I’m actually changing up my workflow a bit. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m planning to out-source the programming to a freelance programmer or group of programmers from freelance sites. Originally I was going to try to work in-sync with them, so I’m making the art as they program, because that’s the traditional method, working hand-in-hand and bouncing ideas off eachother. But I’ve got this game planned out down to the pixel in my head and in the Game Design Document, so I know what art I’m going to need and how it’s all going to link together…as long as I provide the resources to the programmer, they should be able to construct the game without me doing more than checking in on their builds and sending lists of tweaks to make.
My first few games will be super simple, so it’s not difficult to visualize them all in my head. I predict that when I DO hire a programmer for this first game, at least 95% of the art will be done and final and they may need a little tweak here and there from me but for the most part it should be a simple process.
This frees me up to design the gameplay and draw up the art for my NEXT game. So my original schedule looked something like:
Since I’m wearing so many hats, I have to cover Design, Art, Music/SFX/etc., Testing, and Marketing myself. Down the road I can out-source some of that but for now I’m the one juggling all of that solo. With the traditional in-sync method I’d bring on a programmer when I had some of the basic art done and work alongside him. Unfortunately that creates this massive block of two weeks where I’m juggling a ton of work all at once. I’d love to say I have the work ethic and amazing unstoppable drive to push through that but realistically after running into that once or twice I would probably burn out. The whole point of starting my own studio was so that I could avoid the ridiculous overtime burnout the game industry is notorious for. I believe that if you schedule things properly, you should be able to create a game stress-free, working normal hours, and if that game sells decent you should be able to take a week off after a project and de-stress before starting the next one…that’s idealistic, I know, but it’s my goal. Except I want a month off between projects. Paid. For everyone in-house. haha
So now as I work on the art and realize just how much of this game is already planned out and just needs to be drawn up, I’m going to be going with something like:
With this setup I’m creating all the resources in advance, and then hiring a programmer once they’re all complete. When the programmer is working on the first game, I’ll have them send me builds daily to test to make sure the game is on track and I can send them a list of stuff to fix/tweak, which should take maybe an hour or two of my day…the rest of the day will be used to design and start the art for the second game. So I’ve staggered my development instead of lumping it all together. I’ll be designing and drawing the next game while the programmer is piecing together the previous game. This results in less “clumping” of my tasks…it also means I’ll have more time to handle any issues the programmer brings up. Like if I convert a bunch of PNGs wrong or have to redraw something, I’ll have the free time to do it, VS the first schedule where I’d be busy juggling finding music and testing the game while I have to suddenly re-convert all those PNGs.
I believe this is the optimal method for my situation. It gives me a week of design/concepts, 3 weeks of art, a week as I finish up the art to get the Music/SFX going, and then I just causally test the game while the programmer develops it and the testing overlaps casually designing the next game and just starting the art. Whereas in the original schedule, I’d have the difficult chunk of doing the art (the middle to end of it which will be the most work) overlapping the testing, overlapping finding Music/SFX…too much work at once for me!
The interesting part is that I still end up releasing a game a month. I still have a programmer hired for 3 weeks a month so if in theory when the programmer is done I can release the game, then down the road my release frequency is the same as before, and I’m still hiring a programmer for the same amount of time/money (if anything I’ll end up hiring them for less time/money because they won’t have to wait on any art assets or anything, it’ll be a quick piecing together of the elements I hand them instead of them having to make or request temporary art and such). By staggering the games, I’ve changed nothing except eased up my workload into something less stressful.
I still love working in sync with an in-house programmer, I think it encourages cool creative ideas to be bouncing back and forth with someone else on a project as you go. But is trying to force that workflow a smart business decision when you’re a solo guy with a limited amount of money to risk, making tiny simple games? Down the road I’ll switch to that model, I’m sure (I plan to write up a post about my plans for studio expansion), but for now I’m interested to see if this works out and I feel like it makes logical sense.