In my last article, I took the time to explain the benefits I saw in being a small independent team in game development. These advantages were freedom, fun and being close to the players. However, being small and independent also has its drawbacks.
1st Drawback: Double Life
When starting a new project, revenues are often very low or simply nonexistent. It is therefore not possible to put aside our day job to dedicate ourselves only to our new project. We must live what is called the “double developer” life.
Like Batman, during the Day, we have a job that allows us to pay the bills and during the evenings and weekends, we do the fun stuff and put our efforts on the project. This is often the case for independent developers starting in the business. As a result of working only evenings and weekends, the development of the game automatically takes longer.
A project that would take three months to complete under normal circumstances can easily become a nine months or more project. This lack of time to develop the game becomes a huge obstacle and can affect motivation a lot.
This is why I advise you to be part of a team when starting a project that will be done part-time. Games are complex and it is often a lot easier if you do it with other people. This way, the project moves forward even if you are unavailable for a few days. Not to mention that it is difficult to have skills in art, programming and design.
2nd Drawback: Money
However not having a dime is a problem. Because at some point you’ll need money to buy some equipment and software and this money will come out of your pocket. If you believe in what you do it’s fine when its couple of hundred dollars, but when it’s thousands or tens of thousands you would need to spend, it becomes impossible.
For example, for the game we are currently developing at Tiebreaker Studio, we needed at least a Xbox with a Xbox Live membership and a subscription to AppHub to adequately test our game on the system, that we paid with our money.
But hiring a sub-contractor for music and SFX is impossible if you want to pay them what they are worth. Fortunately there are other ways around and many companies encourage game developers by providing access to free development tools. It helps a lot smaller developers. But to some extent, when you are better equipped, it’s easier to develop a good game.
3rd Drawback: Stress
For some people like my friends Dan and Richard, we can add one more drawback: the stress. My friends have recently taken the plunge, they abandoned their main job to devote themselves to Tiebreaker Studio full time.
For them, the time of regular paycheck is over. As they too have bills to pay and live on their small savings, you can easily understand how the situation can lead to stress.
They replaced the inconvenience of the double life for an even greater money problem. No pain, no gain… and actually it’s the bet they take. However, even if it’s a personal choice, it is still a bit stressful!
4th Drawback: Marketing
In large companies, we often see entire teams dedicated to the marketing. Those teams work hard to promote company’s AAA games. In a small indie company, it becomes quite a challenge to stand out of the crowd.
To overcome this major drawback, we must use resources available to us like our friends, family and social networks. With a little luck and a good game, chances are that people will notice it and start talking about it and hopefully buy our game. However, nothing is easy and it takes a lot of effort.
In summary, I believe double life, money, stress and marketing are the major drawbacks of indie developers. However, these obstacles can be overcome if you are dedicated to what you do; and to my opinion the benefits of being indie are much greater than its drawbacks