I'm John Kearney, lone artist at RetroFist, a small indie games developer that I co-founded in 2013 with Rich Cross, a longstanding friend, colleague and programmer. Rich and I have worked together at various studios in our time, helping to create hit games for the likes of Sony and Konami.
Given our background of working in traditional office environments, RetroFist represented an entirely new challenge due to the fact that Rich and I decided to start-up our company and create our first project whilst in different cities. Our debut game, Fire Fu, was developed from concept to completion without us being in the same room once. It was challenging but we are proof that it can be done with some thought and dedication. Based on our experience, here are 5 things that helped us and we hope that they help you too:
Starting a new business is incredibly time consuming and difficult so it's important to assess your strengths and weaknesses and act accordingly. For us, running the business in addition to being creative was always going to be challenging. We looked at ways to alleviate some of that burden and thankfully, that's when we found Creative England's Greenshoots Programme. Securing funding meant that we could focus more on our creative strengths, enabling us to spend more time developing a better game. In addition, the support and feedback we have received has been immensely valuable so we are incredibly thankful to everyone involved.
Organisation and Planning
Being organised is critical to the success of any project, and it's especially true if you're developing games remotely. As the programmer and technical mind behind RetroFist and Fire Fu, Rich wrote our engine from scratch and needed to facilitate a way of elegantly handling data transfers and new builds/updates. Using a cloud based solution proved to perfect for our needs. A combination of SVN and TeamDrive provided a very reliable way of working together on the same project, meaning that it felt very much as if we were developing in the same office.
Game development can be a passionate enterprise and without face-to-face interaction, it's very easy to get your wires crossed and subsequently waste valuable time. Keeping frustration levels down is important so make good use of everything at your disposal. Skype has been essential for us. Text logs that document all brainstorming sessions and conversations can prove to be an excellent resource when needed. In addition, we have used free online tools like Workflowy.com to handle collaborative To-Do lists, enabling us to efficiently track progress and stay organised.
Commitment and Trust
In a typical office environment, you have set working hours and a structure in place to ensure that laziness is out of the question! Working alone really tests your capacity to be self-motivated and productive. Having clear targets in mind and setting regular, short-term deadlines is a good way to avoid complacency. It’s all too easy to switch off and make excuses so it’s essential that you keep working hard and trust that other members of the team are doing exactly the same.
In a small team, you have no choice but to wear multiple hats and do work that you aren't necessarily comfortable with. We are inherently shy and often find it difficult to sell ourselves, which we have pretty much viewed as a necessary evil! Being willing to do what you can in addition to your development and business responsibilities is arguably as important as the game itself nowadays. Keeping your website up-to-date, writing blogs, interacting with others via social media and generally stepping outside of the sanctity of your personal working environment will prove to be good for you, your company, and your games!
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