It's not all about the coding. We were running under the name Zero Dependency for a couple of years, but it's only in the last couple of months that we took the steps to registering the company and what this entails.
Here's what you need to know when registering your new studio as a company:
Step One: Company Registration
Company Registration used to be quite an arduous task, involving writing a Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association and mailing them in. Companies House has now streamlined this process, providing model AoA and MoA documents that you can use. They've also removed the requirement to have two Directors, or a Director and a Secretary. Which means that a single person can now register a company without too much hassle.
The fees have also come down, now just £15 and it is all completed online. Your Certificate of Incorporation usually comes through within 24 hours.
Step Two: VAT Registration
An often overlooked aspect of operating a company is VAT registration, simply because many small studios and indies don't expect to have a taxable income above the VAT threshold (currently £79,000). However, voluntarily registering for VAT has many benefits. Most notably, being able to claim the VAT back on any business expenses, such as business card orders, travel, accommodation, and conference ticket prices. If you're working full-time from home, you can also claim back a percentage of your utilities usage as a business expense.
Step Three: Find an accountant
Despite potentially not having the most complicated of business expenses, at least initially, it's always a good idea to at least chat to an accountant. If not, have them on-board for your Annual Return and/or VAT return. They can provide useful insights into extra savings, tax rebates, etc that you might previously have been unaware of.
Step Four: Corporate Identify & Branding
This might sound all sorts of 'businessey' and 'not indie' but your studio's brand and identify is the first thing people will see of you, and will associate your games with. It's worth spending money at the beginning on a good artist/illustrator that will design an entire identity for your company, including colours, logos, letterheads, etc.
Step Five: Allocate time for business
Don't underestimate how much work goes on with the business side of things. Despite spending most evenings coding, I probably spend 50% of my "Zero Dependency time" catching up on emails, writing emails, dealing with expenses, planning what's happning in the future and other activities not directly related to game development. Don't underestimate how much work this requires, and definitely don't underestimate how important this stuff is!
Step Six: Get people on-board with your vision
It's important that people you work with share your vision. This goes for freelancers/out-sourcers just as much as staff, since you may find many people who get swept up with your vision and are able to provide you with much more than just their standard services. A different point of view is always welcome.
Step Seven: Secure office space
Personally, I find that I'm motivated the most when I try to model an 'office atmosphere' when doing my Indie work. I couldn't possibly sit on the sofa and write low-level graphics code, so I have my desk and PC at home set up in an office-like environment, to try and reduce distractions. If you find your motivation is waning, trying tidying up the desk and getting rid of all the paper, or perhaps just re-arrange the furniture a bit. You might find it does wonders.
Step Eight: Networking
In the last few months, I have traveled to London for events more times than I had visited London in the previous five years. Don't underestimate how good it is to meet someone face-to-face, have a coffee with them, and show them your passion – especially in an ever-evolving digital age of Twitter and Email. Tone doesn't convey well online. Sitting down with an investor, or a partner, or a PR company is crucial. Build relationships early.
Step Nine: Marketing & PR
An often overlooked part of game development is the marketing aspect of things. You want to start generating buzz for your Game as early as is possible (within reason). If you're trying to generate hype one week before you launch, you are way to late. Build relationships with gaming journalists, PR professionals, other studios (think cross-promotion!) and even your target audience, who more than likely want to be given information about your great game. Track them down, build worthwhile relationships and you'll gain popularity quickly.
A good point here about online way of working, refer to Wil Wheaton's law "Don't Be A Dick". The games industry is tiny, and with Twitter and Facebook bringing everyone closer and if you treat someone like an idiot, talk down to them, or are otherwise rude and offensive, you'll find people lose interest in you and your product very quickly.
All this month, Develop is publishing its Start Your Own Studio guide online. You can find all of our start-up articles at www.develop-online.net/startupspecial, plus a full schedule of the guides still to come by clicking here.