From an Indie Dev: How to compensate artists with limited resources

Discussion in 'Public Game Developers Forum' started by rcloudsoftware, Mar 1, 2009.

  1. rcloudsoftware

    rcloudsoftware Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2009
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    Hi,

    I am an indie game developer, and am producing my current project Spellwars on basically no budget. I am between large contracts, so I have a lot of time to devote to it myself, and I'm making great progress. I will need to bring in more engineering help before I launch it probably, but for now I'm ok in that department.

    Where I am in desperate need of help is in the design/art department. I need to get contributions from some artists and designers, but I have more or less, no capital to speak of. I am trying to figure out how I can manage to get the contributions I need, with the resources I have. My options, as I see them, are:

    #1. Get more resources. Get some funding, take out a loan, go further into debt, whatever...just find some money somewhere, and pay my designers well.

    #2. Find creatives who will contribute for minimal cash up front. Use online contests or some other such mechanism. The types of motivations for these types of people would be to build up their own portfolio, to have their art/design work in a game. Basically they'd be doing it for the love.

    #3. Offer percentages of revenue to artists. This can be combined with #1 and #2. I want to get small contributions from a lot of artists, ideally say 2-5 pieces of spell art per artist, and maybe 20-30 artists. I'd like 1 or 2 lead designers, but the bulk of the work is going to be highly distributed...which doesn't lend itself well to the stock option approach.

    #4 Offer future work at fully-compensated rates. Again can be combined with the above. It's not ideal, but at a certain level, it's one of the most compelling offers I can make. It requires artists to "buy into" my vision, and I think there are a lot of people who just want to get paid and be on their way. And I totally respect that.

    I would really, really like to go route #1, because I believe in paying a fair wage for a fair product. I'm just not in a very good position to be able to do that for the first release. For future expansions, once I've had some success that produces some capital, I can reinvest and pay my artists well. But I'm kinda between you know, rock and a hard place. I want to be fair to everyone, and I want my project to see the light of day and hit the market...and I'm willing to do whatever it takes, I'm just not sure what the right route is.

    So, what do you guys think? For developers, how do you work with your designers and artists? For artists/designers, what is the most appealing offer than an independent developer with limited resources can make? Help me understand what works and what doesn't for people in the design world, and what sort of agreements are standard and acceptable.

    I've been on the other end of engineering contracts for a long, long time...I know that I typically want cash up front, rev-shares and having to buy into someone else's vision is usually worthless.

    Thanks
    Ryan
     
  2. indyraider4

    indyraider4 Well-Known Member

    Feb 8, 2009
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    I checked out your blog and have to say, you really do need those people designing graphics! The game doesn't sound bad, but you can definitely tell it is a work in progress. When it is nearing its final form, I would be glad to edit a video for it for the small price of $0.00. Just PM me when you are starting to wrap up development, or even sooner. (if I don't scout you out again first:D) I am going to start to follow the game and I would pick the contest first, but maybe go for a percentage if you don't get everything you need from that.
     
  3. WellSpentYouth

    WellSpentYouth Well-Known Member

    Jan 11, 2009
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    iPhone programmer
    App Tech Studios, USA
    One thing, DO NOT GO INTO DEPT. That is the best advice I can give.
     
  4. Zwilnik

    Zwilnik Well-Known Member

    Team up with one talented artist and offer them a good cut (in the region of 50% of profits if they're good). It's a lot easier to organise things when there are just 2 of you and with a single good artist you should have a consistent art style rather than a mix of different styles.

    Don't pay up front, and make sure that you can work well with the artist.
     
  5. rcloudsoftware

    rcloudsoftware Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2009
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    Yea, I kinda hoped those terrible screenshots would inspire someone with the skills to make the presentation look as good as the game mechanics behind them. :p

    Thank you for the video offer, I would very much appreciate that. I'm still probably a couple months out from launching, depending on how busy my other paid work is. I am hoping that once I get the game off the ground, it will generate enough money that it will become my primary job, as well as provide employment for others...the shared dream of all independent game developers. :D

    Thanks
    Ryan
     
  6. kuler51

    kuler51 Well-Known Member

    Feb 17, 2009
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    Please read my pm. Hope I can help at all...
     
