By this point, you’ve probably begun making your game. You’re pleased with the results so far, and believe you can commit yourself to seeing this project through to the end.
Then it’s time to get serious and go over some legal stuff you should think about.
First, give your game a title. Or at least a project name, like “Project AwesomeSauce.” Ok, maybe a better name then that. Think about a name that makes sense for your game, and one that feels unique. Google your name to see what sort of things pop up. Be careful not to make your name too similar to other games: a recent example from the “Candy Crush” devs is the idea that a name, and individual words in that name, can be trademarked. Avoid giving other games any ideas on doing such a thing with you.
Speaking of which, you should start thinking about a company name. Have you heard of Notch, Phil Fish, or Jonathan Blow? Probably, because they are all well-known indie devs that are arguably as famous as the games they’re attached to. And yet, the games they’ve made are said to be made by Mojang, Polytron, and Number None Inc, respectively. Saying that a game is made by a company (or at least a pseudonym for yourself) gives a little more credibility. Would you buy a game made by “Jim,” or by “Jimworks Interactive?” You see my point.
Again, make your company/representative name unique. Look it up in Google to make sure it isn’t too similar to others. Use sites like this to help you make something up if you need to.
But making up a company is a little different. Just making up a name doesn’t mean it exists.
There isn’t too much information online relating this to indie artists, but you can make a company that legally exists in the eyes of your town, state, province or country. You’ll need to do some research on the process of doing this with your own country’s government. Canada has a couple resources to help explain the process, involving registering your business name, obtaining a registered business number, etc. Look up what “incorporation” means. If available, ask a trusted friend who studies law to help you out. It’ll probably cost a few hundred dollars, and you’ll have to prepare to fill out additional tax forms as a business.
But why would you bother registering a business? There’s a few reasons:
- it helps reduce taxes on funding and profits you receive for your game. Funding from Kickstarter.com, for example, is taxable, and receiving it under a company helps reduce it a little (seeing it would be used for further business costs and paying staff as opposed to going to one person).
- it helps with legality using loopholes. You can set up your company such that it would take legal blame for any actions made under it. For example, if someone sues you for trademark reasons, your company could go bankrupt and lose any assets related to it. But you, a humble employee or boss under the company would be mostly safe. Do some extra research to clarify the details of this.
- it allows you to avoid using your name. Kickstarter, for example requires you either file your campaign under your name or your registered company’s name (at least for Canadian projects). This is usually the point where you have to give up anonymity and use your name, which can be found by anyone who looks you up, and your project can follow you no matter where you go. It also allows angry internet people to rant about you directly, which can hurt your image. But if you can legally file the project under your company name, it’s harder for people to track you down.
- If you ever do go about the process of hiring anyone, this will, again, make the process a little more legit.
It’s difficult to recommend going through the process of registering a company if you haven’t actually hired anyone or made anything yet. I’ll tell you a little secret: Dust Scratch Games isn’t a official company, at least not in the eyes of the government. I didn’t get that far, but I recommend you do register your business for the sake of not putting your birth name out there, as well as for the paperwork experience. Otherwise, be prepared for schools, employers, friends and family to see everything about your project, good or bad, and be sure to make everything you put online something you can be proud of.
“…I recommend you do register your business for the sake of not putting your birth name out there, as well as for the paperwork experience… “
Why wouldn’t you register a business? It’s probably a pain to do, you’ll have to fill out extra tax forms, and the initial cost and commitment to the company name may put you off. But eventually, you will have to do this before selling your final game (or at least, you are highly recommended to do this beforehand), so if you are absolutely certain you will finish making your game, you should go ahead and register yourself before someone else takes your ideal company name.
In addition, start a website blog to represent your company and game at the very least. I recommend making one site and registering one url for your company, and making pages for your games as part of that one site or as subdomains for your url. Web hosting companies are quite affordable considering, or you can shoot for a free wordpress blog until you can afford for one.
What to put on your blog? The purpose is to generally store progress of your game’s development over the months or years it requires. It’s a good storage space for videos, images, links, files, demos, and other things. Try to update your site every month or two as progress is made. Feel free to add posts about other things you think are relevant (such as your views and experiences of beginning a indie company, such as I have done here). However, be very careful not to turn into a general blog reciting your personal feelings about what you ate for breakfast yesterday. You’re trying to represent a business and develop and sell a game after all. Keep a level of grace and integrity about yourself.
If you get this far, you officially exist as far as the rest of the indie world is concerned. Now you can explore the wonderful world of social media…