Why You Have NO Business in Indie


But don’t worry, you’re not the only one.

Empty boardroom - a lack of business
Photo by Nastuh Abootalebi on Unsplash

Let’s set the scene. You’re playing a game, or maybe watching a stream or a YouTube video.

Suddenly, it hits you... 

You can do this!
You are going to be an indie game developer.

After all, it’s easier than ever. Gone are the days of boxes on store shelves, thanks to digital distribution. Gone is the need for a tonne of specialized knowledge thanks to the multitude of tutorials and tools available on the internet. Gone are the barriers to making a game.

You can do this – you will do this!
But not many of us do it alone.

While there are some who choose the journey of the solo indie developer, most choose to walk the path as a team. Usually, this team is built from people you know. Family, friends, current and former coworkers all form a potential pool of talent that you can draw from. Whether they are professionals, hobbyists, or looking to develop some new skills, you can usually find people with enough interest and enthusiasm to start making a game.

So far, so good.

Then the question is, if it is relatively easy to start a team and relatively easy to learn game development fundamentals...

Why aren’t there way more games and way more studios out there?

Daybringer - a zombie meets it's end
Taken From Daybringer - The kid gets even.

This is starting to feel like work

Well, as much as you may love the idea of indie game development, eventually it’s going to feel like work for you and every member of your team.

It’s going to feel like work when a bug causes enemies to disappear over and over again for no discernable reason.

It’s going to feel like work when retouching the asset you bought from the Unity store still doesn’t make it fit quite right in the game.

It’s going to feel like work when you’ve listened to seventeen samples of a coin drop clink and still can’t agree on which one belongs in the game.

Indie game development feels like work, because indie game development is work.

And not everyone wants, or can sustain more work. Which means that some people on your dream team are going to move on.

Not wanting to make games anymore is a perfectly valid reason to quit on its own.

Here are but a few more that can and will impact your team:

• A move
• A new or ending relationship
• A new or ending day job 
• A family or health issue

These can all pull someone away.

Daybringer - It's all over....
Daybringer - It's all over....

But what happens when they leave?

Do you know who owns what the team creates?

How much of the game’s profit are is each member of the team entitled to?

What happens if they start working less than everyone else?

How long are team members entitled to a share of what the game's revenue?

What if someone leaves on a sour note (hey it happens) and don’t want any of their work to be included in the game?

You and your team have thought about this right?
You’ve written all the scenarios and details down somewhere – with signatures and dates?

Maybe, but likely you’ve run into something that so many teams have. Enthusiasm has run ahead of pragmatism.

And right now, as of this moment, you have no business in your indie.

So how do you get into the business of business?

Well, we’re not lawyers, and on no planet should this be considered a replacement for sound legal advice, but to put it simply…

Write stuff down.

Whether you’ve just started making your game, or are somewhere in the gooey middle. Write it down.
It doesn’t have to be complex, but it does have to be clear.

Here are some examples of what you and your team can talk about and write down:

  1. Who is doing what, and on average how many hours a week is each team member expected to put in?
  2. Who owns the assets created (art, code, sound, what have you) if a teammate decides to exit?
  3. What are the revenue shares from the game?
  4. How long is that revenue share in place?
  5. What happens to that share if a teammate exits before the game ships?

This is getting awkward

If you are working with friends or family on your indie game, having these conversations can feel weird. It’s natural to worry about taking the fun out of the process, or creating negative feelings on the team. 

Daybringer - Empty the clip!
Daybringer - Empty the clip!

Does talking about business mean that the trust is gone?

The truth is that chances are, everyone on your team has thought of some flavour of the questions above. An open and transparent discussion before there’s an issue can actually set your team's collective mind at ease. 

Also, having a clear conversation about roles, responsibilities and revenue actually builds trust.

Talking about things like this with your team not only gives everyone a level of comfort, but it makes it real. Everyone understands what is expected of them, what they get out of it, and what happens if their enthusiasm wanes, or life gets in the way.

The sooner you have these conversations about business, the sooner you can get back to the business of making games.

The screenshots in this article are from Daybringer by Darklab Games, a studio The Cantankerous Games team is working with to help market their terrific side scrolling action title.

You can find a link to their demo here:

Play Daybringer on Steam!

Daybringer - Take a leap with the kid
Daybringer - Take a leap with the kid

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Happy Game Dev, Talk soon!




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