As game business coaches, the one question most indie developers and start-ups always ask us: “Where and how did your start-up recruit a team for their game development?”
We‘ve spoken of the cost, regarding currency and mental health, when you open a studio, so let’s talk: staff. When you can’t pay people up front, you need to convince them you’re a good bet.
The first mistake is focusing on the game idea rather than the company’s vision. People will be drawn to an overall vision for the business, not simply on a game concept.
This vision is a strategic plan that you believe in, your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that will have talent flocking to once they understand you and your company. You won’t have anyone on board for an indie project with no salary if they don’t believe as strongly as you in the vision. Demonstrate your vision for the long-haul so potential staff can buy into it.
Making an offer
As a game studio, you formed your company with the intent to create a very different development culture. That alone is by far your strongest selling point. So here are some tips that you can offer when you recruit your team:
Cap time: Ideally, your team should work a max of 40 hours a week. As the leader, you can’t always follow that rule, but that’s only to ensure others don’t break the cap themselves.
Allow creative input: Allow developers to add to the creative flow rather than letting them think they are a cog in the machine.
Team building: Nominate a day for “GameChill” where everyone plays the game together every Friday, for example, and listen to their comments on how the team can improve it.
Taking sides: Recruiting means allowing developers to have their own side projects as well. You should encourage your team to have side projects as it helps them learn new skills and bring back this experience to the studio. You only need to own the creativity they put into your game.
Success breeds success: When your studio starts making money, meaning you’ve secured some funds and can pay salaries, you should keep a share of the revenue to split among the team for as long as the developer stays in your studio.
Make the games you and your team want: We’ve heard so many developers say that in the years of making games professionally, they have never worked on a game they actually liked. You can’t understand the audience unless you’re part of it. You need a unique selling proposition, and that’s your company’s vision and the games you intend to make.
Advantages of joining a start-up
From our experiences, most are in at the start but don’t have the funds to offer a salary. However, it doesn’t mean that being part of a start-up is a bad move for a game creator’s career. If the intention is to grow then being part of start-up at the outset is a sure way to climb up the ladder quickly. Also, while it’s a huge risk financially, it has a much higher potential return.
Factor in that you believe in a successful product and working for a small team means you don’t need thousands of sales to be highly profitable. In fact, it’s possible that it will end up much more profitable than getting paid a regular developer salary.
If you want passionate developers to join you, then it’s important to have something to offer that is different from everyone else and it’s important to express these advantages. From fewer overheads to ownership in ideas and profits, you’re taking a risk in the hopes of a large, or at least sustainable, reward.
There is so much unused raw talent in Sydney, with schools teaching hundreds of students every year in the game development field. These students are often told studios are looking for experience when hiring, so many end up moving to another field.
The game development career is extremely competitive, and most get hired from people they know. So being a good developer is not enough: connection with the game industry network is key.
Attend portfolio nights, you can talk with students and teachers, telling them you are starting a business and looking for people to join them. Schools know most of their students won’t find a job in the field in which they studied, and it looks bad for them.
So when I tell them I have openings in a start-up they are not only receptive, they will collaborate to great length if you show professionalism.
Find the head teacher or the teacher of multiple programs to give you contact information of their best students that haven’t found a job.
Attending industry events is very important, like Beer, Pixel or GameSpark. For Game Schools you can offer to go in the classroom to talk about independent game development. Stay involved and help students build their portfolios to be ready for the industry.
I can assure you it will pay off. You will meet many students during these events, and you can build a list of people to contact. Then arrange interview sessions, choosing those who have the talent up to your expectations.
Be transparent in letting them know if you are unable to pay them and instead offer an agreement on a “revenue-share model.” It can take months to find the right candidate but I can assure you will get someone very talented that was clearly the match for your team. Be patient
One question you must ask yourself is whether you trust them. The simple truth is many people want to make video games than there are jobs in the industry.
If you know how to introduce yourself, have a coherent vision as to what you want to accomplish and understand what you have to offer is mutually beneficial, you will be able to find developers to work with you.
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To your success,
Vinh Van Lam & Stuart Horrex
Your Coaches ArtSHINE industries