Five ways you can make your own luck as an indie developer

The co-founder of mobile indie studio Rodeo Games Ben Murch shares five ways in which you can help make your company a success.

I hate flying. More specifically, the take-off part. I wish I was one of those people who could rationalise aircraft failures into the tiny percentage of them actually happening… but I’m not. So, three years ago whilst sitting on the tarmac at Heathrow (or possible Gatwick), I begin my game. The man next to me is holding an iPad, fingers tapping at various colourful images. My eyes focus in, and I freeze. I know that game. That’s my game. This has literally never happened before. I take a momentary self contained moment of pride, then clear my throat and start talking…

…And that’s how I met the Games Workshop head of licensing. Sat beside one another on a plane trip to Los Angeles for E3. Back then I didn’t even fathom it would be the first steps down the path to developing two games with them. I was just enjoying meeting one of my childhood heroes! Time passes, and since then we’ve spoken to dozens of people about the inception of the project. The response is universally always the same….

"Wow. Talk about lucky.”

I guess on the face of it, yes, it sounds more like a lottery winner story than Branson self-made-man style tale. However, as is often true of these anecdotes in our industry, meeting that particular man on that particular plane was inevitable because of how we’d positioned ourselves. You see, I’m a firm believer that you can make your own luck, or rather put yourself in the best place to receive it. So, with that in mind these are my five stages to ‘Positioning for Luck’.

Be visible

This may sounds like a ridiculously obvious first point, however it’s funny though to see how many developers and people in general overlook it. Say, for example, you’re looking for a girlfriend / boyfriend. Would you sit at home, waiting for that perfect partner to chance a knock on your front door declaring their love. Ok, if George Clooney is reading this, then you should feel free to ignore that last statement. For the rest of us however, the point still remains that no-one knows you. We knew that in our first year we’d really struggle to get our name out there. So, we attended conferences, shows, drinks nights, quizzes, all sorts, just to meet people. Ok, let’s face it, these functions are generally a lot of fun as well so I’d be hard pressed to say it was all work. Facebook, twitter, blogs and websites all count towards the goal in their way.

This all buys you a little ‘luck’, because maybe someone in some important meeting one day will say ‘Oh yeah, I remember you.’ Be visible.

Focus, know exactly who you are and what you do

‘We make the best turn-based strategy games on iOS’. That’s our company M.O.

We have three games with a Metacritic above 80 in our stable so far, and a hardcore group of fans who follow us for because they get” what we’re trying to attain. We know who we are, and we know who we aren’t. Dual stick shooters, gesture based sports titles, even flower growing sims are all experiences we’ve played and enjoyed. However, as a developer, our passion lies within the turn based arena. It’s something we’ve created a foundation for, and continue to build upon. It’s where we excel, what we love, and ultimately the fuel that runs our strange developmental machine. That single statement clearly explains to any outside force – fan, publisher, license holder or potential hire – what our company is.

In this instance, ‘luck’ is attained by people knowing what you do. Someone, somewhere may be looking for exactly you. Make it that bit easier for them by laying out who you are.

Have a solid history of games displaying the field you specialise in

As I mentioned. At time of writing, we have three 80 and above Metacritic titles. When we had the Games Workshop plane encounter we only had a lonesome release, Hunters: Episode One. However, Hunters 2 was in showable development, and was essentially a bigger and better version of the first title. Weekend philosophers say a picture is worth a thousand words… so an entire game must be worth a billion. When a prospective partner can see and play your work, you’re no longer theorising and explaining. They are experiencing. From that experience it’s much easier to envision how an existing license could work within your gameplay. Many companies probably aren’t going to entrust their hard-crafted licenses to a developer with no prior record.

Know what things you love

And by that, I don’t mean love everything. Just some things. Be passionate about them. In no particular order a few of my object loves are: Dinosaurs, Games Workshop, Sharks, Forests, Computer Games, Cats, The Roman Empire, the list goes on. Anyway, why does this matter I hear you ask? Let’s take the plane encounter with GW as an example. We didn’t talk about how we could make them millions. Or how we could take their digital business to the next level. Our conversation consisted of which BloodBowl teams we fielded. Why Fantasy Chaos Armies were so ridiculously overpowered about fifteen years ago, and why Space Wolves will always be cooler than Ultramarines (I feel at this juncture I should point out that the views of Rodeo Games do not reflect those of Games Workshop). The love of subject matter shone through and in some way affected the final outcome. I’m pretty sure that if the seat next to me was occupied by a representative from Hasbro, we wouldn’t be making Transformers games right now.

Be prepared

Ending on a point that seems so spectacularly simple, yet so many overlook – know your business.

Don’t be the guy we’ve all seen on Dragons’ Den who doesn’t know his numbers. It’s embarrassing and creates a terrible impression. If you’ve made the rather large steps of first creating a company and then putting yourself out there, take five minutes to know the ropes. Learn the difference between gross and net profits (Branson claims to still not know….I think he may be fibbing). Know how many units you sold in week one. Understand how advertising in games works, even if you don’t currently use it. Let knowledge be the armour that shields you from the lances of questioning and pressure. Did you ever not study for an exam? Actually I did multiple times…and turned up drunk once…though that’s probably a story for another time.

I’m still learning. Everyday something new gets added to the luck pile. Which can only help, right? Know yourself, your business and your loves. Give yourself the best position possible, then get out there. You never know how lucky you might get.

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