Thursday, May 13, 2010

Three More Tips For Getting Started In the Indie Gaming Biz

In February, I wrote my first three tips for getting started in the Indie gaming biz. I am starting to feel old and outdated in this business, so I feel like I'd probably be better off not trying to act wise. Sometimes I get e-mails from successful Indie developers, telling me what an inspiration I was to them when they were young. And then my skin starts to peel off in sheets and my hip spontaneously breaks.

And yet, there are still several more bits of advice that I think are genuinely helpful.

4. All Relevant Laws Apply To You

If you are trying to run an Indie game business, you are, first and foremost, running a business. All local, state, and federal laws apply.

You need a business license. Or licenses. I, for example, need one license for Washington state and another for Seattle. Go to your local bookstore and get a book on starting a small business wherever you are. Read it carefully, take it seriously, and get all your paperwork in order.

Every business should have a lawyer and an accountant. I personally have done without having a dedicated lawyer on tap (an unwise course), but every business should have a skilled accountant. This is very important. You have to fill out your tax forms, and an accountant will help you to do so in the safest, most beneficial way possible. Do not neglect this! If you screw up on your taxes, no matter how innocent your intentions, the best you can hope for is that your auditor will give you a sympathetic shake of his head before he destroys you.

You should try to get liability insurance. People sue each other for crazy reasons. It's good to have protection. Sadly, I have found that, as a game designer, liability insurance is hard to get and expensive. This should be taken as a measure of how high your legal risk in this business is.

5. Respect the 90/10 Rule.

Ten percent of the work takes ninety percent of the effort.

When you are designing your first game, putting things together in your spare time, you will probably have a lot of ambition. When you are actually writing it, it will be a thrill. Things are moving. Creation is coming together. I'm doing it! I'm really doing it!

Then, at some point, you hit a wall. You start testing, and there are a million bugs, and fixing them is not fun. Your first spurt of energy is starting to flag, and there are still a ton of levels to design. And, perhaps, the trickiest game systems still need to be done.

So be wary. So many promising projects die at the 90% mark. When designing your game, try to estimate how long each step will take. But, as you do so, also pencil in months of time chasing bugs, fixing broken systems, and doing the grinding polish work that will make your game stand out. How long everything will take to do should be a key factor to take into account when deciding what will be in your game. If this process makes you realize that your initial design concept was too difficult or ambitious, start losing some of the unnecessary elements earlier rather than later.

6. Find Good, Cheap Online Resources, But Make Sure You Have the Rights

Oh, how much time I would have saved if, when I first started out, I had the awesome resources that are available online now. For someone whose games are as retro as mine, it may seem odd that I am suggesting you get graphics and sound effects where I do. And yet, you will need all sorts of assets, and I can recommend a lot of good places to start looking.

When you find resources online, be sure that you have the rights to use them in a game. This can save you a lot of hassle. When I was writing Exile 2: Crystal Souls in 1998, a friend gave me some awesome sword effects he found online. They were great, so I used them. Then I got the Cease & Desist letter from Blizzard. Turns out, they were from some obscure title called WarCraft 2. Ouch. Learn from my errors.

Sound Effects - When I need sounds, I always go to SoundDogs and Shockwave Sound first. Quality stuff, very reasonable prices. Everyone uses these sound libraries. I often hear sound effects from my games on TV. Don't worry about this. Nobody will hold it against you. I often get e-mails saying that some TV series stole my sound effects. That's right. The Cartoon Network totally needs to steal from me.

Textures - When I need a quick stone texture, I go to CG Textures. Very handy site, and free.

Stock Art - If I need some sort of quick art, say some button icons or a nice picture of a cave, I go to iStockPhoto. Their prices are extremely reasonable. Don't rip them off.

Creature and Terrain Icons - We render all of our creature and terrain icons using Poser and Bryce. The big shots would look down our their noses at us, but, with some care, we can make pretty nice icons for very reasonable prices. If you are doing 2-D art, you can get some really nice object and creature models from Daz 3D for very reasonable prices.

And that is this set of tips. Perhaps I will have more in the future, when I figure out what those crazy kids are doing with the iPads and their iPod and their iPoods, with the hip hip music and the pants down around their ankles.


  1. Hi Jeff, thanks for this post and all your previous ones. I'm not yet a successful indie developer but I wanted to let you know that you are an inspiration.

  2. Yeah, Bryce FTW! I grew up on that app. There have been big games that have used it, so don't feel bad. Heck, all the planet graphics in EV Nova were Bryced.

  3. 90/10 true. I've just hit the 90%.

    Very insightfull. Thanks for the links.

  4. Good advice, if I had any skill whatsoever in actually making games I might had become an indie developer! Sadly I can only write about other people's brilliant work instead...

  5. On your note #4. People should check with their local Small Business Association. Loads of resources to help you along your way and also should put you in contact with Accountant and Lawyers that cater to small businesses.

    Anyway, I will have to take a look at those resource links for my own little project. Thanks for the leads.

  6. Sound effects: there are a few well-hidden diamonds amongst a lot of disorganized rough at, though probably not enough to build a whole game. Most (all?) are free to use in commercial projects.

    Music: licenses some fantastic music (search for the "soundtrack" or "instrumental" tag, for example) on a sliding scale based on your project budget. It's fairly cheap to snap up a few great tracks for a zero-budget, self-developed game.

  7. Hi Jeff, thanks for the very good info as usual. I am curious about something, hopefully I can word my question correctly.

    How much graphic work do you do in house as opposed to "outsourcing" it? I am working on my first indie game and I paid someone a few thousand dollars to make all the 2d models for it. The way I see it, a few thousand dollars vs the huge amount of time it would take me to learn, say, Bryce or even Paint Shop Pro, it makes sense to pay someone to do it so I can put all of my time into coding.

    Does that make sense? Or should a 1 man shop spend the extra time to try and learn how to make some or most of the graphic assets for a game to save the cash?

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  9. Can't believe I'm only discovering this now, but Flickr has a fantastic wealth of CC content.

    Here's the section with the free free free (do whatever you want, just give the creator credit) license:

    Search for "texture" plus whatever you're looking for. I just got a whole bunch of absolutely fantastic paper, grass, and stone stuff. Created a few great-looking grass tiles and a paper background in just a couple minutes with Paint.NET.

  10. Looking a bit at Not a massive selection of stuff there, but it is decent, and hopefully will continue to grow.

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