  7. lithiastudios

    lithiastudios Well-Known Member

    Jan 9, 2009
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    One option on a limited budget is to buy art from a stock photo agency like Shutterstock, Fotolia, etc.. it costs less than commissioning artwork for your game.

    If you have close to zero budget, you may have luck finding someone to do work with revenue sharing.. Indie Gamer routinely has posts with artists looking for work:

    http://forums.indiegamer.com/forumdisplay.php?f=20
     
  8. precV

    precV New Member

    Feb 5, 2009
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    Hi, I can offer some comments as an artist/designer. But right off, I'll say that I'm not your average artist. For one, I'm employed full-time as an artist/designer. I also come from an engineering/tech background and can actually code. (Not a whiz, but I can code) On top of all that, I've only done a small amount of freelance graphics work so I can't relate to what a "hungry" artist's viewpoint may be.

    But, for me, option #1 is a no-brainer. That would obviously be the preferred arrangement. I don't want you to go into debt, but my time is valuable. It would take a special project to sign up to your option #3. A very special project. (And there would be some careful wording in that contract.) I have no idea who would sign up for #2 (or #4), but I would advise them against it. It is the never-ending battle us creative professionals face. I'm passionate about my art and talents, but the general idea that I would work for free or well below normal rates because of my love for art is, frankly, insulting. It is difficult to get people to understand the value of my work. (I've had people ask me to design logos and web graphics for them, because they thought it would be "fun" for me) There are better ways to flesh out a portfolio.

    What is it about artwork/graphics that leads to these creative offers? If you did not have the resources to purchase a mac for the software development, would you ask the Apple Store to accept a promise of revenue-sharing or possible future payment after this project was completed? Ok, that may be stretching things a bit, but this is about value. Design work should have value at all times.

    When artists work for peanuts (or worse, free), I feel that it erodes our industry. And I can't help but think that, later, when peanuts ain't cutting it anymore, those same artists are going to be frustrated by other desperate artists who are now undercutting *them* and working for less-than-appropriate rates.

    It's a tough gig working as an artist/designer. I think that some of those who have only been in the graphics/design field all of their careers just accept much of the treatment they receive from clients, and worse, the often poor compensation. When I left engineering to work in the design field, I was appalled at the condescending attitudes, the misconceptions about the challenges designers face, and above all, the difficulty in moving up the pay scale.

    Having said all that, I realize that you're facing a challenge and that you're just exploring your options. It really does sound like you value good design, but are in a bind. You've even pointed out that you realize others may not care a bit about "buying into your vision", so you're aware that there's more than a good chance that successful, top-of-the-line designers are not going to falling over themselves to accomodate you.

    I hope you don't mind my mini-rant. I understand where you are coming from and just wanted to give one artist/designer's opinion on the matter. I feel strongly about design as a profession and felt compelled to comment.

    Good luck finding an artist.

    -John

    PS- Please consider naming your game something other than Spellwars. Before I looked closely at your blog, I thought for sure it was a game about spelling! :)
     
  9. blue ox

    blue ox Well-Known Member

    Sep 18, 2008
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    John,

    I had to read your post twice, because I thought you were talking about the App Store! :eek:

    Share and enjoy,
     
  10. Birdsoft

    Birdsoft Well-Known Member

    Oct 16, 2008
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    Developer
    Wisconsin

    Ummm.. I see your side of things BUT... this is the AppStore. This market is a huge risk and by not taking #3 into serious consideration you just think that the developer should take ALL of the risk.... A lot of us have quickly figured out that even with good graphics and a good game this market is overly saturated, so yes money can be made(or good games can flop), but its like a lottery to really make anything to pay the type of salary that your work deserves(or ours).

    Which basically handcuffs the developer into risking getting no compensation for their arguabley AS if not MORE valuable time to nothing if the game doesnt take off... I have a feeling not all graphic designers have this same attitude that have not been getting paid from other markets, or have been seeing less work. I would guess some of them would be willing to "Scratch the lottery ticket" with us... At least I hope so, since Im looking for an artist for the next big thing right now too... :)

    So I would avoid the "debt" route too!
     
