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Thread: How do you pay a programmer?

  1. #1
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    Default How do you pay a programmer?

    I'm looking to hire a studio or a group of programmers to design a game, but I'm not sure how to pay them that is both fair to them and safe for me.

    Is there a common method that I'm un-aware of? Do I escrow the whole amount? Do I give % of total amount up front and payments there after?

    Also, should I get a lawyer to copy right and set up a non-disclosure agreements before even speaking to anyone?

    I'm new hear, so hoping to soak some knowledge that I can't dredge up myself on these awesome forums.

  2. #2
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    First off, it's important that you understand that ideas cannot be Copyrighted, and no lawyer on the planet is going to be able to help you get around that. Copyright is automatically assumed by the creator of any tangible work, be it books, games, whatever - it is not a legal process. Defending copyright against infringement, however, is a legal matter, and a potentially very expensive one at that.

    An NDA is your best way forward, but even then if you don't have the money to deal with an infringement then the only purpose an NDA will serve, is that of a deterrent. If someone chooses to breach the NDA, what are you going to do about it?

    To hire a group of programmers and game designers, you're going to need a large bag of cash. I don't know what Canada is like but where I come from, people don't like to work for free so you'll need to be paying them a salary, unless you agree payment on milestones achieved, but that's completely up to you to sort out. Profit share is an option but I don't think you're going to find anybody that will go for this unless you have a very good track record and proven sales stats because ultimately 50% of nothing, is still nothing.
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  3. #3
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    As a freelance (ugh I hate that term) programmer myself, I have a terms and conditions that I use. This is generally provided with and as part of the project scope and quote.

    These describe the payment terms, the ownership of IP, amongst other things like NDA's. I generally ask for 25% to 50% of the project up front, with a number of milestone payments up-front. The percentage of the up-front payment is determined by a number of factors including if I've worked with the client before, the size of the project, or the 'vibe' I get from the client. Believe it or not, some are shady and I have been diddled before.

    My T&Cs are not altogether fixed, I am happy to add new conditions if the client feels they are needed, if they don't affect the balance of power too much. That's not to say I give myself all the power here, I want my clients to come back and they won't if they feel hard done by. I make sure there's enough give and take to make the deal equitable.

    I think this is what you should aim for when looking for a developer/development studio to help you.

    1. Get some references from the studio and check them out.

    2. Get an NDA, designed by a lawyer, signed by the devs, you may find that they will have a reciprocal NDA. After all they will likely have their own code libraries that they use across multiple games. Don't worry about this, it will make the process cheaper.

    3. I'd work with the studio to set up a set of scheduled milestones. Find a studio that uses an Agile development process since you'll get milestones out faster and be able to react faster. And the key, work with the studio to do this. Remember this is a partnership.

    4. When you receive a milestone, test it and when you are happy with it, make the milestone payment. Generally continuation of work is contingent on getting paid so you need to do this fast.

    5. Make sure that copyright of code is transferred for the milestone work on receipt of payment, not at the end of the job. That way if things go south with a particular developer, you own the code you have paid for to-date.

    As Desktop Gaming says, not a lot of developers will do profit share simply because of the risks. You wouldn't believe the number of requests to code for profit share I have had over the years only for the deal to fall apart in the first weeks because the idea owner didn't believe in the work enough to do basic groundwork. I basically ignore that nonsense now unless the proposer is willing to take a risk. That's why the percentage up-front is so important for me. It shows a commitment to the project and to me.

    And he's right. It's not going to be cheap. My rates are about 8-12 times higher than most Indian developers I've dealt with, and even then outsourcing a game to an Indian company is likely to set you back 10K+.

    And that's another issue. Dealing with a foreign developer is going to make the legal issues more difficult. After all, what happens of they use the code they developed for you on another project? How are you going to sue, or even recover damages if you win?

  4. #4
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    Default Thanks so much!

    Wow, am I glad I came here, I wasn't sure I would get an answer, let alone such a well detailed one.

    I'm not sure how far my expectations are from reality. Does anyone know a few games started on budgets around 50k to 100k?

    Is 50k enough to get an alpha build or is this budget too small for anything?

    I was hoping to get an online RPG going, low sprite graphics much like chrono trigger or final fantasy 3 compatible with phones / tablets.

  5. #5
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    How long is a piece of string?

    How much it is going to cost is completely dependent on the game you want to make. The cost of other assets such as graphics, and sound. And the people you are getting to help you.

    By online RPG, do you mean MMO?

    If so, and in any case, I think you'd be better off building an internal team. An ongoing game will need a live team, and for a small business it would be better to keep the same people who developed the game as the ones who maintain and extend it.

