Budget, Scope and Schedule
I can't help but wonder if how to keep indie dev from not working themselves to death has more to do with learning how to budget, scope and schedule.
Thimbleweed Park (a kickstarted project) was around 6 months late and no one crunched beyond a weekend here and there. How did we do that? We scoped, budgeted and scheduled.
We fucked up a lot of things, crunching was not one of them. It would be nice if the press talked about all the projects that are doing things right, rather than focus on... oh nevermind.... what am I thinking.
It's a crime that so many Kickstarter projects are asking for far less money than they need to finish. It's unlikely they did serious scheduling and budgeting. Or maybe they did and said, "fuck it". That's a problem.
I've talked to a few indie devs that didn't ask for enough money to finish and they say "But we wouldn't get to make the game otherwise." Yeah, OK, fair, but then don't complain when you kill yourself in the process.
It's a big problem that indies can't raise realistic amounts of money to build games. It's a horrible cycle and I've stopped backing Kickstarters where they are not asking for a realistic amount.
Not a week goes by that I don't run into an indie dev that is jumping headlong into a project and they haven't done any serious budgeting and scheduling. The ugly truth is: if they did (and were honest) they would never start.
Maybe that's not all bad.
All we had was a 3-room vertical slice demo, and a pretty clear idea of the plot, but nothing fleshed out. We hit our goal on KS, and being over-funded helped make the game more ambitious, but at the same time we did overshoot our estimate by 1 year (we'll be launching soon). We were fortunate enough to have the best and most patient backers in the world, but we also a) Kickstarted from a country (not ours) with virtually zero taxes, b) we're from Eastern Europe, and a few tens of thousands of dollars here last way longer than in the US or Western Europe.
The one thing I'm kicking myself over was not having the game 100% written and planned out beforehand, which would have made for a much more realistic delivery estimate, and definitely a higher ask... But it's a Catch 22: on the other hand, I couldn't justify taking months out of my life planning and writing something that could have just as easily failed to garner enough interest.
I'd honestly be scared shitless to have to Kickstart now without being an established name in the industry, and I would definitely not do it without a working prototype (look at how that saved Swery's The Good Life campaign). Also, communicating your project effectively is essential. One of my favorite artist's adventure game is struggling on KS right now because they're being too secretive about gameplay, and showing close to none of it.
There's a lot to be said for experience, though. When you're making your first game and you're not a veteran like Ron is, you WILL crunch. I can only speak for myself, I've been on a voluntary 6 month crunch just to be able to have that extra level of polish, but I'm 36 and I feel like my body's starting to go "hey, kinda breaking down here, buddy, can you take it just a bit easier?".
I don't want to dissilusion anyone, and I'm not exactly contradicting Ron, but unless you're already pretty experienced even the best planning and budgeting won't 100% save you from crunch, if you really care about your game and want it to shine, not just faintly gleam. You'd better be 100% commited to give up on pretty much everything else other than your game to even get your game funded, let alone bring it to completion.
Zak Phoenix McKracken
Then, the project raised more funds than required for all of them, and there was room for unexpected improvements/chances, i.e.:
- lip-sync thanks to the contribution of a user reading your development blog
- porting to Xbox
- demo events
Even if you plan everything, in every tiny detail, there is always something unexpected that changes your plans.