How to start a game company

Starting your independent game company from the beginning


What are the best practices to start a game company? What should you focus on, what should you do first, etc? These (and many more) are the questions which people keep on asking when thinking of starting their first game company. I'm going to try and list some of the most crucial factors, which can lead your game startup to flourish if executed properly or die miserably, if not taken care of.

Most of the time game companies start from "the bottom". What this means, is that there is a single person or group of people who share some type of some interests in making games. They don't have funding and they don't have a clear plan of what and how stuff should be done. 

I've seen it too many times, that group of people start with passion, but quit after a couple of months in lack of motivation, or guides how to go forward. If you follow the steps I'm going to list here, you have much better chances in getting your game (or multiple games) released!

#1 MILESTONES 

Especially if you are working with a project on your spare time, you need to have milestones and timelines to stick into. Without proper milestones, you will most certainly think of “something better to do” when you were supposed to work with your project. This may feel like an unnecessary thing to do at the start since you are all pumped up with working with your fresh design. But once you go forward with the development, you start to reconsider your game design, maybe even think of starting it from the beginning or starting a new project from scratch. 

This is when the milestones and timelines step in. You need to have milestones. Just making endless task lists, or a plan for the rest of the year does not help you. The plans need to be realistic and short, that you are actually able to succeed in these plans. By “biting too much”, you may end up losing the motivation since it feels like an eternity to succeed. 

Two to four-week plans would be my suggestion, but of course, you need to find the best possible fit for yourself. At the start, you could go for a weekly plan, or maybe even less. The point is, you need to be able to succeed in these plans. And the plans need to fit your other life-activities schedules. 

#2 DEDICATION 

When working alone, it’s always only about you. Only about your self-discipline to keep on the track. But when a team steps in, it’s a whole different story. To not only keep yourself motivated, but you also need to make sure that the rest of the team is. Of course, a perfect team helps each other to keep on doing, when the lack of motivation strikes. I would say that helping each other during hard times is the most crucial part of game development as a team. The second most important thing is to make milestones together, in which all of the team members can step in and say “I can do that”. 

When you are able to succeed in your set deadlines, remember to celebrate. Because in the end, it’s not so obvious that it happens. So when it does, you need to embrace it.

The human mind is a bit tricky, but what I've noticed during my career, that there is one way to make sure that people stick around and finish the stuff which they promised. This leads to the third thing on my list...

#3 CONTRACTS 

You now have your team and it seems that all of you are dedicated to the plan and pumped with motivation to keep ongoing. That’s great! Making games is fun and it’s supposed to be that way. While having fun, it’s easy to forget the business side of everything and just ditch it, because, well. It’s not fun. 

And it's not only the business side. Even when developing a game as a hobby, people fight against the lack of motivation which strikes at some point. It's almost inhuman to make a game from start to finish without losing motivation. You need to be prepared for this moment and trick your mind to go forward, even when it feels a little unpleasant.

If you're serious with your game project and actually aim to finish it, I really encourage you to make the necessary contracts with your team. In these contracts, you should determine (at least) the following things:

  1. Who owns the project (the intellectual property for example)
  2. What is required from someone to have some ownership of the game
  3. How much work hours are expected from everyone
  4. What is everyone's responsibility

These contracts are NOT to make the project feel more like "business" or to similar, these are to protect the project from failing. At some point, there may be fights among the developers, or someone just quits for some reason. If you don't have the contracts, the person who left have all the rights to say that everything that he or she has done for the project, needs to be removed. This can be devastating for the project.


This can also lead into awkward situations, in which someone who dropped out from the project appears after the game has launched and demands to have ownership for the game, or part from the revenue. 

This may sound silly ‘business talk’, but unfortunately, it happens very often. To tackle this, you need to form a contract to make it less possible. Of course, making contracts doesn’t solve every problem, but it sure helps you to take a massive leap in the right direction. 

#4 FUNDING 

It would always be rather easier if you had funding for your project. In best cases, you could actually have enough funding it pays the salary for everyone. This, of course, is a little trickier part to do, but totally possible for everyone. 

At the start, you should focus your funding into trying to get a small amount of buffer, to help you get all the necessary tools for your work. Having the computers, software, licenses, plugins and so forth makes the actual development more pleasant, but also makes it a lot faster. If you are unable to get the small funding for the tools, fortunately, everything is also available free nowadays. The paid tools tend to be a bit better and efficient, in most of the cases. 

Once you get on the road with your project, you should start contacting possible publishers as soon as possible. But also start spreading the word of your game from day one. Getting a publisher is not that you meet the publisher once, sign the contracts and open up the champagne. No, most definitely not. Continuous talk with publishers is mandatory. You need to be sharing the whole story with them from the beginning. They need to see your progress and get excited while following it. Seeing the progress also convinces the publisher, that you are serious with this. Not just being like most of the indie developers, who start a project and ditch it after a month or two. No, you guys are going forward each month! 

Don’t just contact any publisher, find the ones who have a similar type of games in their portfolio. Games which they’ve published already and those have something in common with yours. Start with casual email by introducing yourself, team and the project. Continue with monthly updates, showing how you’ve progressed. Always remember to mention, that you would love to do co-work with them. And remember, these guys are humans too! Keep the updates going and try to arrange a face-to-face meeting in some event, which you both are attending. Just keep talking! 

Finding a publisher is one of the ways to get your game funded, but of course, there are multiple other ways to do it. In some countries, government funds game projects, you could find an investor, or do some contract work to gather some savings for your upcoming game. What’s your cup of tea? 

WHY DO YOU MAKE GAMES? 

The fact is, that even when following these steps there is a great possibility that your games won’t get sales, funding, visibility or even a dedicated team. Or to be exact it is the most obvious case when making your first games. So because of this, it’s crucial that you have a clear sense of ‘Why you are doing this’. Because in the end, it most likely isn’t (only) about money and also not because you don’t have anything else to do. You are making games for a reason. To keep up the motivation, even when failing miserably, the best tool is to know why you are doing this. 

The core of ‘Why am I doing this’ isn’t easy to discover and most likely at first it’s just “because I want to make awesome games” and that’s totally ok. But what you will find, is that there is a deeper meaning for you to continue making game after game without quitting. Even the games may contain something very similar to each other, something which mirrors down your ‘why’ for making games. 

It’s easy to forget all this, forget the reason why you started making games in the first place and jump into ‘business-oriented’ game development. Just remember, you should try to stop now and then and remember, why you started making games. And also why are you still making them. 

(This was the first part of my "How to start a game company". I will be writing more tips for this and going into more concrete examples of how you should proceed! I had to cut the post here because the size was starting to get out of hand...)

Listen to some of my podcasts here: 

“How to keep motivated podcast”

“How to get stuff done a podcast”

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