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I'm a game programmer for a AAA-level developer and publisher—which I know falls into the 'nice problem to have' category. However, I'm becoming disenchanted with the direction of both the company and the AAA-portion of the industry as a whole.

I want to do something fundamentally different.

It seems the market has never been better for smaller-scale projects, and I'd love to jump into that (and I've done small demos for Android and have started digging into iOS), but I obviously can't put anything out while I'm working for the company. I'm concerned that I shouldn't even do substantial development in my spare time on anything I'd eventually like to release on my own.

At the same time, I'm leery of leaving my job, for hopefully-obvious reasons, especially without a specific plan in place.

Has anyone out there got experience with 'going indie' out of a mainstream job? Do you have specific suggestions as to a best approach and what to specifically think about or be careful of?

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"I obviously can't put anything out while I'm working for the company" -- Is this actually true? Are you bound by a contract stating this? –  Tim Holt Feb 25 '11 at 6:13
    
Weird. I didn't have "edit" link for this earlier, but wanted to break it into paragraphs.. now TreeUK has split it into paragraphs and I see an edit link. shrug. –  Jari Komppa Feb 25 '11 at 15:05
    
@Tim Holt Its a conflict of interest when you develop games for yourself while developing games for a company. I was very lucky to have landed a job where my higher-ups allowed me free reign to do with what I wanted on my spare time as long as it was not in direct conflict with my 'day job' as it were. This included both target market space as well as effort put in to my day job. This is rare though and if you did not get an agreement of this sort up front (before you started) chances are you will not find this is the case. –  James Feb 26 '11 at 0:17
    
@James, it's a POTENTIAL conflict of interest. If his contract explicitly forbids ANY game development, then it's pointless to ask the question. If it forbids direct competition, then he needs to do something different from what work is. –  Tim Holt Feb 26 '11 at 0:47
    
@Tim Holt: one problem is not necessarily a contract clause directly barring competition, but clauses saying that any intellectual property you create is owned by the company. I don't know whether the legitimacy of this has been tested in court or not. –  Kylotan Feb 27 '11 at 21:39

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I recently quit a triple-A development house out of frustration; but, instead of going indie, I found a smaller developer that does a broader array of projects. So, instead of working on one FPS for three years, they do several facebook/social/casual games a year.

While that sounds like "more of the same problem", it's actually turned out in my favor. I just managed to get one of my projects greenlit by the executive team. Meaning, we're building something I'm totally in love with!

Now, that's not really answering your question; but, it could prove another avenue for thought. Finding a good developer to work for is just like trying to discover your life long partner. You have to find a company you love... or found one.

As for going the indie route:

  1. Plan for it -- you're going to need to have money to live off while you're not working; or, you're going to have to do freelance work. Build those funds and relationships now. Set a date and execute it. Possibly even tell your company that you're unhappy and looking to go indie, maybe you can pitch working two or three days a week to them.
  2. Get yourself up and running -- I know Jari said to get a team; but, honestly? If you can go it yourself, you're far more likely to finish the project. Pull in as few people as you can and, preferably, find individuals that are also fully invested (not working at a large developer most of the time).
  3. Plan your project -- don't just jump ship and say, "Great! Now I can build something!" You've done Android development and iOS development. Awesome. You know what you're going to have to code. What's your spec? What's your deadline? What product do you want to build? What platforms are you deploying to? Have a plan for success. Do you want to pitch a demo of your game to a publisher? Do you want to compete in an indie competition?

You have a lot of soul searching to do; but, the end result could be spectacular. The way I always looked at it was this: the worst case is that you've just boosted your resume.

Good luck!

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You said basically everything I wanted to say, but better =) –  Jari Komppa Feb 25 '11 at 15:09
    
Fortunately, 'what do you want to build' is a question with, if anything, far too many answers - I have at least three distinct prototypes and a half-dozen more designs in various stages of roughness waiting for me when I decide to dedicate myself to them full-time. This is all excellent advice, though - and looking for a smaller shop was one of the things I was considering. Thank you! –  Salano Software Feb 25 '11 at 16:44
    
I agree not to waste time building a team for your first project. Perhaps a partnership (ie. a team of two) would be a good idea, but I'd be wary of anything bigger. –  jhocking 16 hours ago

I'm not a lawyer and all those standard disclaimers.

First, talk to your boss. Maybe you can work on iphone apps and release them. You may have to ask for permission for everything you do put out, but it may still be possible. Self-development is a great selling point; you're investing your own free time into becoming a better employee.

Eventually, if you really do want to go indie, just.. quit. Before you do, however, there's a few things you can (and in some cases, should) do.

  1. Save money. After you quit, your savings is what you'll be living on.

  2. Seek partnerships. Other like-minded people may be interested in starting a small studio for you. Even if you're not going to pay salaries for them, knowing people you can trust to do projects (like outsourced art, music, whatever) is a great asset. If you manage to be successful, you may consider hiring them; or maybe they'll hire you. =)

  3. Investigate possibilities for angel investors. Be warned though, taking other people's money always means giving up something, like your freedom. Savings help here.

  4. Possibly, work on something without releasing it. This is where we're far into the I'm-not-a-lawyer category. This depends on how aggressive your employer is and how cutthroat your contract is.

You may also want to check out this seminar by a couple friends of mine. ("Indie Startup for Dummies")

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This all makes excellent sense to me - I'm certainly doing some of the fourth (it's hard not to prod at personal projects now and again), I've thought about angel investment a fair bit, I have a number of contacts particularly for art that I feel comfortable working with - and of course I'm trying to save money, though that one is always something of a trick... –  Salano Software Feb 25 '11 at 16:45
    
with regards the seek partnerships point: I've been increasingly seeing coworking spaces here in Chicago where a bunch of indie teams rub shoulders while working on their separate projects. That seems like a cool idea –  jhocking 16 hours ago

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