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Post-script: Advice for modders thinking of forming their own studio

Alex Hayton of Faultline Games with some brief bits of advice and lessons learned for established mod teams thinking of starting their own studios...

To read the backstory behind this studio and what it formed to create, check out the original blog post.

This article was also posted at the Faultline Games website.

I've collated various bits of advice gathered in the last six months. It still feels like early days for us but not a day goes by that doesn't teach us something new and interesting... I hope these nuggets can prove useful to others in our position…

Location

One feature peculiarly common to mod teams is that you invariably end up working with people from all around the world, with drastically different life situations, perspectives and opinions. Creatively, this is really interesting - but everyone is probably going to have their own time zones and work habits. Setting up an infrastructure to allow regular communication despite these limitations is a must -- young upstart Slack is our tool of choice -- and being free from having a real office has allowed us to keep our upfront costs very low indeed.

Decision-Making

Despite now working towards a commercial end we still run our company the way we did when we were a mod team, though the decisions are bigger. We've stuck with collective decision making: most decisions need a 75% majority in order to go ahead. Things take a little longer but we know that everyone is on board with a given idea and everyone feels confident enough to say what they feel and that they're listened to before a decision is made.

We decided early on to set up a weekly team meeting (now we have two, one for production and another for company business). This has been a great way to make sure that at least once a week our team are all in one place, everyone knows what's going on and decisions can be made as a group, which helps keep cohesion and morale high. We use Loomio to vote and record our decisions.

Time frames

When you're doing things for fun, you can give yourself as much time as you like, but the moment you start working with a larger team you need to keep the 'flow' going. We've found that setting ourselves monthly goals, planning work in weekly sprints and having a few days to reflect has been a good formula - simply because everyone knows the short and medium-term plan and when we need things done by.

Production Values

Make your game commercial, and it's incredible how many quirks that were acceptable in your work as a mod team suddenly become problems that you really need to fix. The community are always incredibly forgiving of other community projects, especially when you're modifying games they know and love, but we've had to learn to set the quality bar much higher since forming our own team. We see this as an important part of the learning process.

Moving into your own game world also means you need to focus on sound and art assets a lot more - our art team doubled in size once we realised the scale of the task at hand. We managed to recruit all the extra hands via friends of friends, and we've been lucky enough to attract a group of talented individuals from Full Sail University.

Company Admin

Whoever becomes the primary contact for the company is going to be sacrificing a few hours a week at minimum, just getting everything set up and keeping track of accounts, legal and compliance considerations.

While services like FreeAgent have helped us greatly for keeping track of things, there's still an awful lot of little pieces of time that you will end up sinking into keeping the company running. Make sure whoever is assigned to this has an eye for detail, and if you're unsure about something, don't hesitate to get some time from a lawyer or accountant. Screwing up this part is bad news, and if you're a mod team it's probably the part you have least experience with!

Banking

This part has been surprisingly hard. It turns out there are very few banks who both have the infrastructure and 'get' the concept of a team based all around the world. We were able to set up a functioning PayPal account in no time and that's kept us going for now. So far we've been working with Barclays with good results, but progress has been very slow on this front. 

The part that institutions struggle with is having shareholders that are based internationally, which means lots of credit checks and paperwork for us. If you want to simplify things, try and set up your company structure so all the directors and shareholders over 10% can make it to a meeting with the bank in person. If not, you need to fill in a whole lot of paperwork and go through more stringent checks.

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