Starting an Indie Game Studio (Part 1)
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Welcome to part one of a new series on starting an indie game studio. I get a lot of questions about what it takes to start a game studio. I also hear a lot of people, espeically students, expressing a desire to go it on their own. I'll try to be fair but realistic, and share my own journey along the way.
I have been programming all of my life. I started when I was 18 in 1980. Yep! Dark ages stuff. Around the turn of the century (that's old folk talk for "Man I've been alive for a long time!") I decided that I wanted to change things up. Game programming was something I had always wanted to do but didn't have a chance to pursue. So, I started learning more and more about the specifics of game programming and in 2008 got my first job at a game studio as a game programmer. I worked for MumboJumbo in Dallas, TX for about a year, then Other Ocean Interactive in Prince Edward Island, PEI for another year.
After Other Ocean, I decided that I wanted to start my own studio. There were several reasons that this made sense:
- I had a family and I didn't want to have to move all around the country to be able to work.
- My family lived in Colorado which consists entirely of small, indie studios
- I was tired of working for a year and being laid off!
So, what gave me the audacity to think that, after only two years in the indusry, I could succeed at founding my own game studio?
The Right Stuff
Before I answer that question, I'm going to pose some questions of my own to those of you who are reading this article and considering running founding your own game studio:
- Have you ever started and run a business?
- Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur or a technical/creative person (e.g. a programmer, artist, designer)?
- What would you think if you had to give up (or severely curtail) your technical/creative role to start your studio?
- How many studios have you worked for as an employee?
- How many games have you worked on that were actually published?
- Do you have money to invest in the business?
- Do you have other skilled team members who are willing to work for free or very little money?
Think about your answers to these questions, because they are critical to whether or not you might succeed at starting your own game studio.
Over the next several weeks, I will post a new entry that answers and discusses each of these questions. So let's start with question number 1:
Have you ever started and run a business?
Part of the reason I felt like I could succeed at launching my own game studio is that I had previously run my own software company for over 15 years. I knew the basics of starting a small business. I knew how to get clients and bid projects. In fact, I had previously consulted for the Small Business Administration SBDC helping other people start their businesses. I felt like this experience would direclty translate to starting up my own game studio.
If you are serioulsy considering starting a game studio and you have never started a business before, you are in for a very difficult time! But, it isn't impossible. Everyone has to start their first business, and I am quite a supporter of those who are willing to take this path.
I am going to get into the pracitcal aspects of starting a business later in this series. For now, I'd just like to point you at a great resource. The SBDC (Small Business Development Center) is a government funded department of the Small Business Administration (SBA). The entire focus of the SBDC is helping you start your business right. You can start online (http://www.sba.gov/tools/sba-learning-center), and it would be even better if you find the nearest regional office (http://www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance/sbdc). If you live in the U.S, then this is your tax dollars at work and most of the assistance if free or very low cost.
Do you consider yourself a business person or a technical/creative person (e.g. a programmer, artist, designer)?
I am a programmer. I love to program. I really don't like the drudgery of running a business. I am not an entrepreneur. An entreprenuer is a person who loves to run a business for the sake of running a business (and, of course, to make a profit). I am a programmer.
If you are seriously thinking of starting your own game studio, then you had better be an entrepreneur, have someone who is an entreprenuer on your team, or you had better be willing to learn!
As I said, I really don't consider myself an entrepreneur, but I wanted to start my business badly enough to be willing to learn business. I have ready books, attended courses and seminiars, and done everything I can to learn the business of business.
I also read a lot of material about the game business. The bottom line is that I have become a good enough business person to make it on my own, but it came at a price: I spend much less time programming these days.