Running in the game dev circles for the last three months has exposed me to a ton of one or two man shops that undertake the entire development and production of a game on their own. Some are doing well, but others are struggling.
It almost seems like some developers purposely handicap themselves by 'doing it all' just so they can claim the elusive 'indie developer' mantel. I don't want to touch the What is an indie game developer? topic again, but I do want to target the thinking behind doing it all yourself.
Is going it alone wise, productive, or profitable?
Coming from the startup world of Silicon Valley, it is regularly frowned upon to hear about a startup with only one founder (#1 mistake startups make). The reasons are broad, but generally distill down to three core issues:
1) If nobody has partnered with you, you might be a pain to work with.
2) If nobody has partnered with you, your idea probably isn't very good.
3) One person just can't do it all.
I don't really want to touch the first issue as it is a personal issue. I want to assume that all indie developers and designers aren't doing the indie scene because they have been fired from every job they have ever held, but instead choose this path for themselves.
Moving to the second point, I think it is valid to ask a solo dev if they have really tried to flesh out their game idea, bouncing it off their circle of friends and family. If none of them wanted to join, or at least refer a co-developer/co-artist to help the game idea along, maybe the idea doesn't have legs. Listen to this signal. Refine your concepts and ideas until people start biting, and offering to help you. Remember, most likely, your idea sucks anyway.
Is it Productive?
But, assuming your idea is awesome, which will result in the next Zynga or Rovio, why would you still want to do it alone?
Will you, as the one man show be able to produce that quality game that you see in your mind?
Or will have to settle when you hit the roadblocks of your weaknesses?
Art is hard for analytical coders. Game design and balancing is hard for the more artistic among us. Pulling together all the aspects of a game is not a skill everyone has.
Stop thinking that your awesome strengths are going to mask the other weaknesses in your game development process. It won't. Don't be surprised that your product is judged against its weakest aspect, the stuff you aren't good at, not its strengths.
Pull together a team, use your strengths to compliment the rest of your team's strengths.
Is it Profitable?
Finally, assuming you have the best idea, should you keep it to yourself, doing all the work? Will the payout be bigger by keeping the whole pie for yourself?
A widely noted survey also backs up the team theory, versus one man show. Scroll to around Figure 7, which show more returns for more developers working together. / Owen Goss, the author's take:
"The conclusion that I draw from this is that, in general, larger groups of developers are able to create games that earn more money. Wagering a guess, this is perhaps because they are able to create games that are larger in scope, more technically interesting, and more polished, because they have more people to work on the game and provide input into its improvement."
General experience shows that partnerships of 2-5 definitely outperforms solo developers in most situations. As Owen notes, along with many startup founders and investors, a team compensates for the weak links of the individuals. In the same way, a game development team should have a higher standard of quality, polish and completeness when compared to an otherwise average game.
If you don't want to partner with someone, at least use contractors to fill your holes. If you, yourself are not willing to invest $500-$1000 for decent graphics and music/sounds, is your idea really that awesome? Or, if you can't convince your closest family and friends that your game idea really is the next best thing, to help by filling art needs when you are mediocre artist or worse, or at least by buying decent art, should you spend all your time to craft top notch code and crown it with so-so artwork?
If you really are the rock star artist/game designer/developer, I will cheer you on to success. But if you are like me, great a few things, good at some other and down right horrible at many thing, surround yourself with folks whose strengths amplify your own. Stop trying to it all yourself.
The composition of a team is a different articles, so I won't even touch that, and there a few articles already written:
Are there are great examples for one man shows that have succeeded in the long term (I have a few in mind)? Are they the exception to the rule? Any brave souls wanting to describe examples of one man shows that resulted in burn out or unpolished games?
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