I see a lot of posts on forums that look something like this:
I want to break into the game industry, but I really don't want to waste my time going to school or anything. I've got this great idea for a game and I know it will be the greatest. I'm thinking I'll just skip the whole job thing and just start my own game company. Can you give me some advice?
Anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows that I am a pretty strong advocate for the more traditional route to a job in the game industry: get a degree, then get an entry level job and move on from there. The biggest problem with posts like the one above is that it looks like whoever wrote it:
- Doesn't really want to work hard
- Is trying to skip all the prep work
- Thinks their great idea is so great that everyone else is dumb for not realizing it
- ...and finally, doesn't have a clue!
But let's say we're talking about someone who has really prepared and wants to seriously consider going independent rather than working for another game developer. What should such a person consider when trying to make this decision?
The first question you should ask your self is why? There are many motivations people have for choosing to go independent:
1. A veteran in the industry may decide that it's time to break out of the mold and start a company that is run the way they want it to be run.
2. A student may decide that going independent is the best way to extend their project from school and turn it into a completed, marketable game.
3. In the current economy, going independent is a viable alternative to unemployment.
These are all good reasons to consider going independent. If this is something you are seriously considering, then realize that you have a lot of work ahead of you. Running your own studio is much harder than just getting a job and working for someone else, so make sure you know what you are getting yourself into!
Do Your Homework
First, starting an independent game studio is much like starting any other business. You have to consider what form your business will take (e.g. sole proprietorship, corporation, etc.). There are licenses to get and bank accounts to create. Will you have employees? Triple all of that!
If you have never run a business, then you need to do some research and find out exactly what it takes to start one. One resource I can definitely suggest is your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The SBDC is a branch of the federal Small Business Administration. They offer free information and advice and can also facilitate a small business loan. Check them out at http://www.sba.gov/aboutsba/sbaprograms/sbdc/index.html.
Are You a Business Person?
I have been self-employed for almost 20 years. I think the most important lesson that I have learned is that being really good at what you do (e.g. art, programming, game design) does not necessarily mean that you are good at running a business. In truth, I am really good a programming, but I suck at running a business.
In order to be successful, you are going to need someone who is really good at business. If creating art or writing code is what excites you the most, then you probably are not that person! Someone who is truly good at business gets excited about things like marketing, sales, budgeting, and cold-calls...these are not things that I love to do.
So, if you are seriously considering starting an independent studio, make sure that you have someone on your team who dreams of running a business more than they dream about creating a great game.
So Many Hats to Wear
If you truly are thinking about going solo, then remember that the full responsibility will be yours to make things work. As an independent computer programmer, I estimate that I spend only 25% of my time actually coding. The other 75% is spent finding work, getting people to pay me, and doing paperwork and other administrative chores. You may be able to run solo for a while, but eventually you will have to bring in other people who are experts at business so you can focus on your area of expertise.
And so much more...
Of course, there is no way I could go into all of the details of starting an independent studio in one post. Hopefully this has at least given you some food for thought. Going independent is a hard road, but it can also be rewarding. And there has never been a better time for independent studios in terms of technology and opportunity.
Until next time...Good luck!