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50 Questions an Indie Start Up should ask themselves...

A recent survey of Indie developers showed that on average 45% of their time was taken up with Business Administration Tasks. What questions should Indie start ups ask themselves at each of the 5 stages of the Business cycle?

I am not a programmer, an artist, a gameplay designer, or a very good producer for that matter. Some people might well ask, what am I doing working at a small indie studio?

Well, I am ALL of the following people;

  • Business Development guy
  • Marketing / Events / Social Media person
  • Contracts monkey
  • Business Strategy overlord
  • Finance and Forecasting inventor
  • Studio Manager
  • IT systems confuser
  • HR dude
  • IP exploiter

Its pretty much all the tasks that you might expect a man in a suit using lots of business jargon to do, not really the exciting nitty gritty of making indie games? Well, thats kind of what I have spent the last decade doing in various guises; dealing with the commercial side of the creative industry and making projects happen (not neccesarily in a suit though!). Roll7 ( was one of these projects and after 6 years of scraping by with a relatively mixed agenda, we are now focused on the one thing we all love!

I asked about 30 small indie studios recently how much work the business side of things took up - some were a low 10%, up to a full on 90% - but the average was 45%. Thats a serious chunk of time working on a whole new set of skills while you build your game, possibly more time than most young start ups plan for...

On average, people rated themselves with a self competancy in business of 34% (with 0% being totally incompetant and 100% being an expert), this is a clear difference from an average self competancy rating in Games Design/Production at 72%. So there is an obvious and accepted gap that exists in Indie studio's competancies around the business side of the Games Industry.

My Job (and to a large extent my business partner Thomas Hegarty's) is to basically to shield our Creative Director, John Ribbins from the day to day stresses and strains of the 45% Cashflow, Contracts and Crises in order that he may focus his efforts working with our fantastic studio team to make the best games possible...

Not every small studio setting up has the benefit of this full time position, so for my recent Develop talk I compiled a list of questions that any games studio start up might want to ask itself at various stages of the business cycle. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I am not a business consultant or MBA graduate, it is essentially a list of questions that I wish I could step back in time and ask our fledgling studio back in summer 2008.

To help frame the questions, I have split them up into the business cycle (which I have translated into Game stuff in brackets).

1. Value Creation (Come up with game)

2. Marketing (Tell people about game)

3. Sales (Put game up for sale)

4. Value Delivery (Make sure game works)

5. Finance (Make money from game)

Here are my Questions based around this cycle...

Fundamental Start Up Questions

  • Are you a new Business? Sole Trader? Partnership?
  • Have you sought advice from an accountant re the above?
  • Self Published or have you got a Publisher?
  • Do you have enough money / time to bootstrap the development?
  • Do you have the right team, are the terms clear?
  • Is everyone 100% committed to the project / studio?
  • Do you own all of the IP? How will you assert this?
  • Have you contracted everyone involved appropriately?
Value Creation Questions
  • Is there is a clear market demand for the game?
  • If its only a niche game, what is that niche and why do you fit?
  • What is your games USP in the marketplace?
  • Have you tested the MVP with a cold audience and addressed all of the issues?
  • Have you got a proper Production Schedule for development?
  • Have you added a realistic financial + schedule contingency?
  • Have you accounted for Submission Time?
  • Is your game FULLY QA tested throughout dev?
  • Going to be developed for the right platforms to maximise IP revenues?
  • Are you going to involve community input to design the game?
  • Is your game FUN / Entertaining?!! (this is obviously the most important point!)

Marketing Questions

  • Are you at Events (Local / UK / European / International)?
  • Are you at Meet-Ups (eg London Indies)?
  • Have you contacted relevant Journalists / Youtubers?
  • Sent out Press Releases at key dev stages?
  • Exciting and Stand-out game trailer?
  • Booked interviews and exclusives?
  • Using Embargoed Announcements to maximize reach?
  • Social Media channels effective?
  • Blogs?
  • Game / Studio Website?

Sales Questions

  • Have you maximized the sales outlets for the game (not just Steam)?
  • Have you approached Consoles re Ports?
  • If self publishing, do you have a sales / discounting strategy?
  • Is your game localised?
  • Are you working to differentiated price-points at POS?
  • Do you own the rights to sell the Soundtrack?
  • Are you able to benefit from cross sales opps?
  • Humble Bundle?

Value Delivery Questions

  • Have you actually finished the game and shipped?
  • Does the game work for customers? No? Patch it!
  • DLC Plan?
  • Continued support and communication through NeoGaf and Forums?
  • Use gamer feedback to help determine new features?

Finance Questions

  • Have you cashflowed your actual ins and outs for production?
  • Do you have an accountant for your annual return?
  • Have you allocated marketing spend?
  • Do you have realistic projections for sales (low/mid/high)
  • Have you accounted for relevant taxes (NI / Corporation / VAT /)
  • Have you looked into Games Tax Relief or R&D tax credits?
  • Have you tried to access RDA funding?
  • Are you going to self invest or raise finance?

Obviously unless you nail stage one, it doesnt matter how well you execute the later four stages if the game is not 'good'. As the old Video Games adage says, 'You cant polish a turd, and rolling it in business glitter will only get you so far'. So definately not worth getting too worried about these other points until you are confident that your game is actually worth devoting a substantial chunk of your life on!

Anyway, hopefully some of these questions are of use, feel free to hit me up on twitter with any thoughts / questions... @rollsimon / @roll_7

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