The “Indie Office”, Part 1

Hypothetical situation.

Note: Try to refrain from bombard me with requests yet, ’cause I know a lot of people already like this idea.

*cough*, I’m in London, Ontario, Canada. ;)

A typical game company places 10 or more people under the same roof. Office space rented out at the expense of the company. There’s a management hierarchy, one or more people responsible for business and infrastructure aspects of the company, and an arrangement of programmers, artists, designers, possibly testers and a sound guy. Not a bad way to run a game company. In fact, a very good way that has worked for a very long time, and still does.

A typical indie or casual developer is a team of 2 or more people. The work is either handled entirely by the pairing/group, or some of it is contracted out. Even though it’s a team, that doesn’t mean they work under the same roof. Thanks to the internetz, you can work with anyone anywhere.

If the Indie developer is successful, it’s not uncommon to see it evolve towards the typical game company structure. Programmer/Biz guy moves up to Biz guy only, Lead programmer becomes Technical Director, new recruits are hired, and so on. They also move out of their respected basements and home offices, in to office space.

This is how things typically work.

Now, lets say you don’t want to grow your company, or you haven’t been successful enough to afford to. Or maybe you just have really hard time justifying office space for 2 guys. And even though you’re doing awesome work, things like the Wii Developer Qualifications loom over your head.

What to do?

Option #1, get some smaller developers together and start a new company together.

So great! Lets start a company! Wait, what about my individuality? I don’t want to have to deal with more ownership rights! Or wait, how do I know I can trust partnering with you? Issues for sure, but lets look at it a different way.

Option #2, share some office space. Lets follow this idea.

Office space is acquired, and cut up. 2×4 reasonably large areas for a desk and side table, and everyone shares the conference room and kitchen. Your people include two teams of 2, a team of 3, and an individual. The rent and other facility costs (fax line, water cooler) are added up, and generally speaking that total is split 8 way to reflect the 8 spots available (or 7 ways if one’s left unused). Each of the two teams of 2 pays 25%, the 3 pay 37.5%, and the individual pays 12.5%. Easy.

But this brings up a number of questions.

Who owns the office?

What sort of business is this then?

Should a new business be formed to encapsulate the smaller developers?

If that’s the case, we’re back to Option #1. However, we might not want a straight up partnership. We don’t necessarily want stakes in each other’s games, or any outside financial pressures for that matter. Still, who owns the company? That’s up to the group.

Another perspective, the “plug and play” office. In other words, capable of adding, removing, or expanding to support more teams. This idea of the Indie Office is a serious business venture, where everyone involved must be able to cover the basic expenses.

What if somebody leaves?

He runs out of money, gives up on the idea, or the group “votes him out”. The remaining people in the group need to be prepared to make up the rent difference, or to seek a replacement. The nature of this arrangement is potentially “plug and play-able”, since you can’t be sure about everyone a year from now.

If “plug and play” is encouraged, then the business can also reflect a “College Alternative”.

Most of us know smart kids. Developed games on the own, lots of potential. Why waste their time in a school? So long as the group is for it, a student can come in, be generally self sufficient doing and learning what they can, working on their projects, with the resources of the group available to them. Self sufficient being the important part, but most “experts” are happy to share and give advice. They or their parents pay their cut of the rent for as long as they’re around.

Alternatively, an internship. We bring in the student, and whatever teams want to share him, they cover his costs.

Or along the same lines, a tester or a general “go-to” extra shared by the group. He keeps his hours, and we split the costs in some respectable way.

This is the concept of the “Indie Office”.

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Is any of this even meaningful?

Game development, like any part of the media industry, is a creative business. Creativity comes from a number of places, one of the most basic being conversation. The model of the Indie or Casual game developer promotes low budget small team development. Unlike film, a video game can be developed by very few people, even an individual. Going from hobby to full time, or retail to indie creates an unfortunate isolation. Not the most ideal or creative situation to be in.

The “Indie Office” is a concept to bring together the freedom of being able to choose and do your own projects, and combining it with the potential found by bringing creative people together. It’s applicable to creative industries involving individuals or small teams.

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Do comment and/or cross blog post if you have thoughts on this.

In subsequent posts, I’ll try to go in to further detail on needs, location, office size, arrangements, etc.