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6 Tips For Outsourcing Game Development (No CS Degree, No Problem)

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As a non-technical sole founder, outsourcing development enabled me to stop waiting and act immediately to bring my game to life. Here are some lessons I learned working with contractors while building my game.

By Stephanie Cheng (Founder, Seesaw Games)

Working with outsourced developers can be a mixed bag. On one hand, it enables you to start product development right away without having to learn code or bring in a technical cofounder.

On the other hand, misstep can be a waste of time and money, not to mention nail-bitingly stressful.

Depending on where you are in your process, outsourcing may be a quick and cost efficient way to get the ball rolling on a functional first version.

Here are some lessons I learned working with contractors while building my first game for Seesaw Games, a game studio that focuses on casual multiplayer cooperative play.

Tip #1 – Vet The Developer

When assessing a contractor, look over their previous products and used technologies. Does their past work resemble what you’d like your final product to feel like in terms of mechanics and functionality? Ask them what platform, engine, back-end server they would use for your product and have them qualify their choices. Requiring them to go through this vetting process while you’re still shopping around will reveal the developers that are serious about making your product.

Tip #2 – Be Prepared

Wise words from The Lion King’s Scar. Before meeting with different contractors, have as many materials ready as possible so that they can give you an accurate estimate. The more fleshed out your ideas, the smoother the process will be and even rough versions of the following documents are better than none: design document, UI flow and mockups, functional specs, sample art assets and reference products.

Tip #3 – Milestones Are Your Friend

Breaking your product into smaller milestones can minimize your initial risk. The first milestone should establish the barebones framework of your product, encompassing any defining features to serve as a proof of concept. It should also establish whether your chosen tech will carry the weight of your final product. Backload your milestones, making sure that the costlier features are part of later milestones.

By breaking the work up into smaller chunks, you can cancel anytime if the developers are not up to scratch or if you decide your product isn’t heading in the right direction. Asking for a fixed bid estimate will restrict the number of changes you can make mid-milestone, but will also ensure that final costs don’t come as a surprise.

Tip #4 – Watch The Art Pipeline

If you have different teams working on art and development, make sure you identify someone who is focused on the art pipeline. Conflicts and blaming often arise when developers and artists aren’t part of the same team and an art pipeline person would facilitate smooth communication between the two groups. They would focus on tasks like asset lists, naming conventions, format, scaling and resolution so that assets are seamlessly integrated into the product without a lot of extra effort from either the art or developer teams.

Tip #5 – Stay On Top Of Communication

This may seem like a no brainer but insisting on up-to-date schedules and regular check-ins is probably one of the most important things when working with contractors. More than likely, the team will be remote so solid communication skills and a good attitude are indispensible. Don’t be afraid to say goodbye if a developer has the technical chops but their communication skills leave something to be desired.

Without good rapport and trust, you will never feel comfortable with the future of your product in their hands.

Tip #6 – Stick To Your Strengths

Don’t worry if you’ve got the technical understanding of a wood chip! Look for someone who can fill in the gaps where your knowledge is lacking and help you identify appropriate technologies and key solutions. Working collaboratively and leaning on your outsourced developers should empower you to take some design risks. After all, they’re here to help you reach your product vision so don’t sweat the nitty-gritty technical details.

Throughout the development of my game, I found that refining my product was the part I enjoyed the most and having a good outsourced team minimized the stress and allowed me to focus on what I cared about. Most importantly, as a non-technical sole founder, outsourcing my development enabled me to stop waiting and act immediately to bring my game to life.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Stephanie Cheng is Founder of Seesaw Games, a game studio that focuses on casual cooperative multiplayer games across platforms. She has been playing games since infancy and wants to bring the sensibilities of her favorite console titles to a wider audience and share the joy of real-time cooperative play. Previously, Stephanie was an analyst and strategic tool-builder at DreamWorks Animation where she worked on films such as How to Train your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda 2.