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How To Start An Indie Video Game Company

Incorporating a video game company is much the same as any other business. But the unique requirements of this competitive industry require some in-depth research. Here are some of the most important things to consider before you take a leap into the digital realm.

Utilising tax breaks to start a video game company

You may not realise it, but starting an indie game company positions you in one of the world’s most valuable industries. Since 2012 video game sales have outstripped movies and music combined, with the very biggest titles making close to a billion dollars.

The most expensive and profitable game of all time, Grand Theft Auto V, was developed predominantly in Scotland. This owes much to Dundee’s rich gaming heritage, but also to the fact that the UK offers generous tax incentives. British productions meeting loose cultural criteria can be entitled to up to 80% of core expenditure, as long as it was spent within the European Economic Area (EEA).

Finland has become a surprise candidate for the best indie video game startup hub, following a massive few years for mobile development. Hot on the heels of Angry Birds maker Rovio, Finnish company Supercell posted $2.3bn in revenue and almost $1bn in profit last year. This owes a lot to the government fund Tekes, which provides $130m to tech companies each year. The fund relies entirely on subsequent tax revenue, and more than made its money back from the initial $3m investment in Supercell as a tiny startup.

The third spot in Europe by popular opinion goes to France, which recently expanded its incentives for game developers. Home to Assassin’s Creed publisher Ubisoft, France now offers tax breaks to 18 rated games, cutting up to 20% of total costs on projects of over €100,000. Another French speaking territory, Canada, is one of the world’s other leading homes for developers. Home to Ubisoft, EA and Rockstar studios including Edmonton’s BioWare, each territory offers its own incentives. Quebec provides a relief of up to 37.5% on employee salaries, while Ontario offers 40%.

Come up with a concept (and follow it through)

Game development is often seen as creation by committee, but the process of making an indie game is very much personality driven. The ability to make indie games in small teams, or even alone, allows for the same authorial control as writing a book or script. A basic familiarity with the gaming landscape is helpful, however, just to avoid repeating a popular idea.

But don’t think that your concept has to be incredibly fantastical and out there. Some of the most mundane ideas on paper turn into great games. 2016 was the year when the ‘if you can see it, you can visit it’ mantra of giant landscapes gave way to tightly honed games, where the set design trumped the bigger picture. There’s no better way to demonstrate that care and craft than overseeing everything yourself.

This needn’t be an arduous process. If coding is beyond you, there are many platforms for making games with a lower barrier to entry. Tools like Twine allow you to create interactive stories similar to ‘text adventures’ of the 1980s, and are home to some wonderful and unique creators.

RPG Maker and GameMaker Studio meanwhile let you create indie games in more typical fashion, using readymade assets. This doesn’t have to hold you back: the game Hotline Miami was made with RPG Maker, and has become an iconic (and graphic) staple of the indie scene.

Even if you don’t have a specific story fleshed out, you could easily translate your passion to the video game format. If you run a shoe shop, make a shop simulator like the Tycoon series or indie darling Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale. If your passion is cooking, make the next Cooking Mama or Overcooked. The joy of the format is that even the most seemingly banal tasks can become imbued with meaning and peril. If in doubt, take your real world craft and add a few zombies or dragons (or both!).

Writers and artists wondering how to start a game development company have a leg up. One of the wonderful things about the medium is the variety of ways you can enjoy a game: there are hugely popular titles entirely without dialogue, and hugely popular titles that are almost entirely dialogue. With the medium still very much in its infancy thanks to the constant march of technology, you have immense creative freedom to experiment and make a game you’d want to play. That’s even true (and perhaps especially true) if you don’t usually play games at all.

transistor pc artwork

To make an indie game, make great contacts

If you’re starting an indie game company without all the requisite skills, you should probably partner up with someone else. Video games are a competitive industry, but this also means there is an immense amount of talent looking for work. Communities on Reddit and other more specialist forums are great places to pitch your idea, and look for people to collaborate with.

Not only is this a great space to learn about the craft, it’s also an amazing place to meet people. Business people coming in without an intimate knowledge of the industry will offer valuable new perspectives, and the nous that ties creative and technical talent together. Many people are happy to offer their services for at least a short time, letting you trial a working relationship and create a proof of concept. If this goes well, you have an immediate platform to drive on from.

The great benefit of this is to forge trustworthy future contacts. The digital economy increasingly relies on coders and artists, who are often underpaid for the amount (and importance) of work they do. On the flipside, horror stories abound about web designers or artists missing deadlines, or not delivering to spec. If you find yourself undertaking a cross media project, creating an app or building a new website in future, these relationships are mutually beneficial.

cuphead boss battle

Starting an indie game company through self-publishing

For most of the industry’s history, people wondering how to start a video game business ended up at the doors of giant publishers. For a brief period in the 80s, however, a thriving homebrew scene sprung up around the Commodore and Spectrum computers. The last ten years have seen that spirit revived. Now single person teams and tiny companies can make a video game themselves, and self-publish through a variety of platforms onto every major device.

Mobile is perhaps the biggest and most saturated market. Here it’s as simple as making the game and submitting it to the Android Play Store or Apple App Store for a nominal fee. On Android you will need to test the game on a wider range of devices, but the store poses fewer limits on content than Apple’s strict process.

Both major home consoles also offer tools for self-publishing your indie game. Sony’s PS4 has the Develop scheme, while Microsoft has the convoluted-sounding ID@Xbox programme. Both have certain advantages in terms of the application process, audience and what you can do with the hardware. While Sony are perhaps seen as more supportive of indie developers, having made them a focus in recent years, Xbox has been home to some of the biggest break-out indie hits, such as Braid and Super Meat Boy.

Let’s not forget the biggest platform for independent games, the PC. The most dominant outlet is Steam, which requires a $100 fee and a sufficient number of votes from the community. Other options include GOG, Origin and simply publishing through your own website. Getting noticed can be tough, but there’s always a way to get your product to market.

sans from undertale

Developing an indie game means finding a niche

Statistics from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) state that the average age of a gamer is 35, that women over 18 represent 31% of the total number of gamers, and that 63% of US households contain someone who plays more than 3 hours a week. While these statistics are often debated, they can skew both ways. While lumping in every Candy Crush player as a gamer might not be representative, many people are still reluctant to identify as one.

Here’s what we know for certain: playing games should be fundamentally the same as enjoying books or TV; the few games with a marketing budget pursue teenage boys; and hundreds of women and minority developers have found success in the last decade. The video game market, in short, consists of more than just explosions and FIFA.

Everyone has a phone, and most households have a console of some description. Starting an indie game company offers a massive opportunity to sell to markets ignored by marketers, particularly those involving neglected topics and characters. The number of female, minority and LGBTQ voices who have been liberated by the rise of indie development is testament to this.

The market can be even broader if developers continue to doggedly fight the image of games as a pastime for kids. Examples such as The Sims, Animal Crossing and Professor Layton demonstrate the value of building a game with a different audience in mind, and pitching it to them successfully. You can be part of this wave, an exciting prospect in a business sense and offering a sense of social fulfilment.

If you’re interested in setting up a video game development business, or for more information on company formation and registering a new business – as well as opening a bank account – please contact us directly by calling 0033 (0)1 53 57 49 10 or emailing us from our contact page, and we’ll be happy to discuss your requirements.

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