How to plan an indie game on time and budget

by | Aug 7, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

This article is a collaboration with Rupert Ochsner, Game Director at Bonus Level Entertainment.

Hi @everyone 🙂

We are Bonus Level Entertainment, an indie developer from Munich, founded in 2016. We have successfully shipped four titles so far (FOX n FORESTS, Saga of Sins, Finnigan Fox, Shark! Shark!) and are currently working on our new project HeartWarming.

Planning is one of the most crucial aspects of game development, as it is necessary to organize both time and resources as efficiently as possible. For this purpose, the production process plays a relevant role. In this article, we will share valuable insights into how we manage our projects.

1. Remote and under control

We all work remotely (using Discord as our main communication tool) and are happy for this opportunity to give you a quick insight into our way of project management!

Planning your projects is one of the most crucial tasks in game development as you do not want to delay milestones, cut features or, even worse, run out of money and never launch.

While any initial milestone plan may seem tricky, the real challenge is meeting these milestones due to the professional planning of the daily tasks. And this is where HacknPlan proved to be an ideal tool for us.

When it comes to milestone definition, we are pretty straightforward: pre-alpha (first playable), alpha (adding content and features), pre-beta (feature complete), beta (content complete), master (ready to submit to 1st party) and gold master (greenlit by 1st party) are the ones we use. Here are two important pieces of advice from our side:

  • First, you can never plan enough time for polishing, start when the game is 50% playable.
  • Second, make sure to loop in porting and product management for consoles soon enough, starting approximately at the beginning of the second half of your development cycle.

For the development of our latest title – the action-adventure Saga of Sins that launched on Steam, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox Series X|S in March 2023 – we first took the old-school way and used MS Project as a project management tool.

Saga of Sins

Saga of Sins was developed in time, on budget and quality, however in the last month and when quality assurance became an important task, we switched to HacknPlan as it can be used for bug tracking too. We found it to be an ideal tool not only for bug tracking but for managing day-to-day tasks as well as for keeping track of the overall picture while being a fun, easy-to-use and affordable solution!

2. HeartWarming Prototype Development

So, for the prototype of our next game, the action-adventure HeartWarming, we used HacknPlan Studio straight from the beginning as an all-in-one solution for milestone planning, day-to-day task management as well as bug tracking. Here are some insights.

The team members for the HeartWarming prototype consisted of six people: Game Director, Lead Programmer, Game Artist, Programmer (part-time), Animator (part-time) and Producer (part-time).

  • Time: four months
  • Result: demo level

We did sprints that went for one week each, starting with a call at the beginning of every sprint where people can plan their tasks accordingly, including time estimation. In these sprint planning meetings, we also discussed possible issues and created tickets for each team member.

We then had another call later each week, to see how people are progressing, discuss ideas and check if there are any further questions or important topics.

These are the columns we set up for ourselves (HacknPlan is very flexible and easy to customize).

HacknPlan and the columns we set up.
  • Planned: Tickets that need to be done, including description, estimated time and allocated team member(s).
  • InProgress: Once you start working on your ticket you move it here.
  • Approval: Some things need approval.
  • QA: Tickets that are almost completed but need to be double-checked in the latest build first.
  • Completed: Done and done 🙂

We use Fork for our Git source code management and whenever a team member is working on a HacknPlan ticket, she or he opens a new branch in Fork that is called accordingly to make orientation easier.

HacknPlan ticket #651
Fork Branch #651

3. Lessons learned

The most important lessons learned in the course of developing Saga of Sins and the HeartWarming prototype are:

  • Always use a professional project management tool.
  • Work with a producer or a team member truly dedicated to this task.
  • Plan enough time for polishing.
  • Then plan some more time for polishing.
  • Cycle in console ports soon enough.
  • Time track your daily tasks precisely to get a good feeling about how long a task may take and become a pro at time estimating them.
  • Show your game to as many people as possible to gather useful feedback from all different types of players.

HacknPlan plan is a very flexible and easy-to-use tool, so the whole milestone and day-to-day planning for our HeartWarming prototype (financially supported by the FFF Bavaria) were done using HacknPlan and we did finish it in time and within budget.

If you want, you can try out the HeartWarming prototype yourself via our Twitter:

We are now searching for a publisher and hope this blog may inspire other indie devs!

Thank you very much for this opportunity and your precious time.

Follow us on Twitter: @BonusLevelEnter


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