GameDev Thoughts: 3 Small Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Game Development Career

Are you considering starting your own game development studio? You might want to avoid the most common mistakes. There are many mistakes indie developers make when they first open the doors of their indie studio. Below are a few that are not only worth avoiding, but you must avoid if you want to start your brand new venture on the right foot.

Don’t onboard friends who know very little about game development. Somewhere at the moment you are reading this, somebody is planning to develop a video game with his or her friends. Your friends might love gaming, but believe me, there’s a difference between being a fan of gaming and being passionate about developing them. Furthermore, there’s a difference between thinking that you know what makes a game great and actually ‘knowing.’ It may seem fun to hire your friends to make games with you, but do your due diligence.

If they actually have a proven track record of tinkering around with game design, then great! But actually creating a startup around the idea that a group of friends can develop games every day and actually make a living doing it? It’s not realistic. In short, if you are serious about starting an indie studio, you may be tempted to hire your friends. Unless they’re actually the best candidates for the job, avoid the temptation and hire professionals who are actually qualified.

Don’t neglect written agreements. When you work with people, always remember to have everything in writing. What happens if your indie game becomes profitable beyond your team’s wildest dreams? Does everyone get a fair cut? What if a few of you cannot agree on the direction of the indie game? What happens then? Moreover, whose actually in control of a game’s intellectual property? Remember, you’re not just creating a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, you’re creating a legitimate product that could be fruitful. Think about it: what would happen if Notch had created Minecraft with a group of friends without a legitimate agreement? It could have been disastrous.

Don’t skimp on outreach and social media marketing. Regardless of whether you like it or not, marketing is vital to your potential success. We’ve talked with a lot of indie developers that either say to me that they will figure out the marketing details later as the game is being developed. Not a very good plan. They think that the game will be so good, word-of-mouth will spread the good news about the game. That is an even worse plan. Drew Williams, co-author of the book Feeding the Startup Beast suggests spending 10 to 20 percent of your desired gross revenue on marketing when starting out.

“As you become a more established business,” says Williams, “that drops to 5 percent to 10 percent of gross revenue, and for the largest businesses it’s typically 5 percent or a bit less.”

The success of your indie game relies heavily on marketing. Awesome games won’t sell themselves. There’s too many great games that are being marketed properly to allow other indie games to be spread via word-of-mouth, so unless your indie game accomplishes something so revolutionary that it comes out of nowhere and amazes everyone, you’re not going to get the downloads you need to sustain yourself as an indie game developer.

Important Takeaways: If you’re going to recruit people to be on your team, remember to check their credentials. Make sure that they’re knowledgeable and responsible individuals with a passion for game development — not just gamers. Next, remember to always get things in writing (or at least a solid email chain). It’s too easy for misunderstandings to happen when there isn’t anything written down. Finally, don’t forget marketing. Creating a fun game is only half of the battle. The other half is trying to figure out how to break through the noise. Get started with social media marketing as soon as possible, and make sure to do research into how to grow those channels.