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Making It

The First Few Months

by Anders Russell
Dec 20,2005


The First Few Months

The first few months of operation can be very tough as you struggle to determine exactly what your role within the business is. Sure, your business plan covers all of this, but when it comes time to implement it, it becomes a much more difficult task. You'll be dealing with the establishment of your business, costs such as insurance and business name registration will have already been dealt with (if not, you'd best organise them quick smart), but your book-keeping system needs to be set up, and you need to establish a strong working environment.

The hardest of all from my experience was getting the working environment happening. As you will likely not have the funds to rent and office, the business will operate from home. I tried very hard to get a home office established, but space limitations meant that the office of SPQR Studios doubled as the spare bedroom, which was also my "study". I couldn't afford to buy another computer, so I had to trust myself to work on my gaming box, full of glorious temptation. I can really recommend not doing this if at all possible. With a little willpower its easy to avoid the temptation -- but it would have been far easier for me to not have had to deal with it at all.

If you can, get a laptop -- even an old decrepit model. As long as it can use a word processor its all you need. Its high on my list of future purchases in order to allow me to easily work in any location, bring game notes with me to a gaming session to get feedback and so on; it is really a matter of convenience more than anything else. Another key purchase you will need to consider is software -- word processing, layout/editing, art creation/editing and other bits and pieces you may need. If you're starting with zero capital like I did, you really need to look at this carefully. Open source software is the best way to go initially (unless you are willing to use illegal software in your business), I almost exclusively used OpenOffice 2.0Beta for my first product "Objective Interim Modern Combat System" and encountered relatively few problems. Another recommendation is to search the shelves of newsagents for magazines which have free software bundled with them. Its cheaper to get an older version of a publishing suite which may have slightly fewer functions (but can be patched up quite significantly) for $10 and a magazine, rather than forking out $500 for the latest and greatest.

Then it really comes down to crunch time. Its time to start working -- but on what? If you're lucky you will have a pre-existing system or setting that you just need to build up a little. If you're unlucky, you won't. Its a big fear that hit me only a few weeks into the business: "What if it doesn't work?" and I didn't mean the business, I meant the system I was creating. What if it was a total dud. All I can recommend is having a community that you can deal with regularly, who are willing to have you bounce ideas off them. You need a group of people who you trust in order to generate feedback on your ideas and designs. This leads me into another very important point: your social life. By running a business such as this, you'll likely be cutting yourself off from the world almost completely. You will be working in your [home] office every day and will have very little human contact during this time. This is something to consider, I failed to completely explore the problems it might cause during my business planning. I know understand them -- you will go slightly mad with cabin fever. You might even get sick of gaming (I know its hard to comprehend) but after a week of editing and troubleshooting your book, a gaming night looks less and less inviting.

Having recently released my first game, I was struck down with the biggest worry of all -- sales. After a few days without sales you might start worrying. I certainly did. My finances (which had included money for a relatively intensive web-based advertising campaign) had been disrupted by my injuring my back and draining my bank accounts in order to pay for physiotherapy. So there went that plan. After a few days I finally got my first sale and it felt good. When reviews and newsletter/coupon deals start appearing then I can hope for more.

The moral of the story: don't start worrying until you really have something to worry about. Most of the time, these worries are already taken care of by the time you start worrying (though you might not realise it). Several times, I got myself all worked up over something that I'd forgotten that I'd already planned for. This is yet another reason to have a good business plan. Fears will destroy your business and you. I had genuine fears about the quality of my system, despite numerous playtests by different groups and constant input from a variety of knowledgeable sources. I'm not going to say something stupid like "believe in yourself" or "go with your gut feeling", but I will say that in my [albeit limited] experience, if you run into a problem that seems to hard -- just stop. Do something else for a few hours. Balance your accounts. Write some fluff. Take a walk. Watch a movie. Then go back to it with a fresh mind and start at the beginning, sometimes you'll notice that its not even really a problem, sometimes the solution will instantly present itself, sometimes it won't. The key is not to get bogged down on something that will result in you destroying yourself as you struggle against it. The amount of times that I fell into this trap and wasted days trying to "fix" a broken mechanic or figure out some piece of minutia (that in the end turned out to be irrelevant), means that I can speak with some degree of authority on it. Losing yourself in one small problem is not the way forward. After all, you've still got a lot of big ones to worry about.

A big worry, especially for those with significant others or families will be time. When you have a break through at 2am while lying in bed awake, getting up and going to work mightn't be the best idea. When you are busy working on a bright idea that you've had and don't want to lose and your S.O. needs to be picked up from work, what do you do? Working from a home office as most people in this situation would can give you a lot of problems in differentiating between "work" and "home". My suggestion, before you do lasting damage to your relationship -- set a schedule for the day and try to stick to it as if there was a boss a few cubicles over watching you like a hawk. It might take some of the fun out of working for yourself and from home, but it can also remove a lot of the problems too. Make sure that when you start work for the day your family and friends know you are at work and to treat it as such, or else you might start getting some bad habits (something else I know all about). Similarly, you have to know yourself when to pack it in for the day and leave work behind so that you can continue with relationships and social lives.

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