I was once told that glass is a liquid. A very slow moving liquid, but still – a liquid. Some would say the evidence is in the glass itself. Look at old window panes and you’ll notice the bottom of the pane is slightly thicker than the top. Now, sure, I could probably do a quick Google search to lay the argument to rest. But who’s got the time?
The point is, sometimes puzzles have a way of solving themselves if we know where to look. Whether it be with Google or an old textile factory window – the answer is out there.
But for the longest time something puzzled me about indie game developers. I would pick up familiar phrases in interviews. Things like, “We realized the concept was getting watered down, so we needed to reconvene and find what the essence of the idea was,” and “we thought we would chuck-in in-app purchases and become millionaires – as the process has gone on though, we’ve obviously become more realistic.” I felt like Nicholas Cage staring doe-eyed at the back of a dollar bill for some kind of Illuminati code that tied all this to a grand scheme. These developers, I thought, have an eerie similarity to another group of people I’ve spent the last year and half studying.
These developers are business entrepreneurs.
Business and You: A Crash Course
So why all this talk of business when all you want to do is get back to game development? The truth is, game development is a business, and a business that many people walk into unarmed.
Don’t believe me? We turn to Exhibit A: ask any indie developer what they are concerned with outside programming, art, and actually producing a game, and they will rattle off a list that looks something like the image to the right.
How many of these do you think are unique to the video game development industry? None, really. In fact, they correlate precisely with the 5 core functions of business development.
And what are the five core areas? First, you’ve got Strategy & Business Development, concerned with long-term goals and what you as an enterprise wish to stand for. Then there’s Sales and Marketing, or the branch that questions what product people would pay for and how to show them that they should try your particular version of it. Human Resources is all about team dynamics, ensuring you are getting the most out of the talent you’ve got. Operations is the down and dirty daily grind – both how to increase efficiency and to improve the quality of products produced. And finally, we’ve got Accounting and Finance, or the understanding of cash inflows, outflows, and predicting what needs you will have under different growth targets. Overwhelmed? Don’t be. They actually correlate nicely with our Exhibit A, as you can see below.
Yep, no difference whatsoever. But there are unique facets of the indie world that affect how you approach each of these core functions. That is the purpose of this article: to give some basic tools that can be built on, with more in-depth analysis in later articles.
So as to not belabor the point, indie developers are entrepreneurs. They might be entrepreneurs in a field not often considered, but they are entrepreneurs none-the-less. And, just like entrepreneurs, indie developers experience their business ventures in stages. Three stages, to be exact. We will call them: Survive, Sustain, and Grow. Each has general traits that can be an asset to indie devs, and pitfalls that you should look out for.
Stages of New Business Development
So what are the stages, to be exact? Well, in a nutshell they break down as follows:
Stage 1: Survive – making or have released games, but no steady income stream
Stage 2: Sustain – released a game with steady income, though not enough to go full-time
Stage 3: Grow – a full-time developer, or extremely close to it
Each of these stages has significant challenges for the indie developer. After all, no one ever said trying to launch a product and making money would be easy. But there are benefits in knowing where you exist in the process, and knowledge can help inform action. In a few days I'd like to look at each stage in a bit more depth, give some advice for each of the 5 core business functions at that stage, and profile actual developers still struggling through the stages. The lessons they have learned are applicable across the board, and it’s helpful to see the particular challenges of each stage from flesh-and-blood eyes.
But, if you'd like to cheat a little (and who could blame you?) then this article in expanded form can also be found here with a few extra graphics: taylorbair.com