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So you want to start an indie studio?

by Jeremy Lam on 04/14/16 01:50:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

So you want to start an indie studio?

As an owner of a small indie studio, I get asked the same question over and over again: “Should I start my own studio?”

The answer is extremely complex so without having to write a whole essay about it, here’s the decision tree: 


Okay, so maybe the decision tree isn’t that sophisticated. Jokes aside, here are some major points that any Game Designer/Artist/Animator/Programmer/Others have to consider when starting their indie studio. 

Before you start development, make sure you have the right team and the right idea:

  1. Make sure the lead artist of your team can deliver the aesthetics of your game. Have them start from the bigger (or biggest) picture and work their way down. Not concept art, but clear, concise mockups that resemble the final product. This goes a long way in inspiring the team and unifying the vision. 
  2. Make sure the lead programmer has the skills, agility and eye for detail. The first two are no brainers, but the last point is often forgotten. Since you probably won’t have the luxury of hiring a technical artist, the lead (and often sole) programmer would have to have an eye for detail to effectively deliver the aesthetics stated in point 1.
  3. If your game is not pre-proven (lol), make sure you start with a prototype. However don’t make a prototype for the sake of making a prototype. Go in with questions about your game design, and come out with answers. If you don’t know what you want to know, then you’ll have to pause and think. E.g. You don’t need to make a prototype for a flappy bird clone unless you have dramatically different features. 
  4. Point 1 ~ 3 should be easily doable without any funding/special equipment/office. At least should try to be as far into the first three points as possible before making any real investments. 
  5. Your team should have little to no doubt about the project after point 4. 
  6. Don’t fall into the sunk cost fallacy. If the team isn’t happy with the idea, rinse and repeat 1 ~ 5. 
  7. If the scale of your game is too big to be tested this way, then refocus. Don’t aim for something a small team can’t swallow.

After you start your development (contracts signed, investments made, office rented, equipments acquired…).

  1. Focus on that one game you prototyped. 
  2. Focus on one platform. Best if iOS. And yes I’m what you call a fanboy, but with good reasons: 
    • iOS has higher quality users in general (higher ARPU).
    • Devices needed for testing is drastically less. Minor OS Version segregation as well.
    • Apple’s App Store is well curated. If your game is fun and aesthetically pleasing enough (refer to points 1 ~ 5), you’ll have a good chance of getting featured. A good way to aim for this is to befriend someone who has been featured recently, and have him make an introduction to an editor at Apple. A good feature in the “Best New Games” category could go a looong way. 
    • Heads Up: they might not tell you if you get featured. The US app store often changes front page content around 1pm on Thursdays PDT. Make sure your app is ready before then, and pray… Pray a lot. Even if you’re an atheist. Wouldn’t hurt.
    • If you rely on in game ads as a monetization strategy, you’ll probably see lot higher eCPMs on iOS compared to Android. 
    • Google Play does allow you to submit and reiterate in a quicker manner, but as long as you know what you’re doing, a one week deployment cycle isn’t that bad.
  3. Set many milestones for yourself (probably weekly) so you have a good gauge of progress.
  4. Add 20~30% of buffer time at the end for fine tuning and polishing.
  5. Remember, get LOTS of feedback. Can never hurt to test early. Please watch this video from the awesome guys at Extra Credit:
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDjrOaoHz9s
  7. Prepare a healthy amount of marketing money. 5-10k USD should be enough for a small initial burst to gain a certain amount of users. Don’t bank on the app store feature too heavily. 
  8. All in all, be genuine in your product, and be strategic in your launch.

That’s my overgeneralization of how to start an indie studio, and those who’ve made it know that there’s a million things I left out, but those are the points/problems I personally considered/ran into when starting PIXIO. 

A bit about myself:
I’m Jeremy Lam from Pixio. We’re a small indie team based in Hong Kong and we recently launched a game called Tap Tap Trillionaire, which was featured as one of the Best New Games in the US, UK and 120 other countries. The feature got us 300,000 users in 4 days and we can’t be more thankful for Apple in helping us bring our game to those users.

Please take a look if you have time, and feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you have any questions at all.

 

EDIT: A special thanks to Gonzalo Figueroa from CNG Studios for adding to the diagram and the nice formatting :) Go check out their website -> https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.cngstudios.com/&source=gmail&ust=1461726469769000&usg=AFQjCNFOMgTxVy60V0PEWavCw0pjyPAeQQ" href="http://www.cngstudios.com/" target="_blank">http://www.cngstudios.com


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