    Think about it this way. 50K is what, the salary for one person per year. Double or triple that for one man year using an external studio.

    I suspect you'd be better off building up a small team of people and doing it as an internal project. You'll need to find people who have passion for the project who are willing to work for small wages and the love of the project. Don't find them online, necessarily. Try and make personal contacts. Ask friends and family if they know anyone who might be interested. Hang out at gaming cons and lan parties.

  6. #6
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    Good tips. I was considering hiring someone already in the business to manage an internal team. Is that common or not recommended?

    Sadly the chances of me meeting someone who would be even in the industry in real life is slim to none... I live in a small mining town, everyone here is a miner or banker. (Rich miners is how I'm funding this! lol) And sadly the only gamer is that one guy at the only video rental store who won't stop talking about how much Call of Duty is the best game ever.

    So that sucks, I can most likely get 100k to 200k but everyone wants to see an alpha build with the 50k I got already.

    And thanks again Stropp, any more advice from you I will have to pay you.

  7. #7
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    I can give you my paypal id if you like...

    You might not like this, but if there is noone near you who you can enlist/befriend/hire then all I can suggest is to move to a place where there is.

    For one thing, how are you going to attract new hires to a small mining town?

    Last night I happened to watch The Social Network on TV. Zuckerberg started Facebook in Boston, and his partner spent a lot of effort attempting to raise funds along the east coast. It was only after meeting the Napster guy and moving to San Francisco that he was able to meet the people who understood tech funding and get an investment of 500K.

    If you are serious about building a game business (not just a game) you will do one of two things.

    1. Learn programming and game design yourself and start making games in your garage/bedroom.

    2. Take the investment you have, move to where the action is and hire a team.

    One choice is a lot riskier than the other.

  8. #8
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    Its not possible to hire a team over the net? I kinda figured that, but I had success before with doing comic books, music colabs, etc.. but this of course was a whole new genre for me and I knew the hurdles would be bigger.

    No matter what it looks like my location will be a limit, there is currently no courses here and other then dabbling in GameMaker 8.1 for a while I'm not that experienced.

    But thank you Stropp, I have some hard choices ahead of me I guess.

  9. #9
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    It's easier to find/hire a team over the net, but is it easier to manage a distributed team? It's certainly different than a collaboration. You'll also be missing that face-to-face when hiring that is very important.

    It's always best to go into a new venture with eyes completely open. I know a lot of people don't like business plans, but the process of preparing one can show you a whole lot of things you wouldn't have previously been aware. It will help you understand the risks you face and help you plan for them. I suggest you write one. I'm surprised your investors haven't asked for a business plan.

    I also suggest you choose a simple game idea for GameMaker and complete it. There will be tutorials and forums that will help you, and you'll learn a lot by completing a game.

  10. #10
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    As I said, the investors are friends and family who are avid gamers and helped put this whole idea together.

    A friend suggested looking for a gaming company that already has a game that can be edited / re-skinned to fit our model / design? Is this common / normal?

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    A lot of people mod existing games, but I'm not sure if the developer would like a commercial product made from a mod. However, there is currently Day Z. Very popular, and is an Arma mod. You'd have to look around and see.

    For a middleware solution have a look at Unity 3D. That's an engine primarily but much more high level. There are plenty of user generated tools like RPG starter kits that you can buy. You can even find graphics packs I think. It's pretty decent and may even get you halfway there. Study the forums and wiki to see if you can use it.

  12. #12
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    What skills do you actually have?
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stropp View Post
    A lot of people mod existing games, but I'm not sure if the developer would like a commercial product made from a mod. However, there is currently Day Z. Very popular, and is an Arma mod. You'd have to look around and see.

    For a middleware solution have a look at Unity 3D. That's an engine primarily but much more high level. There are plenty of user generated tools like RPG starter kits that you can buy. You can even find graphics packs I think. It's pretty decent and may even get you halfway there. Study the forums and wiki to see if you can use it.
    Now that's the kind of starting points I was looking for! Going to go look that up! Be back.

  14. #14
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    If you are doing an RPG and want to go the mod route then Neverwinter Nights is worth a look as well. Somebody told me recently that a NWN mod is a prerequisite to applying at Bioware.

  15. #15
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    I'm not sure if you are looking at a business venture or just a very expensive hobby.

  16. #16

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    Hi,

    Paying developer is by milestones and by features delivered.


    If you pay per-hour, it starts to become very expensive hobby.

    The person could actually do nothing and claim to do work.

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