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09.04.2021
How to gather an indie team if the development budget is zero
Creating your own game starts with creating a team of indie developers. It is not so difficult to find it: there are enough enthusiasts eager to make their own video game. Much harder - to keep a diverse group of people together and bring the project to fruition.

It is good if you have investors who motivate employees financially. But what if you are just an amateur with nothing but a ton of enthusiasm? We've put together some tips for the aspiring independent team leader.
1. Formulate a clear idea.
The developer is an investor who funds their own time and effort. Convince the future employee to contribute to your game. To do this - clearly formulate the idea, get rid of white spots in it. Sit down and systematize all aspects of your project. Look at the resulting description and ask yourself a few questions:

- Will my indie game come out on PC or mobile devices? Why?
- What would the game be about?
- Who will be interested in it?
- What will the player do in it?
- How is it different from the other games?

If there is at least one point that is not clear in the text you have written, it means that your idea for an indie game is not ready yet. Finalize it and post it in the indie-development community to get feedback and acquire valuable contacts.
2. Set a deadline.
How much free time are you willing to spend on your project and not burnout? The supervisor has an important task. He is an inspiring spark. The inner flame of the leader goes out - and the whole process collapses. So be sober about what you can do and do not chase after large-scale stuff. Start small. It is better to make a small platformer game in a month than to struggle over AAA-shooter for a year and abandon it. This way, you'll show yourself on the indie market as a responsible person, and, later, people will ask to work with you.

Set a clear deadline and go to the next stage.
3. Schedule.
So it's decided. You gave up procrastination and bars on Fridays for N months and decided to devote all your free time to the development process. Now - adjust the game design document, given the number of people and allotted time. Write out each aspect:

  • Where will you look for people? What sites for indie developers will you use?
  • What skills does each team member have? Can he or she improve them and stay on schedule?
  • What elements do you need to complete the project? How many models, sprites, and other entities?
  • Are all aspects of development covered by your team? Will you cover them yourself, or will you pay outsourcers for lacking animation, graphics, or sound design? Do you have enough resources?
  • How will you work? Where will you keep documentation? What will you use for references, tasks, and terms of reference?
  • Where will you publish? What do you need for this?
4. Don't forget Murphy's Law.
If something can go wrong, it will go wrong. If your programmer can fail an exam - he will fail it and go prepare to retake it. If your artist likes extreme sports - he will break his arm and won't be able to draw. If you live in a country with an unstable political situation - be prepared to study the laws on intellectual property, to make timely changes in your marketing strategy. Consider a Plan B (or better yet, a C or even a D). Minimize risk. Put on airbags all around you and make sure you have workarounds.

If you treat development as a hobby, skip this point. Otherwise - review the previous point one more time and adjust it. Leave room for maneuvering.
5. Combine leadership and development.
Don't forget two things:

  1. You are the leader. You hold the entire project together. You set tasks, motivate, and gather people around you.
  2. You are also the developer. An indie game studio is not a place where you can be just a boss. The best way to earn authority here is to be helpful.
Look for a balance between these two paths. If you keep running around giving instructions, soon no one will listen to you. If you bury yourself in your work, no one will control and organize the work process. Set tasks in Jira or Trello, make calls, be an example. No one said it would be easy!
6. Don't forget about prototypes.
The best way to motivate an indie team is to show that their efforts have been worthwhile. After the first prototype, the team will get an idea of the work they've done and see their contribution. Release builds and vertical slices regularly.

If your 3D artist hasn't left the house for a week, drawing 10 gun models, and his eyelid twitches nervously at the word "clip" - add a new weapon to a freshly assembled build. Let the artist shoot for a couple of hours - and be ready to fend off a sudden flood of ideas.
7. Motivate to develop.
Why do indie developers work on enthusiasm? There are two reasons:

  1. They need experience. They're green newbies with a couple (or no) projects under their belt, just learning and making their portfolios. Set clear objectives, share experience and helpful links, give feedback on the work done, but don't push too hard. They're already doing the best they can.
  2. They are inspired by the game. The presence of inspired professionals is a good sign for your project. Don't stand over the experts - they'll do and over-do all their tasks anyway, throwing new ideas at you in the process.
8. Maintain healthy relationships.
Become an inspirational leader. Appreciate and invest in the team. Have phone calls, five-minute proud moments for each employee, be a mentor and a supporter. Find a few hours and talk to your colleagues to figure out how to build working relationships. One needs praise, a second needs more references and helpful lessons, a third needs freedom to create, a fourth needs clear TOR and time limits. Build relationships with the team so that everyone is heard.
9. Be daring!
Do not give in to problems. Set goals and achieve them. The success of an indie developer is his determination. Don't give up on the first challenge, but think about how to solve it. Any shortcoming can turn into an advantage (or become a kind of feature).