  11. lazypeon

    lazypeon Well-Known Member

    It'd be nice if Apple had a way to split revenue (if they don't). If I were an artist, I'd be concerned about getting my split -- how do I know how much the developer is really making? If the store were arranged such that you assign percentages to people, you might see artists working for a split cut.

    I agree it's frustrating to shoulder all the risk AND pay an artist. Part of that, though, is the developer is also usually the 'designer' of the game. If an artist approached me with an idea and say "hey program this for me", I'd also expect some money up front. Instead, by doing the hiring / contracting, I call the shots and retain the right to my IP.

    Anyway, just my 2 cents. I've been thinking about contracting some art from some pixel artists. You can usually find some pretty talented people who work for reasonable rates on the various pixel artist forums. There's been a ton of work for them recently -- lots of 'iPhone project' posts.
     
  12. blue ox

    blue ox Well-Known Member

    Sep 18, 2008
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    The developer could put your name as a user on his account, which would allow you to see the sales reports.
     
  13. Sense Field

    Sense Field Well-Known Member

    Jan 4, 2009
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    #13 Sense Field, Mar 5, 2009
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2009
    We don't know if your idea is the next big thing. That's what you think. Who's to say that the collective is going to agree?

    Who are you to say your time is worth more then mine? The audacity. Do you even know how much we Graphic Designers make?

    08 Salaries according to the AIGA:

    Solo Designer (freelance)=55-80k year
    Owner of small firm=95-150k year
    Creative Director=90-120k year
    Art Director= 68-85k year
    Senior Designer=58-75.5k year
    Designer=43-52k year
    Entry Level = 32-40k year


    Pretty much just like any job...including programing jobs.

    I don't think it matters what it is. It's a job that you want to contract an artist for. It's your concept, you need the art for your project to even be taken seriously. It's a matter of doing all that you can to get your app to sell. It's YOUR app...not the artists. You need to offer either flat rate or a slightly lower flat rate with revenue sharing.

    It's a misconception that artists just draw all day and enjoy it. We do our job like anyone else. At the end of the day, as a Graphic Designer, I don't really care to do design after work. I turn down freelance jobs because I don't really need the paltry pickings they offer me. In plane english: Doing our job is no more fun, no more less stressful, and just as much a career as your job is.

    Like any business venture...you have to lose money to make money. Your right, this is the app store...you have the ability to make a ton of money (if your idea is good enough) on something you built in your basement.

    I myself started a company with my brother. See, I needed someone who could program. He needed someone who could do art/marketing/application design and most of all...he needed ideas. He had his own ideas, but the mind of an artist is different then the mind of a programer. He handles all business/banking related items and all programing duties.

    Your best bet is to start a company with someone who compliments your skills. Make a perfect sandwich. Share revenue 50/50 and bring to fruition both your ideas and your partners ideas.

    good art is not free, it's not cheap, and you always get what you pay for.
     
  14. Sense Field

    Sense Field Well-Known Member

    Jan 4, 2009
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    I don't think it matters what it is. It's a job that you want to contract an artist for. It's your concept, you need the art for your project to even be taken seriously. It's a matter of doing all that you can to get your app to sell. It's YOUR app...not the artists. You need to offer either flat rate or a slightly lower flat rate with revenue sharing.

    It's a misconception that artists just draw all day and enjoy it. We do our job like anyone else. At the end of the day, as a Graphic Designer, I don't really care to do design after work. I turn down freelance jobs because I don't really need the paltry pickings they offer me. In plane english: Doing our job is no more fun, no more less stressful, and just as much a career as your job is.

    Like any business venture...you have to lose money to make money. Your right, this is the app store...you have the ability to make a ton of money (if your idea is good enough) on something you built in your basement.

    I myself started a company with my brother. See, I needed someone who could program. He needed someone who could do art/marketing/application design and most of all...he needed ideas. He had his own ideas, but the mind of an artist is different then the mind of a programer. He handles all business/banking related items and all programing duties.

