Welcome to the second part of our series on developping commercial-quality games without a budget. This week, we’ll tackle how to get the major pieces, namely programming and art assets, done without significant cash outlay.
First, however, I’d like to clarify something I said in the last column. I mentionned that “legal and management issues are not are not a major decision item.” This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be thinking about finding a way to obtain legal and management support, because that’s extremely useful. But it’s not the first thing to handle - you need to have first-line staff to manage before you need a manager.
So - how can you find your staff?
The good news is that finding a programmer willing to try his hand at game programming is easy. Just about every college and university has a computer science program, and someone among the student body will be able and interested to at least try his (or her) hand at it.
Alternately, you can try finding a programmer online - there are many game development websites out there and many of them have a recruitment forum or the equivalent. More traditional resources such as newspapers, job sites, and entrepreneurial fairs might be also worth a look, but usually the people you’ll find through those resources will be looking for paying work. And we’re supposed not to have a budget.
Depending on the game style, finding artists might be very easy or very hard. Pixel artists are not as sought after as they once were, and while many have retrained into 3D art, they might be willing to put some hours in a project just to do an art style they prefer. On the other hand, talented 3D artists pretty much have paying job offers from the moment they get noticed, so getting one to work with you is tougher.
If you don’t have a budget, your best bet is again students. Young artists really need to develop their portfolio, so they’re more likely to take a risk on your project.
Choosing your Team
So you’ve found a few promising candidates. How do you separate the sheep from the goats?
The first thing you should be looking for is previous experience. Of course, it’s doubtful you found someone with published projects under their belt. But you still need to be reasonably confident that your team will be able to eventually ship a product. Your only way to evaluate your potential team is through examples of their work.
Artists are somewhat easy to evaluate - after all, they must have a portfolio, or you probably wouldn’t have contacted them in the first place. You should be looking for both experience in the subject matter, (for instance, some samples of tiles and sprites) and some degree of polyvalence (such as photorealistic designs, etc.)
Programmers are tougher to evaluate. It’s easy to eliminate poor candidates, but a lot harder to identify the best one. Certainly, get rid of any programmer who doesn’t have at least a somewhat workable game project to show you, or at least a real project he created on his own. If he didn’t at least attempt some programming in the past, he probably doesn’t realize the scope of work he’ll have to do and is highly likely to quit on you. Then discuss your project with your remaining candidates. You should be able to get a better read on their understanding of the realities of game development from their ideas.
Once you’ve found a potential team… take the time to get to know them. Go grab a beer and talk game design. Basically, find out if you’ll be able to stand working with those guys. The two or three weekends that will invest may save you a project-killing conflict later on.
Whew - another long post. I thought I’d at least get to setting up a business today. Oh well - there’s always next time.