Into the Indies – BattleBrew Productions

Developer: BattleBrew Productions
Person answering the questions: Shawn Toh
Country: Singapore
Most notable games: BattleSky Brigade: Harpooner, Cuisineer

1. What made you want to become an indie dev? 

We were working at larger companies before like Gumi and Ubisoft and we wanted greater creative and financial control, especially over the kind of games we were making. A bunch of us were schoolmates or previous colleagues, and we got along, so we thought, why not give it a try. I think we all also had friends who went indie and who were at least decently successful. We’d heard them complain about tough times they’d been through but… well I guess I wish I’d listened more to those hahaha. That aside, I think as creators the draw of making your own thing and making it with people you are friends with definitely has its appeal.
2. What are some misconceptions you had early on you no longer have? 

Ha. So many!

A big one would be about Marketing. When you’re working as a dev in a large company, sometimes you can afford to stick your head in the ground and just make stuff.
I think I learnt along the way how important every single department is, especially the formerly oft-dreaded marketing department who would come by and ask for extra art assets.

Well, guess what, now not only are you Game Dev, you’re ALSO Marketing.

I think that’s the biggest one – the rest we had observed / were warned about, stuff like – Be prepared for lots of suffering. The game will always take longer to make than you think it will. Concept your game with the marketing and angle in mind. You will come close to running out of money. Sign contracts for everything. Stuff like that.

3. What are three things that you were expecting to be harder and three to be easier but were not so? 

Three Easier:

  • Making the game itself – Yeah if you came from a dev background you can make your game…. Marketing it on the other hand….
  • Getting the game marketed – Okay so it’s always tough to get noticed but I think because we came at production with some notion of production quality and novelty we still manage to get some press. Which as pure devs we really weren’t counting on.
  • Winning some critical acclaim – Again, not expected but we ended up picking up some prizes along the way. That was nice. So, again, i wouldn’t say it’s EASY, certainly not, but it was an unexpected blessing.

Three Harder:

  • Consistently making money – So yeah this is always tough. One game might do well. The next one might flop. 
  • Vastly underestimating the sheer amount of work to do – You’re always wearing many hats. Besides just making the game, marketing and sales and negotiating with publishers needs to happen. And HR, and taxes, and recruiting 
  • Maintenance – Maintenance for the game(s), infrastructure and equipment and most importantly, people. Make sure everything is happy and as stable as can be and not breaking and getting fixed and fed and watered. That also includes you.

4. What was a notable mistake you made and how you moved past it? 

Without going into detail, trusting the wrong people.But you live and learn. I guess this could go many ways – But maybe test some of the folks you work with, business partners and crew. You kind of need to know they won’t drop the ball when the rest of the team is depending on them. Sometimes it MIGHT be their fault, sometimes it’s unavoidable. At the same time, be grateful for everything else that is going right, and sometimes the tough lessons are needed to build a better future.

5. From a financial standpoint, what are your professional insights? Is this a valid career path to pursue or is it reserved for success stories only? 

I’d say, only do this if you have a safety net of sorts. To be fair, for us we could always get jobs elsewhere, so we weren’t as worried about our livelihoods. So that was nice.

I’d recommend keeping your general day-job and making side projects if you can. If that side project gains some very tangible backing, then maybe you can go do it full time.

We obviously didn’t listen to our own advice.

6. Any thoughts and tips on how to build a community around your projects? 

Hmmmmmmm. I’m not sure if we’re in a place to comment about that (are we doing good? I dunno) but we tend to post random thoughts, celebrate shared events and festivals IRL, and offer sneak peeks into the dev cycle through social media. It’s about engaging with the community like ….like human beings and friends.

7. Crowdfunding. Yay or nay and why? 

We haven’t tried it so can’t comment too much. We’ve watched some friends be successful with it and others less so. Mixed opinions, really.

8. What advice would you have for an aspiring indie dev at this particular point in time? 

Be in the indie dev community. Make supportive friends. Doing this alone is super difficult. You kinda need to know you’re not alone.

Know that the deadlines are probably real but that you (and your crew) also have finite limits. Ignoring those leads to burnout.

Try to balance a strategic mindset with the joy and wonder of why you even started this in the first place. Keep the silly alive.

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