    Your best bet is to start a company with someone who compliments your skills. Make a perfect sandwich. Share revenue 50/50 and bring to fruition both your ideas and your partners ideas.

    good art is not free, it's not cheap, and you always get what you pay for.
     
  15. Birdsoft

    Birdsoft Well-Known Member

    Oct 16, 2008
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    Wisconsin
    #15 Birdsoft, Mar 5, 2009
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2009

    I think what you mentioned 2nd is mostly how most of us would love to operate. Its not just our ideas(it may be our first idea but that can even change). Id gladly share ideas, and we all know that the art direction can steer a project all over. So it would no longer be just MY app. It would be OUR app if we are sharing revenue and its dependant on your artwork... In 90% of iPhone situations this isnt a console thing where the game is completely designed and you are just a tool to get there... But it almost sounds like some guys want to be.

    And I guess what I do Im passionate about, so I will code on the side after coding at work all day. I myself am looking for someone else like this...

    And no, if you do it right, you dont have to lose money to make money.

    But then you have been on the other side too, so did you lose money with your brother. I think there was a level of give or trust there that you would allow you to take the risk but now you say you wont do it with other people ever. I have a feeling thats not all graphic artists opinion....

    If you dont take some of the risk, you wont really reap any of the rewards. Id be TICKED right now if I was the graphic artist on Pocket God and I didnt take a smaller upfront and some revenue share if it was offered to me!!


    [edit]
    Wow, missed the first bitter post... Just read the 2nd one.. I never once mentioned not paying an upfront fee with revenue sharing. And never said Im worth more than you (thats what "AS" means) though in pure overall market salary averages it does point my way(and likely I will put more hours in on a project than you, especially in your case where I have to handle all finances, business etc and do already do marketing and some design)!! But, I am saying for him it doesnt make sense to go into debt.. And Im glad you are proud of your career(though seemingly not passionate by that one paragraph) and have been successful at it, but I have a feeling there are a whole lot more good starving "Freelance" graphic artists than there are good Software Developers. Just a fact of the market. You're right I couldnt afford you.

    And I said "the next big thing" tongue in cheek... It could be, if I have the right collaboration. The idea is sound but it can be changed if need be!


    Exactly!! Though Im not sure where the rest of your rant matches this opinion!!
     
  16. Sense Field

    Sense Field Well-Known Member

    Jan 4, 2009
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    #16 Sense Field, Mar 5, 2009
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2009
    I can't really follow what you are saying here. A tool to get there? Not a Console? Share Ideas? In a partnership, like a company, ideas can be shared. As a hired designer...it's you tell me what you want and I do it. Art direction does not steer a project...the project steers the art direction. What if I said that you are just a tool to get there? Face it...we are both equally valuable tools in a box that are vital for creating a successful iPhone app. The sooner you realize this the sooner you will find success.

    I come home from work and do art/concept outlines/sound effects/Marketing plans/phone conferences/ face to face meetings. I do it because I am passionate about my work. Because I am working to a common goal with my partner. I go to sleep at 2am wake up at 7:30, work from 9-5 sometimes more if we have deadlines...come home and do work on my company...start over again. I have passion for things that are equal fair partnerships and for things that pay me what I am worth.

    Tell me how to do it right then? You have fees to start your company, fees to become a developer, marketing money (advertising does work...look at the program "100 sounds") plus if you add up all the time we spent. We are working on our first project...both me and my brother have put in about 50-60 hours each so far...we have been working on it for two weeks. We launch in about a month or so. So yes...you lose money to make money. As soon as the app launches we will pour money into some advertising solutions that I have lined up an see what happens. If it doesn't sell...then we are out money and on to the next idea. We have about 18 ideas in queue right now and will just keep going until something sticks. Eventually something will stick.

    There is a level of trust...not because he's my brother...because he's an IT wiz. 12 companies came after him at graduation...he went with IBM...was there for 7 years...left for other more lucrative IT endeavors with a television company. He got this first idea up and running faster then I ever thought he could. His resume spans 5 pages. You get the trick...he's pretty damn good. And of course he's my brother. So yes there is trust.

