Instructions for an indie developer who wants to assemble a team for his new project
For the past two and a half years, I have been actively creating games as an indie developer. During this time, a lot of experience has accumulated, including gained by walking on a rake. In this article I want to share my observations about how to properly prepare for the creation of a new game, what is pre-production, what is risk assessment and why is it needed, how is it best to assemble a team “on enthusiasm”. I will also outline some of my ideas on organizing teamwork, the importance of having a leader even in an indie project, and talk about some pitfalls.
About preparation for work
This stage is called “pre-production” (pre-production), everyone knows about it, but often forget it, not realizing its critical role in the fate of the game. The vast majority of people looking for companions on thematic forums make this mistake over and over again. If you have a great desire to create your own game project, then the first thing I propose is to create a “pitch document”, or “concept document”. This is a short, on several pages, text describing the essence of the product. Here are examples of topics that should be described: supported platforms, target audience, monetization methods, main gameplay, unique selling points, main competitors and so on. This document will be your guiding light. If you start to unconsciously drift away from him, you probably have problems.
However, I want to warn you. While doing this work, constantly ask yourself the question: “Which of the written is an unverified fact?”. Suppose you say: “My 3d shooter with giant humanoid robots and blackjack is designed for a female audience of 25-60 years old and will be published primarily in Odnoklassniki. Here you ask yourself the above question, and go to the search engine to collect information to confirm or deny the statement you made.
The next step will be setting an indicative release date. As you know, work takes all the time allotted to it, therefore the deadline should help avoid this trap. Think and decide how much time you are willing to spend on developing the game. By the way, “knowing myself, for six months I’ll get tired of this project, and I want a new one” - this is a worthy justification for the release date. If you want to complete the development in 6 months, then it makes no sense to come up with a bunch of sophisticated features, you still will not meet the deadline.
This brings us directly to estimating the amount of work ahead. Here you take the entire project, and begin to methodically decompose it into its constituent parts. You need to get an idea of how much code you have to write, how much art to draw, which characters to animate ... The more detailed and thoughtful your work plan is, the more accurately you can evaluate the time needed to complete the tasks. Do not forget that you are not a robot, you will need breaks in work, either forced (for example, a disease), or just take a break, because you do not want to burn out. Consider this in your plans.
About risk assessment
Further, I propose to evaluate all possible risks. Frankly, I’ve never seen an enthusiast do this. Most likely, people consider this a too serious approach, maybe even a bureaucracy? Of course, if the game is done exclusively as a hobby - do not bother. But if a successful release is important to you, I would advise you not to skip this step and think it over carefully. What are the risks? At its core, it is a list of what can go wrong.
For example, at the pre-production stage, you decided that in addition to you, the programmer, the project needs an artist to draw pixel art and animate characters. But what if you can’t find the artist? What will you do then? Order graphics for money? Do it yourself, thereby cutting the time for programming? And if you find an artist, but he does not know how to animate? Are you looking for another animator with enthusiasm, or are you ready to allocate money for this and hire a specialist? Another example: you plan to launch the game on Steam Greenlight, your entire marketing strategy is based on this. What if this service closes and is completely replaced by Steam Curation and samizdat? What changes will you need to make to your work, in particular, to the project promotion plan?
Thus, you need to try to foresee all possible problems and draw up a plan “B” in case everything goes according to the worst-case scenario. Ideally, have a plan “B”, if plan “B” is also going to hell (although, I admit, for indie this is already an overly serious approach, what do you think?). By the way, I want to share a curious observation: finding 3D artists on enthusiasm is incomparably more difficult than programmers. For all the time that I was looking for people in the team, I talked with about 25 developers, and only with 6-7 artists (and all of them wanted money for work, although I indicated in three (!) Places in bold for lack of budget). Strangely enough, programmers read the text noticeably more carefully. In the context of risk assessment, the conclusion suggests itself.
On the collection of the team "enthusiastic"
This text is based both on my observations of Russian and foreign gamedev, as well as on my own experience. I managed to assemble a team of 5 professionals, and noticeably more people showed interest in working together, but we did not agree on views on certain issues.
The first step in team building is a serious approach to pre-production. Suppose if you are calling a 3d artist to yourself, then you should already have clear tasks ready for which he can immediately begin work. You can’t just take a person to you and say to him: “Uh, well, we need a castle, a castle - it’s with turrets that you’ll do not?” You need to think in advance how many models of walls, spans, gates, towers and so on will be needed in the castle. A detailed technical task will also be required, indicating the requirements for the number of triangles on the model, texture maps, UV and any other relevant information. If you give thoughtless tasks, and God forbid, a person will have to redo something because of your mistake - to be in trouble. Most of all, people do not like to throw their work in the trash.
Enthusiasts who already have good professional skills, (un) consciously assess the risks by looking at the announcements about the collection of teams. They study how much the author is interested in his own game, will he not leave her halfway, is he able to do anything at all, or will it be a burden? If something embarrasses them, they will pass by, simply because they do not want to spend countless hours on a stillborn project. Personally, I would advise (I did just that) to first do an essential piece of work alone to show a serious attitude. In almost every post about the collection of the team that I saw, the author does not demonstrate absolutely any achievements, and if he does, then some tiny grains. Will not work. I would say, depending on your level, for starters it may be enough to invest about 100-200 hours of quality work.
I would also note that the script / plot / dzdok alone do not have any value. With rare exceptions, having only this in hand, the team cannot be assembled. However, if you are a game designer or project manager with real combat experience, then your chances increase dramatically. True, for all the time I saw only 1 or 2 of such proposals, but they really stand out with their professional approach.
