Some of the smallest teams produce incredibly high-quality games. Look at No Man’s Sky, developed by Hello Games. It started with just one person, and although that grew, it now has an estimated revenue of $200 million (approx. £150 million).

Starting your own indie game studio isn’t a walk in the park. That’s why, we’ve put together this guide to help you start your indie game studio. 

  • Key skills for starting an indie game studio
  • Get the equipment you need
  • Securing funding for your indie game studio
  • Define your target audience
  • Market your indie game studio effectively
  • How to sell your game

Key skills for starting an indie game studio

Developing an indie game is hard work. You need to be able to design and build the game, market it to the public, and get it published. 

Some people usually begin indie studios to develop passion projects, which later can become successful or develop smaller cult followings.

If you don’t know how to design or build a game, there are online courses you can take to make sure you understand the basics. 

Sites like Udemy and Skillshare offer a range of courses, from teaching you the foundations, to more advanced dev skills.

Get the equipment you need

Just like any other type of business, you can’t get the job done without the right equipment. We’ve listed the four main elements you need to consider when setting up your indie game studio.

Software 

When it comes to software, there are multiple options for you to choose from. The most common are GameMaker Studio, Unity, and Unreal Engine

When deciding which software you’ll use, think about how the strengths and weaknesses will affect your work. 

Unity, for example, offers great versatility and lets you make a range of games for different systems. On the other hand, Unreal Engine has many additional features that mean you can make a game without knowing how to code. 

Once you’ve decided what software you want to use, look at the hardware needed to run it. You should aim for a computer that meets the recommended requirements.

Hardware

Figuring out the right computer for your development studio can be tricky. You’ll want to find the balance between a computer that can run the programs and levels you design, but doesn’t break the bank. 

Doing research before you buy anything can help you make the most of your money. If you look at other games in your intended niche, you should be able to find the specifications needed to run them. 

Make a note of these specifications, and compare them to the programmes you’ll need. This can give you a good overview of how much you’ll need to spend on your hardware. 

It’s worth noting that computers can be cheaper if you buy the components and assemble them yourself. Still, pre-built models do save you a lot of time and energy. 

Workspace

You may have gotten into game development as a hobby, but by making a game studio, it has become a job. Just like with any other job, having your own dedicated workspace is essential to help you stay productive

Your workspace doesn’t need to be a separate building; it can be a room in your house that you’ve converted into an office. 

If your work and personal areas crossover, you can end up feeling like you’re working too much or not enough. Having a different place to work is important for maintaining a healthy work-life balance. 

Team

As development on your game continues, you may find yourself needing extra team members to get certain tasks done. This can involve finding people who have skills you may lack. For example, if your talents lie in graphical design and programming, you may need a sound designer to balance out your team.

These team members don’t need to be permanent workers, but rather could be freelancers hired from sites like Fiverr and PeoplePerHour. By using freelancers, you can keep your team size small, and only use them when needed — potentially limiting your costs.

Securing funding for your indie game studio

Taking all your equipment and start-up costs into account, setting up your own indie game studio can be an expensive venture. Finding funding can prove difficult if you don’t know where to look. 

If you need help managing your finances, you might want to use accounting software to monitor your spending more closely. As a combination of business current account and accountancy software, the Countingup app is a great tool to use.

Bootstrapping

As a business owner, the most accessible method of funding your business is to do it yourself. Using your personal funds to help the studio buy all its equipment also has the added benefit of making sure that you own everything.

On the other hand, bootstrapping can be unsustainable if you do it long-term. Business costs can quickly build up, and if your personal investment isn’t enough, you may need to use other methods. 

Crowdfunding

Using crowdfunding strategies can be an excellent way to get your game studio off the ground, once you have a demo to show. Sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo can help your business raise much-needed funds.

Crowdfunding works most successfully when you already have a viable product, or a unique and interesting idea. You may wish to consider using artwork from your game as promotional material to entice potential customers.

The more you can excite the public about your upcoming game, the more likely they are to part with their money. Typically, developers will also offer exclusive or limited edition items (either physical or digital) to further tempt customers to get involved. 

These extra items could be anything, including: 

  • T-shirts
  • Soundtracks
  • In-game items
  • Early access to your game or extra content

Define your target audience

It’s all well and good to say that your audience are gamers, but different types of games cater towards different people. Casual gamers, for instance, may stick towards the popular mainstream games like FIFA and Call of Duty, rather than playing platformers like Super Meat Boy.

Even people who typically gravitate towards indie games will need a reason to choose yours over all the others currently available. When developing indie games, you have to figure out what makes your games stand out. 

Without a clear idea of your target audience, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making a game specifically for you or your friend group. This can make your game feel off-putting to outsiders, and harm your success. 

Market your indie game studio effectively

You may have made the best game ever, but if you don’t market it properly then nobody is going to buy or play it. Marketing is an essential part of game development, so you should be putting a significant effort into it. 

There are many different channels you can use to help market your games. 

