Starting an Indie Game Studio? Here’s your checklist of Basic Needs

Consider this your “Am I really ready to start an indie dev studio?” self-reflection space.

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Do you have what it takes to start your own indie game studio?

Time to put the scary stuff out there: Going down this path means you are more than just a hobbyist game jam developer. More than just a kid dreaming of making his own game. You are committing to being an entrepreneur and the face of a start up company.

You need to get started and make things work, as fast as possible. You also need a lot of time, a lot of money, or both.

Here is a checklist of the “need-to-haves” for creating your own studio — and making it successful. Ask yourself the following questions:

Are you in the right place in life to execute on this?

It may seem like a given, but in order to start a business, you really need to be in some form of stable state already. You need enough time and money to nurture your projects, lest you run into a wall.

Following Maslov’s Hierarchy of needs, you need at the bare minimum, a place to safely conduct your business. Invest in a decent apartment, rent from family, do whatever you need to do. But please, please do not live on your best friend’s couch for 5 years, grasping at straws for your chance. The romanticism of the scrappy resourceful young professional is worn and dated (and most of all, unhealthy). Remember that your environment and lifestyle is what shapes you, and as a result your business.

At the very least, if you have a hearty savings, a place to eat and sleep, and a part time job, then you are likely set to follow your game development dreams.

Do you have a game to launch?

Check your hard drives — what is your most fun and exciting prototype or game jam entry? It very well may be your first release as an official game studio.

If you are a new developer, you will want to learn the basics before you even think about what comes next. Try Udemy, Coursera, or Skill Share for some class on the basic of game development and design. I personally recommend Unity and C# as your first foray into game dev — there are plenty of assets, active online forums, and learning resources out there. And despite what some may have you think, Unity is well accepted in the games industry.

Once you have something, anything, that you feel proud of, get it in front of people. Like any project in life, game development is an iterative process. Find people who have critical advice for you, people who you know will tell you the truth but also have your best interests at heart. One clear litmus test for trustworthy testers — if they cannot look past “developer” art or placeholder art, they are likely not well equipped to help you.

Do you have an audience?

Creating games is an excellent hobby and profession. However, once a game is published and released, you need an audience that will play your game. The indie game space is vast and over-crowded, and so in this age you need to build your audience before you release your game. Marketing is key.

Start with social media. Twitter is the greatest asset you have to show off amazing gifs, videos, game mechanics, promotional art — you name it. Tag your posts with #screenshotsaturday, #indiedevhour, and follow game developers that you are interested in. The key is don’t be shy! You are amongst your people.

You will eventually want to start your own landing page, once there is enough quality content related to your game. Here you can really drum up interest with amazing visuals, unique layouts, and all of your game’s most tantalizing information in one place. If you are not a well versed web developer, try out Square Space or WordPress. Any form of web presence is ideal — but be sure to create a mailing list to you can alert your prospective audience on when your game is in pre-release.

And if all of this sounds a little to intense for you — start out small. Get your friends, family, work buddies, neighbors, school clubs, etc on board! Getting the word out organically can illicit some great comments like, “I can’t believe you made this!” or “Are you going to make millions?”

Always a great morale booster! 😁

Are you marketing your studio and your game?

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Gaming conventions like PAX are great places to meet industry leaders and potential fans!

And how do you find an audience? By marketing your game. Plenty of traditional marketing tactics work with indie games as well. Your primary objective must be branding. What does your studio evoke to prospective players? What is your seal of quality? What is your niche?

Get in touch with the gaming community in your area. Go to local gaming conventions and events in your area. If there are no events within a reasonable distance, you may be able to host one yourself!

A vital component of your game is your press kit. A press kit is a bundled set of promotional information, images, and other material that the media needs to consume in order to report on your studio. This is a must have in order to hook reviewers, content creators, bloggers, influencers, and more. A great resource is presskit() — give it a look!

Once you have a game in late stages, and have followed all the above steps, you will need to determine if a publisher is the right fit for your game studio. Self-publishing has become quite popular for smaller games, but working with a publishing company gives a variety of added benefits.

  • Greater notoriety and connections in games industry
  • Wealth of experience and knowledge to help scale operations
  • Off-load features and marketing to specialized teams from the publisher
  • Level of management and planning that usually can’t be achieved alone

It is up to you and your team to determine if it is the right path forward, but don’t count it out as an option!

Have you made a well thought out plan?

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Is your goal measured in Youtube Views, Steam installs, or something else?

Finally — this step must be re-evaluated constantly. What is your plan for success? What does success look like to you? 1M copies of your game sold? A video on Markiplier’s Youtube Channel? A franchise to combat with Mario, Master Chief, and other notable video games characters?

To come up with a great plan for success, you need to look internally. What makes your game ideas unique? What about your motifs or themes really stands out against the crowd of games already released? Do you have what it takes to make this all a reality?

Sometimes it is hard to bring yourself to tackle these tough questions, but the sooner you do, the sooner you will find answers. These answers will bring about new questions, which require new answers, and so on. Fail fast, learn faster. This mantra will serve any game developer well on their journey to starting their own indie game studio.

Have any other Day 1 requirements you think are key for becoming an indie game developer? Be sure to leave a comment with what you think.

Freelance game designer / developer. Full stack developer. Board game geek and cat tamer.

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