Everyone knows that being an indie dev is the best job in the world. When you’re not just playing games on the sofa in your underpants surrounded by Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, you're idly making guns and things that explode. Sadly, once in a while, the fun and games turns to drudgery and you have to do paperwork.
Here’s a quick guide to the boring paperwork you can expect as an indie dev, and how to do it as quickly as possible. NOTE: I'm speaking from experience as a UK dev. Take it with a pinch of salt, and apply to your own country.
Setting up a company
This is important, because if you’re even remotely successful you need to have an official company in order to pay taxes. Not paying taxes is, apparently, against the law, and the last thing you need is the police popping round when you’re half-naked and surrounded by Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. “’Ello ‘ello ‘ello, what’s all this then?” they’ll say as you stare up at them with bits of cereal half up your bottom. Doesn’t bear thinking about.
Fortunately, setting up a company is easy. You can do it online, quickly and for about £30. Think long and hard about your company name, you don’t want it to be shit and have to rename the company. While you’re setting things up, nab a Company Bank Account. You need to keep your personal beer money and your Official Funds very, very separate. Your friendly bank manager will be only too happy to set one up for you. It’s a boring job, and comes with paperwork as heavy as a brick, but only needs doing once.
It is absolutely, 100% worth your time to get an accountant. Working out how much tax you have to pay and filing all the forms is both HARD and BORING. What’s more, accountants are so good at it that they basically pay for themselves.
Even if they charge you £1000/year, they’re probably saving you more than that by knowing the ins-and-outs of the system, AND it’s freeing you up to design guns. Accountants will also be able to discuss the best way of paying yourself, to make sure you’re still paying National Insurance and all your personal taxes properly. I suggest you pay yourself once a month. You need to pay rent and mortgages and food and all that real-life stuff.
Keep an Excel document of your costs, every penny that goes into and out of your company account. Yes, every. Single. Penny. Each month, log in to your online banking and just copy-paste everything over, and have a special column to let your accountant know what it was (ie "£139.99 to Chairs-R-Us", you'd add "replacement office chair :(" in a little column so they know it's tax-deductible). It’s worth doing once a month, not only so you can just send it on when your accountant needs it and forget about it, but also in order to keep on top of your finances and make sure you’re not going bankrupt. YAWN, right?
If you’re working with other people, it tends to be a good idea to get them to sign a little bit of paper confirming that the work they do for you is yours, and you can do what you like with it. Boring, but it doesn’t take long. Get yourself a decent release form that covers all eventualities, and get everyone who helps on the game to sign it. If you don’t have a release form you can use, you can ask a lawyer to send you one. Talking of lawyers:
Lawyers are good and important because they stop bad things happening when other lawyers get in touch. I've seen every episode of Suits (season 1 and 2) and have no desire to have to think as hard about things as those lawyers do. Sheridan’s are the default go-to lawyers for indie devs, and with good reason. They’re really nice and friendly and frequently buy beer for indie developers, so the very least you could do is to drop them a line if you find yourself in legal trouble. Before it gets to all that, drop Alex Tutty a line and introduce yourself. Just say hello, let him know who you are. His email's right on that page, look. He’ll help you out however he can and it's probably a good idea to introduce yourself BEFORE the police come a-knocking
Most contracts are fairly straight forward. For simple distribution deals, have a read through and you'll probably understand it just fine. You're a smart kid, it's only reading. If it's something serious, like for one of the Big Console Guys, or if it's remotely out of the ordinary, or if there's ANYTHING you want clarification on, contact your lawyer and get them to look over it for you. The good thing about getting a lawyer to do it, is it'll save you a lot of time and heartache down the road.
With any luck, people will pay you money for your games. If possible, get things set up so any funds go directly into your bank account, because otherwise you're going to have to write "invoices". Get yourself a template, slap all your company information on it, and then hopefully it's just a case of filling in some basic info and emailing it on. Invoices don't take long, individually, but when you've got four or five coming in a month it all racks up. Get them to pop it into your account directly, explain that you're too busy designing explosions to write invoices all the time.
That's it! That's all the boring paperwork you'll have to deal with. It's preposterously dull, which is why it's smart to have systems in place to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. The Ultimate Dream is to sell enough copies of a game that you can afford to hire someone else, give them an [email protected]">[email protected] email address, and get them to do all the above for you.
Until then, do it smart, and do it properly.
If you have questions, or want to keep up with future posts, I'm @danthat.