"If I had everything to do over, I'd hire slower or spend more time looking for funding, or put the effort into trying to get profitable with our own stuff."
- Former Failbetter CEO, Alexis Kennedy.
Last month, Failbetter co-founder Alexis Kennedy announced he was leaving the Sunless Sea creator after seven years to try his hand at freelancing.
During his tenure he helped steer the developer towards success; successfully shipping nine projects, and building out his team to 16 full-time staffers.
It wasn't always smooth sailing, though, and now that his time at the studio has drawn to a close, Kennedy has been reflecting on those growing pains to help his fellow indies give themselves the best chance of survival.
Writing on GamesIndustry.biz, Kennedy says one of the first rules of indie development is to pick a business plan and stick with it. Don't be tempted to try and juggle different projects, unless you're willing to flirt with failure.
"It's very tempting to take time away from your own projects to pay the bills with client work. But client work always takes priority over your own work. You'll be working to their schedules, on their terms, and developing the competencies that they, not you, require," warns Kennedy.
"I have to say that if I had everything to do over, I'd hire slower or spend more time looking for funding or put the effort into trying to get profitable with our own stuff. 'We'll do one for them and one for us?' This never works."
Once you've decided what sort of studio you want to be, it's important to hire right and play to your strengths, he adds.
It might sound ruthless, but small studios thrive on autonomy, and if you find yourself spending half of your time spoon-feeding your employees, it's likely you've made a bad hire. Bringing together a team that knows how to focus their time and take the initiative will save you a lot of headaches.
"When you find someone who understands what needs doing and can do it, give them their head. It's better for them to get something non-critical wrong, and learn from it, than it is for you to guard them from every possible mistake. Especially since you won't always be right either," continues Kennedy.
"Take probation periods seriously. They're your safety net to avoid making a hire you'll regret, and mediocre hires who don't cause active trouble can slip through if you're not paying attention."
Hiring right, finding your market, and understanding your strengths are just some of the lessons Kennedy learned during his time at Failbetter. For the full curriculum, head on over to GamesIndustry.biz.