PocketGamer column: You shouldn’t attempt to do everything yourself

This is a repost of our Bi-weekly column on PocketGamer.biz.

Byron Atkinson-Jones is an experienced developer who has worked for the likes of EA, SEGA Sports Interactive, Lionhead Studios and notable indies such as Introversion and PomPom.

He recently became a full time indie.

Being a lone indie developer means having to perform a number of different roles.

These roles vary from designer, coder, musician, SFX specialist, animator, background artist, rigger, UX designer, 2D artist, project manager, producer, accountant, marketing, PR… and probably a lot more depending on your game.

A lot of those roles I can do myself but there are quite a few that although I can do them, I probably shouldn’t be allowed to.

Bringing in the experts

A good example is accountancy.

As my company is a registered legal entity in the UK there are legal requirements to file certain information periodically throughout the year.

Despite being within my capabilities, it all takes time away from actually making games and I am likely to make mistakes that could lead to fines, so the sensible option is to hire an accountant.

The same goes for other aspects of game development, like music and art.

I can do both of those but, when I have funds, I hire people on contract to do the art and music for me. This doesn’t mean that you give up on learning and practicing to gain more experience, but means that you aren’t restricted and can get on and publish your game quicker.

One of the things that always makes me chuckle when I speak to people setting out to make games is the statement that they want to do everything themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that statement, in fact I remember saying the same thing myself.

It stems from a desire to have complete control over your game but you can still have that and also have amazing art and music in your game.

Why it makes sense to bring in PR

When So Hungry (website) started getting a lot more attention than I was prepared for I realised that I needed help managing it. One thing that was very clear from public reaction was that the game was going to be very controversial and I would need help on the PR side.

A big personality fault I have is that I am very impatient which can lead me to be impulsive. I launched the Cyberstream Fugitive Kickstarter without taking the proper time on it.

Since So Hungry was going to be appearing on PC and Mac as well as iPhone and iPad, I launched a Greenlight campaign for it without properly thinking it through.

I hadn’t really stopped to consider what the public reaction would be to the game, and thought I would just react to it when it would happen. I have a fairly thick skin so this has mostly worked out for me but it’s hardly a sensible approach.

When Nintendo asked me to bring So Hungry to the Nintendo Wii U I realised that this could get a lot bigger and so I needed to be more considered in my public facing role. Luckily I had attended a Meet the Press Day at a Launch event in Birmingham and saw Natalie Griffith speaking about PR.

I contacted the agency that Natalie had formed (Press Space PR), and once we had met in London and sorted out the details, I signed on the dotted line. Immediately Natalie got to work and started to give me lots of guidance and advice on how I should be presenting myself in regards to So Hungry.

Tweets, not twits

One of the more important pieces of advice was about being careful what I tweet. It seems obvious now but that’s often the case.

It’s been a long-standing joke that I’m addicted to Nando’s [UK chicken restaurant chain] and whenever I go out to eat I would tweet a picture about what I was eating as a bit of fun.

The problem is that So Hungry is all about a homeless guy who starves to death if you don’t find him and buy him food.

Tweeting images of my meals is inappropriate under those circumstances, and Natalie was right to point that out to me especially when one of my goals on creating So Hungry is to remain sensitive to the subject.

It seems obvious when you think about it but the problem was I hadn’t thought about it.

Other advice included preparing myself to answer the difficult questions that might crop up rather than having to try and come up with something on the spot. Again, it should be obvious but I needed it to be pointed out to me.

Having Natalie on board to help is getting me past that particular deficit in my abilities and ultimately teaching me how to become better at it.

You don’t need to be Superman

The moral of this story is that when you are trying to run a business it doesn’t make sense to be stubborn and try to do everything yourself. Acknowledge your weaknesses and wherever possible address them.

This might mean taking on help and that shouldn’t be something that scares you; in fact it will most likely have a massive positive impact on your games and on your business.

In order to allow your games to reach their full potential concentrate your efforts on those aspects of development you are good at. There’s nothing wrong with getting help.


Byron Atkinson-Jones can be reached on twitter as @xiotex and is currently furiously typing away lines of code in order to get Blast-Em!, So Hungry andCyberstream Fugitive released.