Social Media

Engaging with social media can build long-term relationships with your intended audience. You can start by identifying which social platform your target market uses most and promote your game there.

Posting regular updates can keep your audience engaged and excited about your upcoming game. The more interaction you get, the more users your account and posts will get shown to. 

Examples of engaging posts could include:

  • Teaser trailers
  • Game art
  • World-building content (like blog posts or audiobooks)
  • Podcasts about the development process

Reviewers

One way to get people talking about your game is to send it to reviewers. This could be a magazine, or to influencers in the gaming industry. Provided their review is positive, you’re likely to gather a lot of interest in your game. 

Only submit your game when it’s nearing completion. Otherwise, you risk bad reviews or people completely forgetting about your game. 

You should also start a conversation with your intended reviewer before sending them your game. Unsolicited submissions can be unprofessional and might get ignored. 

Events

Participating in events can be an excellent way to spread awareness about your game. Although attending in-person may be difficult, a large number of these events have moved online, including the Indie Games Festival

Attending these events can be lucrative for your business, as you can win prizes or network with industry professionals. 

How to sell your game

Once you’ve finished your game and people know about it, it’s time to sell it. As an indie game studio, you probably won’t have access to the same distribution channels as larger companies. 

Don’t panic. Just because you might not get your game into physical stores, doesn’t mean you’ll harm its sales. As consoles have progressed, there has been a clear shift from physical sales to digital downloads. 

Hosting your game on these online store pages is getting easier for indie developers. Since they’re also official, customers have a high level of confidence in them. 

Steam Direct

If you know about computer-based games, you might have heard of Steam, one of the most popular digital video game distribution services available. With 26 million users in September 2021, it makes sense to sell your games on Steam.

The easiest way to do this is through Steam Direct, the distribution program designed specifically to help indie developers make their games publicly available. While the process is US-centric, UK citizens can complete a W-8BEN form for tax and payment purposes. 

The distribution process of Steam Direct is a relatively simple one. Your biggest cost will be the $100 (£75) submission fee (paid for every game you submit), but the cost is recoupable once your game has made over $1,000USD (or £750GBP). 

You may find that the distribution process is relatively long, as there is a 30-day wait between paying the submission fee and your game’s release date. 

Like most distribution services, Steam has a set of rules and guidelines about the type of content they’ll allow on their platform. These guidelines are relatively relaxed, and exist most to prevent any illegal or gratuitous content from being uploaded.

PlayStation and Xbox

The big alternative to PC games is console. Thanks to their digital stores you are able to self-publish your games to these massive libraries. Both PlayStation and Xbox have their own services to help small indie developers get their games on their store pages. 

One of Playstation’s biggest selling points is that they are interested in any game, regardless of it’s development stage. They’ll also provide access to their marketing channels to help get your game noticed, and they don’t charge listing fees either. 

Since Xbox is part of Microsoft, any games you publish through ID@Xbox can be made available for PC too. What’s more, if you become an approved developer, you can be sent two dev kits for free. 

The dev kits make building and fine-tuning your game far simpler, and can show you exactly where the issues are.

Google Play and App Store

If you’re intending to release your games on mobile, then the best options are the Google Play and App Store. 

When it comes to Google, you’ll have to pay an initial fee of $25 (or about £20) to open the account, but this lets you submit as many games or apps as you’d like. Google will also take 30% of your sales through their platform, leaving you with 70%.

It is also possible to make your games available on an Android phone without going through the Google Play store. This can be done by making the files downloadable from your website, but customers might lose confidence in the security of your game. To ensure potential customers feel as comfortable as possible, it’s better to upload on a secure channel. 

On the other hand, Apple’s App Store has an annual $99 (£75) fee before you’re allowed to publish your games (though this does provide distribution to Mac devices too). Apple’s guidelines are slightly more strict than Google’s, but submissions should still be straightforward.

While these two mobile platforms cost more than alternatives (such as the Galaxy Store or Amazon Apps), they are widely recognisable and used by the vast majority. 

Sell to a publisher

You do also have the option of selling your game directly to a publisher, and they’ll pay you a lump sum. While this can seem relatively straightforward, there are some significant downsides to selling your game to a publisher.

The biggest issue is once you sell your game to them you can also lose the rights to it. This means if your game is massively successful, your company would be unable to make a sequel unless you agree a deal with the publisher. 

If you want to retain some control, you may be able to licence your game to the publisher. In this case, you would get paid a percentage of the royalties instead of a lump sum but keep your ownership of the title. 

Stay in control of your finances

When it comes to running your own indie game studio, there are a lot of moving parts. You need to dedicate time to coming up with ideas, designing, making, and marketing your games. 

With such a fast-paced and packed schedule, you’ll want to save time where you can. By using accounting software, you can automate significant portions of your financial management. 

The Countingup app is one example of the software you can use. With features like automatic expense categorisation, your outgoings get sorted into HMRC-compliant categories. 

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