    Now would I ever go on a similar endeavor with you? I sure would if you were willing to invest as much as I am into a company...both money and time. If I believed in your idea...if you believed in my ideas. I'm actually currently contracted out to a company as a project manager...working with a programer in florida on an app. So yes...I'm open to working with anyone who realizes the value of any of my skills.

    I believe they are a partnership similar to mine with my brother. If they were not...I'm sure all those updates would coming at a much higher rate. I would also say that those updates are the reason why the app is so popular...I don't think the programer drew that shark. Speaking of that game...do you think it would be nearly as successful if the art wasn't fantastic? it's a great idea...but we saw the same idea come from the developer of the old Dreamcast game "seaman" it looked horrible in that iteration. Pocket gods art work and animation is superb...the leaves floating up when a shark eats one the islanders...it's little details that people would miss if they weren't there that make it special.

    Edit:
    A one job, one time contract = paid upfront or paid upfront with revenue share
    Forming a company as a partnership = 50/50

    I didn't mean to come off so bitter...I apologize...I just hate this stigma that anyone in an art field has less worth then others. My coworker actually dresses in a suit every day because he's just out of school and the perception of his career by his friends was that it was more of a job and less of a career...this prompted him to start dressing like his friends in order for him to feel more professional. That to me is ridiculous.

    The simple fact is that I know how much programers make...the good ones and the bad ones...and they don't make much more then us designers when compared in similar states of power on the ladder of success.

    I happen to be fortunate to be in an area of the business where I do much better then most. But in general...we make good salaries. I do charge about $80 an hour give or take for freelance work. Of course...like in any job...an artist that is out of work may work for less to make ends meet. Recently my company bid on a job and lost out to a programer that was out of work and needed to pay his mortgage. It's the same in any field.
     
  17. Birdsoft

    Birdsoft Well-Known Member

    Oct 16, 2008
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    Wisconsin
    See, Im not sure where you're post was coming from then. Did you read just my post and took it out of context and not the original post. This is a guy that knows coding is doing a side project that hopefully he can make sucessful. Yes, he has to invest something into this (so in that sense he is out the $100 and the worth of his time and if he didnt own a Mac..). But he should not be taking out loans to get money to pay an artist in the hopes that his first idea makes it big. This market is too risky for that! And he seems to be asking out right hat he wants collaboraters as well!! NOT just his idea alone! Not just hiring for HIS project. But yeah, his original idea.

    So the rest of your defending an artists pride, when you are actually taking the same risks with your brother, who Im sure is equally as talented, means you are staring at the same things this guy is(though you arent hiring anyone or taking out a loan to hire someone on your first idea, and you have 18 more if this one doesnt make you any money). You are scratching the lottery ticket.

    Id love to actually see the numbers on '100 sounds' to prove that in this market it paid off enough... I went with my companies established advertising too and it is just hard to make it not cost prohibitive at these low price points for the volume that it creates. Im sure its been successful in some cases but most it isnt...

    Now yeah, if you are talking to someone who is acting like a big studio with VC money or something, then you can hope to be treated like the console market, but otherwise in the situation this thread is about, the people would be more than just tools to get a specific pre-defined objectives done.

    He needs artist(s), and he has high hopes. But though he seemed to get it, I tried to give him a little bit of helpful reality check info. I wasnt attacking artists, just pointing out to the artists that seem to be fighting the stigma, that this thing isnt necessarily a cash cow...You realize this, but yet you defended anyway...

    So if there are any really talented artists on here that want to collaborate on "the next big thing", Im looking for a good one too. My photoshop talents only go so far and realize that you deserve what you put into the project... :)
     
  18. Sense Field

    Sense Field Well-Known Member

    Jan 4, 2009
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    Well said...

    I can get pretty verbose when it comes to defending my career and those who share my career. Perhaps I was a bit overzealous.

