How to survive on a limited budget - indie studio
Kamal Aittah
01 / 01 / 2022

How to survive on a limited budget - indie studio

Goodbye 2021 and Welcome 2022! I hope you’re looking forward to the new year as much as we do. Last time I wrote about how we failed in our first indie title so I thought I’d also write about how we made it through our first year as a physical studio. After all, everything should be … perfectly balanced.

Surviving as an indie game studio is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to manage in my life. It’s very stressful, it’s risky beyond measure, and it’s shrouded in vagueness. But when done right, it gives you that sweet feeling of success, and it rewards you with a lot more to look for.

2021 was the first year we rented an office to work onsite. I know it might be a strange thing to do when everyone is going remote, but It helped us get things done much faster as well as build team culture. However, it also brought on new financial challenges when it comes to hiring extra teammates, buying hardware and software, paying monthly rent and bills; All of these aspects meant that we needed to plan out for the worst case in which we don’t have any revenue stream but we’re continuously depleting our working capital.

 

The good news is that we made it with a lot to look for in 2022, and here are the key activities that helped us survive the first year which is one of the hardest years in any business.

 


 

Clear goals and roadmap

 

Setting a clear goal and a detailed roadmap to reaching that goal in due time is one of the most important factors for our survival this year. When you have a clear goal that you want to reach (In our case, it’s publishing an original IP in the first three years) You start planning accordingly since you know what the end goal is. We planned sub-goals that can be achieved in yearly quarters which helped us better monitor our pace as a studio and ultimately let us take better decisions in every quarter. It also made room for us to experiment with some marketing campaigns and see what works and what does not which will benefit us greatly when it comes to marketing our next title.

Setting a clear goal for your business really comes down to your vision. Ask yourself why did you start this business? Afterward, put some big goals that you want to reach in due time. Try to make it realistic by looking at other indie studios. After you have these clear goals, you’ll find it easier to make sub-goals that you can track and monitor throughout the year.

 


 

Cut costs

 

Cutting costs is a very important skill that you have to master. Knowing when to cut costs on something to save it for another while operating on a limited budget not only helps you survive but also helps you in becoming a better planner through efficient planning. There is no standard method for this. I personally just take a look at everything we have to pay and everything we need to do and write them on cards. Then, I organize these cards as follows:

For example, we’re making an online multiplayer game and we have the following: -

Of course, I go into more details, but for the sake of example, let’s keep it this simple. Now that I know the things we can do and the things we can buy, I compare everything with the status of our business as in our working capital, what we have to pay (rent, bills, salaries, etc) as well as the outsourcing projects we currently are working on and I reorganize things accordingly as follows:

And now I have a clear understanding of what we need to do and what we need to pay for in order to progress in our next title. Knowing this I can now cut costs in other matters like using open-source software instead of premium ones or outsourcing some of the work instead of hiring, etc.
 


 

Backup plans

 

But of course, not everything you plan for comes out exactly as planned. About 20% of what I planned for turned out differently. So, you always need to have backup plans … yes not just 1 backup plan, but multiple backup plans. Something that served me well in this is my computer science studies of algorithm analysis. We always used to analyze an algorithm in 3 cases (Worst case, average case, best case) and that’s exactly what I do. I plan for the worst-case; I have a backup plan for the average case and another one for the best case.

These cases will be you making educated guesses based on your experience. So, make sure the worst case is really the worst-case and try not to be optimistic while guessing it. Planning for the worst-case will help you stay focused because you’re pretty much expecting the worst so it won’t be a surprise when it happens. But if things turned out better than you thought, you also have the backup plans that will help you stay focused without stopping much to analyze the situation.

 


 

Look UP!

 

Another thing that helped us survive this first harsh year is that we stop at the end of each quarter to look up and see what the market is up to and how do we compare to it. Even though you have your plans in place, it’s okay to adjust them along the way as you monitor your business status against competitors. Don’t excessively look up though, because most of the time you need to be focused on executing your plans. That’s why I like to make quarter revisions of our business plans and see if there’s anything that needs to be adjusted based on market analysis.

 


 

Don’t waste money on ads

 

Pretty bold statement huh? But that’s the truth for us indie studios. If you want to turn in revenue from your ads, you need to spend a hefty amount of money to even try and compete with other games. I know some indies have found success with ads but I personally don’t think they are worth it whether it’s to promote a service or a game.

 


 

Invest in events

 

That’s what I found better than ads. With events going online, you can invest in tickets for gaming events to showcase your game in front of a lot of players in your target audience or go to game dev events to promote your services to fellow game studios. I really like this marketing tactic because it does 3 jobs at once.

  1. You’re showcasing your game / promoting your services
  2. You’re connecting with new people and growing your professional network
  3. And you’re comparing your studio to similar studios and learning from industry leads.

I understand that ads are important, but I personally think they are important for branding more than anything else. Actual user acquisition or finding new clients are usually not through ads.

 


 

Providing outsource services

 

So, this is our main work in Game Hermits. We provide full-cycle development as well as art and programming services. Although our goal is to publish our own game, we think that it’s better to make it step by step. So instead of giving 100% of our focus to our own game, we focus on outsourcing to keep the cash flow in the studio while we develop our own game on the side.

I know that this means a longer time needed for developing our game, but as I said, staying an active and relevant game studio is more important to us than publishing our own game. Because this way we get to transition slowly but safely from outsourcing studio to working on our original IPs which is one of our biggest goals.

So, in short, patience is key here.

 


 

Conclusion

 

Surviving as an indie game studio is not an easy feat. But it is feasible. Stay sharp, stay focused, plan in advance, be patient, and most importantly believe in your vision and in your success.

 

I wish you a happy new year where you come even closer to your dreams. Until next time, peace out! 😊

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