Not a bad start…

December 7, 2009

My brother-in-law recently asked me if I could ballpark the amount of money it would cost to lead a group of developers through an entire indie game, start to finish. “Nothing at all; pay ’em all on spec,” I joked. 

The truth of the matter is there really are games being made out there completely on spec (ahem, Bumble Tales) but that doesn’t mean no money is required. Speculation is the best I can do on how much money went into marketing that small casual download, but it also required a great deal of pre-existing connections with people (Billy Garretsen with Perfect Dork Studios who in turn introduced us to the powers that be with GarageGames, for example). Paying for the entire team to be present and accounted for at GDC in San Francisco was no small cost either. 

As the writer and assistant producer for this game, none of this capital burden was on my shoulders – but other payments were extruded from the team members. Every one of us became a mandatory piece of the QA puzzle. We all gave up weekends to become designers for new features for the game, and consequently, salesmen of those features to the rest of the team. What is all that time worth? Who knows, but probably more than the original royalties percentage you sign on for.

Why did we change to these colors? Black and white was what we wanted orginally!

So, in answer to my brother-in-law’s question (which I’m not sure I ever gave him in a very clear manner): I have no clue. I do, however, have a very realistic idea of what must go into making a game from concept to finished product. As the assistant producer for BT, it became my overall responsibility to communicate with the other team members and constantly have a feel for where we were in the grand scheme of the development. “As Assistant Producer?” you may be asking yourself. Yes, this was a very small team. You see, when people are working on spec alone, things happen. Life gets in the way. Team leads have breakdowns. Musicians become…musicians. Feelings get hurt. Morale plummets. Worries about why you’re doing any of this kick you in the gut. All of these things happen in the big leagues as well (so I’ve heard), but at least you can rest your weary head on a paycheck. On spec, you’ve got nothing to show for your labors but a dream – and unless you’re the lead, it’s someone else’s dream that you occasionally get to chisel your name into.

So, why do any of it? Because, I believe, we all want to be part of something fun and something that can last forever. When the credits roll and your name appears, the creative part of your being smiles. You’re no longer simply a consumer or some replaceable cog at a corporation. You’ve assisted in creating something real, something visible and something playable. That will always dwarf your frustrations and worries and always be worth more than your royalties or paycheck.

If you’re at all interested in reading someone else’s quick take on leading a team like this, I highly recommend Promit’s Ventspace.

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