    Yes there are risks but not nearly as big risks as in other markets. Alot of the risk is time...the simple answer is to create a company with a single artist who will do all the art for your current a future work. Any Designer should also be skilled in marketing which is needed even if you aren't advertising. You have to know what your target market will and will not be attracted to.

    As far as taking loans out? Sounds to me like it's more of a statement to strengthen the fact that he doesn't want to spend a lot of art. Stating emphatically that you would have to take out loans to pay an artist gives any available artists low expectations for monetary gain.
     
  19. rcloudsoftware

    rcloudsoftware Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2009
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    #19 rcloudsoftware, Mar 8, 2009
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2009
    On one hand, I'm glad my post sparked such an...involved...conversation, and I hope you all had a nice cathartic moment somewhere in there.

    But honestly, I think maybe I didn't really communicate my point very clearly (that or no one really cared to answer it), because most of the conversation really had nothing to do with my original question...(yes, I know, what do I expect from an internet forum.) But actually, I expect a lot from this community, because it's generally full of useful, intelligent, adult-acting human beings. And some of you did have great things to say that I took to heart (Thanks Birdsoft, among others); no I don't seriously consider going into debt, I was just listing all possible options for the sake of completeness.

    So I'd like to attempt to steer this conversation back towards what I was going for, and try to quickly clear up some misconceptions.

    I am an independent developer, and I am not devaluing, nor attempting to rip-off, an independent or freelance designer or artist. I have extremely high respect for the design profession, naturally I just do, I am also an artist in my own right (a rank amateur artist, but still an artist), and working for Adobe Photoshop and illustrator exposed me to the design profession and those individuals who comprise it in such a positive way that when I say I value what they do, believe me or not, I really, really do.

    I have no interest in insulting anyone's profession, nor generating defensive posts where anyone feels the need to justify their existence, their profession's rates, the value of their contribution...whatever. I could try to convince you that I really do value all of it, but honestly, that's not my point...and neither you nor I particularly care.

    What I was hoping to generate, was a discussion of creative uses of resources. A discussion of how to make a project happen when you can't just fat-wallet bankroll it. I know that many of you have done just that, or participated in a project where someone else put it together without a massive budget...and I want to know what are some of the things that make it work. What kinds of things can you offer in return that people want besides the money that you don't have. What sorts of micro-funding, or angel-funding options are out there, that people have taken advantage of successfully (like y-combinator, for instance).

    As a community of developers, designers, and other game-interested parties...it seems reasonable that between us, we can come up with some ideas about what it would take for us to work on a non-funded project. And since many of us are running those sorts of gigs at the moment, the answers are very important to our projects and businesses.

    At the end of the day, with this project, I really just want to produce a game that ****ing rocks. (See my most recent article here) I'm not so much interested in "the next big thing" as just "a damn cool thing" that makes my players happy and makes me some money. I don't need to make the next World of Warcraft to be successful or satisfied. My personal standards are high enough, I don't need to impose some ridiculous impossible to achieve external pressure. I want a game that stands on its own merit, that regardless of what anyone else is doing or has done, can be looked at, analyzed, played, explored, and enjoyed in and of itself. I want it to be sustainable, economically viable, because otherwise it's not a good endeavor for anyone. And I fully believe I can do it...with the help of a supportive community, that I in return give back to.

    And if it fails, then like I've done every time before, I'll take my lessons learned, become that much wiser, and begin the next endeavor that much better off.

    Thanks
    Ryan
     
  20. HandheldGames

    HandheldGames Well-Known Member

    Nov 15, 2008
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    CEO & Founder, Creative Director, Producer, & Desi
    Lynnwood, Washington
    #1 control your content. you want to do too much at first.

    #2 Think episodic. How can I pull this back into something fun. that can be upgraded and expanded over time.

    #3 Test the market - if it sells - use the $$$ to develop it further. If it tanks - you've only invested a smaller amount of money.

    #4 communicate your ideas - even with stick figure drawings. Words and words and more words - will leads to lots of rework. A picture is worth a 1000 words. A 1000 words with no pictures = confusion.

    Best luck!
    Thomas
     

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