't appropriate for a professional game.
Audio assets tend to be even harder to hide or mask in your project, even infrequently played sounds tend to be very memorable to players. Couple that with the comparatively smaller pool of assets to choose from, the risk of using off the shelf audio assets is high.
Beyond the fact that a solid portion of your userbase is likely to identify your off the shelf audio selection. Audio design and direction is an art unto its self that has less to do with the recording of noise you purchased and more to do with how they are used. A well thought out audio design for your game can not only save some egg on the face but also reduce the cost and need for custom audio. Proper use of less will get you more than throwing a lot of off the shelf content at the problem.
No, community testing and public beta are not even close to sufficient.
This is one of the factors that separates the hobbyist game from the professional game. Nothing wrong with being the passion project of a talented hobbyist, but a professional game is held to a stricter standard.
If you outsourced your engineering that firm probably also provides for testing. If you're handling engineering needs in house, then you're going to need to solve for testing as well. Testing is one of those areas that really only works at scale. That is to say it requires a larger entity to do well. Consequently, small studios, even ones specialized in engineering, will outsource some or all of their testing. Even "testing studios" who are the ones often contracted to be that outsourced testing solution are typically leaning very heavily on contractors to meet the demand.
While listed at the end you need to be thinking about this from the start. Localizing a game with hard coded strings is far more expensive than localizing a game with well thought out and implemented dialog.
Do not auto-translate
As with every other aspect of production, you cannot cut corners here. You are far better to support just 1 common language than you are to auto-translate your game in the modern market. Aside from a lack of professionalism, some regions and cultures can be easily offended by naïve attempts and in some cases that offence can bring real consequences.
Localization is perhaps the most commonly outsourced requirement a game will have, as it requires local cultural expertise for each location. Localization more so than other aspects simply shouldn't be corner-cut. Poor translation can be offensive and result in harm to your product and company. It simply isn't excusable in the modern market. If budget is tight and you cant afford a professional localization of your project, simply skip it. You are better off to have fewer localizations than you are to let auto-translate shoot you in the foot.
So much more than keeping the lights on, but often thought of that way. Operations covers the factors of, well, operating whatever it is.
This is actually part of ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) ALM is far too huge of a concept to detail here, but something we will start to cover over time. If you have more questions about ALM reach out. Heathen has decades of experience in Enterprise Software Engineering where we lived and breathed this day to day.
DevOps, some times confused for ALM or even simply called "source control", encompasses a lot of your day to day operations as a software development house.
Make no mistake, if you build video games, whether you like it or not you are a software development business, and need to be aware of and conform to that reality.
DevOps is largely an internal process with some tooling sprinkled in, so not something you will be outsourcing unless you outsource all of your development. DevOps is however a concept you're likely new to, not to mention its parent concept ALM. Finding a consultancy that can help you ramp up on these concepts and tools is key to the healthy operation of your business. No amount of good ideas or even great production will save you if you fail at DevOps.
DevOps is a collection of practices, and the tooling to support them. It defines and enables the creation of your "content" be that source code, art assets, audio files or anything else for that matter. It defines how they will be logged, backed up, reviewed, tested, built and deployed.
In short it defines how you will "operate" your "development", hence DevOps.
No this is not just for your code monkeys, it covers all of your "dev" so art, audio, testing, design. The entire "production" process as we would typically call it in game development is driven through your DevOps tools according to your DevOps processes.
This is again part of ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) ALM is far to huge of a concept to detail here but something we will start to cover over time. If you have more questions about ALM reach out. Heathen has decades of experience in Enterprise Software Engineering where we lived and breathed this day to day.
LiveOps or "Live" "Operations" deals with the processes and tools you employ to operate your released game. What exactly this includes depends on your game and truly standalone games have a very minimal "LiveOps" requirement where something more "live service" such as an MMO or MOBA would have a very complex "LiveOps" requirement.
As with DevOps this is a matter of processes and the tools that enable them so not really something you would "outsource" though consultancy firms can help you understand the concepts and apply them to your specific project.