I see the biggest challenge facing Indie game development stemming from the two major types of people who develop the games. The first group have plenty of time to make games, but don’t have the skills to do so. The second group have the skills but have no time to make them. How can these two groups be helped?
1. Inexperienced Free Timers
The people in this group include high school and university students, or more generally, people still living at home. They have plenty of spare time, don’t have a job or family that rely on them and don’t have to try and find the energy to work on their games after a 40 hour week at work.
The challenge for this group is to skill up before they have to start supporting themselves and therefore turn into group 2. How can they skill up? There are plenty of websites out there to learn including Gamedev.net, opengl.org and nehe.com. You should use all your available time to learn as much as you can. On buses or trains, instead of watching tv, or during breaks between lessons or lectures. I used to print out as many tutorials as I could off the internet and read them on my 30 minute train ride home. While textbooks are generally good for consistent, complete information on a subject, you can find nearly all the information scattered over the internet. If you have plenty of time but no money, take the time to search out this information.
Also, don’t neglect your current studies at school or university. Even the most unrelated subjects can give you a lot of important skills for starting an indie team later in life. From the psychology elective to the Haskell subject I took, I’ve learnt a lot that I use in my every day life, even if indirectly.
2. Experienced Workers
The people in this group usually have a full-time job to help support themselves (and possibly their family). I am currently in this position. Over the past years in the game industry and in my personal projects I’ve picked up the skills allowing me to create games. However working a 40-50 hour week means I don’t have the time or energy to work on my own game much. The best way to fix this is to set out definite times you will work on your indie game. Without setting out these times, it’s easy to get bored and stop working when the ‘fun’ parts are over. Forcing yourself to make a schedule and work a certain number of hours per week (even if small to start off) will help you immensely.
Overtime is a killer for this group. Each person has their own limit to how many hours they can work. To succeed in working full-time and making your own game, your limit needs to far exceed 40 hours. If you work overtime, it becomes almost impossible for your personal limit to be high enough. After the initial 40 hours, there seems to be an exponential drop in how much energy and concentration you can give to your project. I’ve found the best way of handling this is contracting 2 or 3 days per week. I found I was most productive as I didn’t have to worry about an income, while still having plenty of time to work on my game.
The best solution I can see for these two groups is for them to work together. Their strengths and weaknesses are complimentary. 2’s (Experienced Workers) should become leads for projects made up of 1’s (Inexperienced Free Timers). 1’s should exchange their time, for knowledge/mentoring from 2’s. You need far less time manage a small team than you do to sit and code the entire project yourself; group 2’s should use this to their advantage.
Due to the anonymity of the internet this may be a problem for some people, so my recommendation is to start out slow. For 2’s, maybe see if there are current projects that are flailing that you can step into to help out as a manager. For 1’s, find people with no time to work on their projects and see if you can help them out. If the current projects are small enough, there’s little risk involved. After this you’ll be able to put more trust in each other and you’ll know whether you can work together well in a team.
I realise there are a few people creating indie games that don’t fit into either of these groups. These are the lucky people and you should take full advantage of this. One day you may end up as a Group 2 person and will look back on your current life with fond memories and I can guarantee you’ll not be able to forgive yourself if you waste it. So go out there, find your complimentary group and see what you can come up with.