As part of a London Games Summit lecture held Wednesday, Lionhead's Peter Molyneux and Mark Webley discussed vital tips for independent developers, urging against falling into some major contract and ethos traps.
The highly honest LGS talk, which relayed the history of Lionhead as an independent developer before its purchase by Microsoft, ended with a list of tips for indies, and the first was simple enough: "Know what you want". In other words, if you can understand exactly what you want from a company, and "have a long-term goal and a timescale in mind" when you found it, then you know where you're going.
Lionhead's Molyneux also urged: "Never, ever, ever sign away your IP - ultimately, as an independent developer, your IP is your bargaining power." The duo also noted that licensing your IP falls into similar traps, and it's vital that you keep hold of control in order to control you and your brand's future.
Another key point: "Every game says something about your company", as it was noted: "You're only as good as your last game" - the industry has a relatively short memory, and signing subsequent titles is vital to indie developers' livelihoods.
Possibly the most forceful part of the presentation was the Lionhead duo's comment: "Don't be pulled into the spiral of doom". Specifically, this relates to signing a new game in order to use some of the new resources to help finish existing games - an extremely tempting thing to do, but a harbinger of doom for any firm that does it. (The Lionhead co-founders noted that they'd been tempted, but had never done this.)
Something that came up in the Q&A, but functioned as a major talking point for indies as well, was the subject of developer/publisher contracts for gaming. Molyneux suggested that the way these deals are negotiated is "completely flawed" for the independent developer, as he urged: "There needs to be a mindset change in this industry".
The Lionhead co-founder referenced the problems of milestone payments when you have no idea what a specific feature set will be many months down the road, and also publishers' possible reluctance to pay for milestones for what is essentially 'polish' with no major content. Overall, as a "hybrid model [derived from] the record industry", including royalty payments kicking in often with some delay, Molyneux concluded that the current method just "doesn't work any more".
The final tips for indie game developers from Molyneux and Webley were heartening, being simply enough: "Be true to your goals", and "...enjoy what you're doing". It was suggested that, as an indie, enjoying facing the problems and defeating them will get you through.
Gamasutra will have more coverage both from the remainder of the talk, which discussed the history of Lionhead in detail, as well as a separate exclusive interview with Molyneux, in the near future.