When choosing a team, remember that people are the most important thing in any undertaking. Processes and methodologies, documentation, even professional skills - all this is secondary (within reasonable limits). If the applicant for a certain role in the project is not good enough as a professional, but a truly working person with burning eyes, then this may well be just what you need. You can always pump skills, but changing the worldview of an accomplished person is almost impossible. On my very first project, which quickly failed because of a lack of experience in project management, and pre-production in particular, I worked together with a programmer who is now my friend, although we never met in real life. We could sit down to work in the morning, chatting on Skype, and work together until late at night, constantly producing tangible results. Purposefulness, desire to achieve something more, internal drive - teamwork with such a person really inspires. If you managed to find such a person, hold on to him with both hands.
About the organization of work
As a person who, in addition to directly creating content, was involved in game design and coordination of the entire production process, I want to talk about this as well. Do not underestimate the amount of game design, organizational, administrative work. She really is a lot. I am combining all these things in one section solely because you are unlikely to find a game designer and a project manager in your team, but combining these responsibilities in one person is a very good option. To those who will coordinate the development, I advise you to read a couple of books on managing software projects. Good books are always in sight; finding them is not difficult. Now I suggest trying to figure out what the project manager is doing in indie gamedev.
In a nutshell, the main goals of such a person are to ensure that tasks are completed, and people are as satisfied and motivated as possible. By managing the project, you take responsibility for these areas. You are an anchor, everything rests on you. If you are lazy and disappear, then rest assured, your team will also begin to beat the buck. It is worth noting that this lies the fundamental difference between the work “for the idea” and work “for the salary”. In commercial development, correctly built processes and correctly delegated powers allow the manager to avoid the fate of the only link, without the direct participation of which everything collapses.
Most likely, either you yourself don’t want to, or you just won’t manage to find a competent manager in the project, but it makes sense to look for at least a consultant from whom you can occasionally ask for advice, this can help to avoid gross mistakes. Both in Russia and in the West, many do not like managers, and for good reason, but if you had to work with a professional, you know how much he can simplify your work, make it more pleasant and efficient.
About the leader
Here are some of the responsibilities that an executive can do in an indie project. This will convince you that there is really a lot of work, and if, for example, a programmer is engaged in it, then he will write much less code.
- Developer Coordination. From the side it may not be noticeable, but working communication takes up an abyss of time, especially if the bulk of it flows in a text chat. There’s 10 minutes to discuss the issue, there’s 10 minutes ... so it turns out - it seems that he didn’t do anything, but the time has passed - mom don’t worry In addition, do not forget that the larger your team, the more time it will take to organize.
- Organization of the project as a whole, that is: maintaining documentation in an up-to-date state, maintaining a task tracker, tracking their relevance and priority, working with product backlogs, and so on.
- Doing scrum rallies, sprints, demos, retrospectives. I will write more about this below.
- Research. For example, you need to consider a product monetization strategy. This will require the search and analysis of information - articles, statistics, video from conferences. This, of course, can be done by anyone on the team, but not the fact that, say, a programmer is interested in it at all (“I am a programmer, I do not want to read about f2p, I want to program”).
- Marketing. A black hole devouring all your time. This includes such things as: creating a press kit, talking with the press, blog articles, maintaining social media accounts, cross-marketing agreements with other teams, and more.
- Search for new employees. May take a lot of time, depending on desire. Starting with simple recruiting posts on forums and ending with an independent search for individuals with attempts to contact them.
- Mentoring. For example, my team had a very beginner 3d-artist. Countless hours have passed in discussions of the working pipeline, the intricacies of creating models and textures for real time (for example, why there are more vertices in the engine model than in the 3d editor), on feedback, etc.
- Legal issues. Say, creating accounts in mobile markets, verification, taxes and so on. Bureaucracy can take on a frightening appearance.
By the way, about the timing. You can have strict deadlines for yourself, but for the team you need to look for softer solutions. After all, everything happens in life: today after work, the artist needs to go to a circle with his daughter, tomorrow - at the blockage, and the day after tomorrow - Friday's rest in the bar. As a result, the week is not very productive, and if there was a hard deadline, then it would be a failure. And this leads to conflict and a drop in motivation. Based on my experience, I would suggest a very mild scar. You take 2-3 weeks for a sprint, choose tasks that performers will EXACTLY be able to perform, even if they walk around the pubs, and work. In other words, you initially make a generous adjustment for the adjustments that life makes. At the end of the sprint, of course, is a demo and a retrospective. But there is no need for bureaucracy: no points, no velosity, only common sense,
Most projects are enthusiastically done with the expectation that participants will receive a percentage of the potential profit. Here, in general, everything is simple and clear. But I want to discuss crowdfunding. Frankly, in the context of team building, it annoys me because it is pure deception. If the percentage of potential profit is a well-known topic, and your partners understand what they’re doing, crowdfunding is a relatively new thing, and it allows you to deceive a person who does not particularly follow industry events.
On a boom starter, as you know, it is almost impossible to raise money. On a kickstarter, it is getting harder every day - people are disappointed, there are a lot of low-grade products and unscrupulous kidalov. A real chance to raise enough money is exclusively for projects that have an extensive database of developments, high-quality art, an incendiary trailer and beautiful music. In other words, if a person on the forum collects the command "make a demo in a quick way and go for a kick", then this is the default failure. Behind the promise of payment "as soon as we collect money no kick" is worth absolutely nothing. Please do not do this and do not fall for such suggestions. There are exceptions, of course. The same Superhot, which came from the gamejam, but the probability of such luck is infinitely small, that is, it makes no sense to even hope (returning to the topic of risks).
Round off on this. I hope that the article seems useful to at least someone. I will be happy to answer any questions in the comments.