Here is a quick summary of the lessons we learnt in the first 12 months.
You can not anticipate how much there is to do as an indie! In January 2010 (month nine in the Voxel Agent timeline) we took stock of all the chores required to keep the company running, and were very shocked to find out just how much there is to do. So take note, because this is some of what you will be doing.
Many of the "other" roles are list below. Some of the roles are shared, some can be split further. We each took on more than one "other" role.
What We Thought We'd Be Doing
What We Were Actually Doing
Beyond this, we now have a monthly meeting to ensure the jobs are getting done and to revise the assignment of roles as we get familiar with them. It was incredibly helpful to assign responsibility for tasks. When someone is responsible, things get done. If it doesn't get done, the role goes to someone else. Role assignment prevents tasks from becoming a distraction to the rest of team and it also takes the burden off those who self-sacrifice.
I don't think we'll ever find the perfect model, but we are getting closer to one that works for us. It's something we'll never stop trying to improve.
Production is difficult and it's easy for it go awry. Our biggest issue is that we don't have a producer -- a single person responsible for ensuring production stays on track. No one in our studio has that mindset or desire. We've experimented with many different variations on Scrum and we now have a bastardized model that vaguely works. Keep an eye on your production and give some good thought as to how you will keep production moving fast.
Left: What we expected to release in the first 12 months. Right: What we actually shipped in 12 months.
We estimated we'd ship four games on two different platforms in one year. The mistake was that we didn't account time for those other tasks.
It's time to appreciate what we have achieved in the first twelve months (April 2009 - April 2010):
The recently revised achievements at 18 months are even more exciting!
Keep It Cheap and Play It Long
Left: Projected Income vs. Expenses. Right: Real (Actual) Income vs. Expenses
It was no surprise to our mentors that our projections were light years from reality! Initially we estimated we would make $225,000 in the first year, and while we believe that's possible for a new studio, it's also extremely difficult to achieve. We remained lean and focused on the long term goal of developing and publishing our own original IP. It worked, but the payoff wasn't as big as anticipated.
If we had paid ourselves market rates, the first year of running The Voxel Agents would have cost a mind blowing $229,850!!
As shown in the chart above we did not have a single month where the real income was greater than the "market rates" expenses! It would have been impossible to pay ourselves at industry rates. We hope that other indies can achieve this, but for most cases prepare for the long term.
The real cost of running The Voxel Agents is a different story. By spending very little and by covering our own living expenses via external income, we were able to keep the company afloat. See the following graph of our real monthly breakeven and bank balance. It has a humble bank balance increase towards the end with the success of Train Conductor! Yay!