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World of Love: 10 things that may be true

By on July 1, 2010

At World of Love, Simon Oliver of HandCircus, designer of Rolando made a presentation about 10 things that may be true about being an independent developer. He ended with an exhortation that I wholeheartedly endorse: GO MAKE GAMES!

1. Making games is like running with a kite. Run, run, run!

To get the game off the ground, you have to run. Getting started is the hardest bit. There’s a lot of different ways: self-motivation, self-discipline, getting press interest or just making public commitments. The most important thing is to run to get started.

2. Time is precious

Most indie developers have only one resource: time. There’s no money, no staff, no assets. Just time.

So use it carefully. Identify which bits are taking too long, and fix them. Your time is precious; spend it well.

3. Be selective what you include

Apple don’t include everything in their hardware: they limit it to what consumers really want and need. Given that your time is precious (see #2), you don’t need (and can’t) put in all the bells and whistles that a commercial game would need. Focus on the bits that make a big difference to your game, and that make it distinctive. Leave everything else out.

4. Put a hat on the cappuccino

Simon talks about a coffee shop in Japan that puts a beautifully crafted hat crafted in chocolate that sits on the foam of the cappuccino that is delivered to your table. Simon fondly believes that it is lovingly created with painstaking brushstrokes by a committed artisan in the kitchen, even though he knows that it is probably just a mould over which a barista shakes some chocolate.

But his point is that you should aim for a high level of polish. Do a limited number of things to a very high standard.

5. Check out all the cool stuff that’s out there

The web is full of very cool technology that you can use for free or very cheaply. Whether it’s Unity3D, Google Analytics or a host of other software, you don’t have to write everything yourself. Simon ran through a litany of things he didn’t do himself (I think, but I’m not certain, it included AI, physics and the core game engine), which gave him the time to focus on things that make his games unique.

I agree entirely: outsource the stuff that doesn’t add value; do the stuff that only you can do.

6. Don’t try and do the same as the big guys

The big guys have big budgets and big expectations. This also makes them risk averse and hesitant to try new things. If you try to do the same thing that they do, you’ll really struggle. Instead, embrace what makes you unique.

An indie is just not a smaller big publisher.

7. User testing is horrific but massively worthwhile

Standing in a darkened room, watching a user playing your game and tearing it to pieces can be heart-wrenching. They take your lovingly crafted masterpiece and criticise it (or, worse, dismiss it).

If you can get past the pain, hearing what real users think can help you craft a better game. It’s painful, but what art isn’t?

8. The wearing of many hats

Indie developers may expect to be designers, programmers and artists. But do they also expect to be PRs, marketers, sales guys, the finance director and the CEO all rolled into one.

The joy of being indie is that you get to do it all the way you want it. That’s also the curse.

9. If it’s boring, make it interesting

There are lots of jobs to do when making a game that may seem dull. Simon suggest that you find ways to make them interesting.

I agree entirely, but wish he’d provided more suggestions on how to do it :-)

10. Craftsmanship is the desire to do something well, for it’s own sake

This harks back to point #4, but if you are going to be an Indie, perhaps you should be an artisan. Take pride in everything you do. Make it polished, and neat, and beautiful, even on the inside.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t ship. The game has to be released. But make sure you that you take joy in the craft in the process.

That should benefit everyone.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com