VMC’s Kirstin Whittle on why indie developers need to think about more than development

The future state: Creativity isn’t enough

I had the pleasure of attending the 2015 Nordic Game Conference in Malmö and was impressed with so many creative, ambitious new games.

Indie games continue to thrive in Scandinavia and Europe, and I enjoyed talking with many start-up developers along with a number of industry veterans working on new ventures, to learn about what they’re doing and where they want their games to go.

The indie arena is great for developers who want more freedom and control to create the games they want to play, and the ongoing evolution of publishing models makes it possible to develop and release games that likely never would be released by an established publisher that expects a certain return on their investment.

But as is the case for any game, creativity isn’t enough to spur a game’s success.

Prepping for success

When the primary focus is on development, global production support services may not be a key focus, but developers need to have excellence in every area of their business, including marketing, legal, QA, localisation, live game operations and community management.

Managing quality in all of these areas is essential to getting people to play and keep playing your game because a great idea won’t make a splash if it’s poorly tested or localised, or isn’t marketed to your target audience.

No one knows what the next big thing is going to be, and many indie developers aren’t prepared to scale up quickly when their game takes off. Global production support services need to be an integral part of a development plan, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for any game.

Here are a few key factors to consider: 

Pick a partner, not a provider

A good partner will serve as a guardian of your IP, and will understand that your game is your baby. Many global production support companies will take on indie projects and even offer advice prior to a formal engagement because they also want to be a part of the next big thing.

Talk to support partners who you trust and who have expertise to fill the gaps in the areas your in-house team is lacking.

Get them involved early

Getting your support partners involved early enables developers to benefit
from the insights an experienced partner can provide.

This includes anticipating obstacles and pitfalls, planning for all contingencies, and having additional support specialists who are already in the loop, who know your game, and with whom you have an established rapport.

Think beyond the launch

You want to offer more than just a great game – you want to give your customers a great experience, and this may include live game operations (games-as-a-service), customer support, and various forms of community management.

While an indie game may have humble beginnings, having it become a success doesn’t mean your relationship with your global production support partners has to change.

Many developers see augmenting their staff to bring everything in-house as a sign of success, but the peaks and valleys of the production process mean the workload for different groups will ebb and flow.

Continuing to work with outsourced partners can remain the most cost-effective approach, especially partners who already know your game, have proven their value, and can continue to provide critical subject matter expertise while you maintain complete creative control of your IP.

So pick good partners and get them involved early so you’ll be ready for anything.

[Kirstin Whittle has 23 years of experience in the UK games industry and is one of MCV’s 2015 Top Influential Women in Games. She manages business development in Europe for VMC. www.vmc.com/games]

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