Publishing a game as an individual/hobbyist ?

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  • Hi all -

    I am trying to find legal information related to publishing games as an "amateur" / "hobbyist".

    Basically I will soon be in a position to sell a small game I developed but I don't know much about entrepreneurship and legal company stuff.

    This all depends on localisation (Europe here btw) and I will want to see an accountant (or solicitor, or tax/business advisor) at some point, but for now I am gathering information to review the options at my disposal. Additionally, with modern technologies (international distribution platforms, paypal, etc.) it is not always trivial to find tax experts that are also up-to-date on internet specificities.

    The core question could be formulated as : I created a game at home, what is the legal process to sell it ?

    This could also apply to lots of other disciplines (painting, writing, music, etc.)

    From what I've read so far, I see mainly 3 cases :

    • Independent worker, as a main income-generating activity. This is relatively well covered, with lots of suitable business statuses (sole trader, limited company, etc.)
    • Freelancer, working on demand for a client ; btw apparently it is possible to be freelancing while being incorporated or not
    • Hobbyist, producing something of value without any real business structure

    My situation is quite close from the last one, I think ; I don't have an infrastructure (no office, no dedicated hardware, only my home equipment), no order (not creating the game as a request for a client), no fixed working hours (personal free time)

    I am trying to limit the administrative paperwork while remaining on the legal side to sell a product.

    Lots of applications are being published by individuals on a regular basis on many platforms (, gamejolt, etc.), so I'm thinking there must be an easy way, but actually finding the legal info is far from trivial. Most of the websites talking about indie games focus on the development process, not really the legal/business side of things for individuals.

    If I can make a simple revenue declaration to pay the relevant taxes without being incorporated, that would seem like a practical solution.

    Well, if anyone has ever published games as an individual or has experience with this, any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks for reading

  • I've never published a game or have any experience with publishing a game but I have attempted a few side businesses with a few of them being web related. Maybe my advice won't apply and maybe it's not relevant but here goes:

    On the legal side of stuff, don't worry about it yet. How much have you made from your game? if it's zero or close to zero, then don't worry about taxes and the like. If you do start making some money, you can just claim it as personal income and pay your normal taxes until you talk to an accountant. If it's just you, you probably don't need an accountant. Some people going into business for the first time worry about making too much money. Unfortunately, that rarely happens.

    You don't need to worry about legal matters of running a business right now. You need to worry about marketing. That is what you should be making a plan for. Months before your product is released you should be building and executing a marketing plan. For something like a game you could be making a dev blog for it or a dedicated website and releasing screenshots and interacting with people interested in the game. You should be gauging interest for your idea to see if it's even worthwhile and getting feedback from users. You should be trying to build buzz around your product.

    Marketing is the tough part, not setting up the business. Not even creating the product is as hard as the marketing.

    Maybe you are doing all the above and more and I'm preaching to the choir.

    Good luck with it!

  • Thanks for your input, that's very appreciated -

    Indeed, I'm sure the "legal stuff" is all very easy when you have done it at least once ; though for someone who has never been through that process, it's all quite confusing and a little bit scary.

    In my case for example I don't have a company, and I don't even know if my "amateur/hobby" "work" qualifies as a "business activity" ; so there are lots of questions like "do I need a company to sell a product, or can I do it in my own individual name", "without a company, what are my personal liabilities", "with a company, what are my obligations", etc. Lots of things that do not really seemed to be explained anywhere. Especially considering it all varies depending on the country (adding internet, international digital distribution, and double tax treaty agreements making the whole thing a big mess for non-experts)

    I have an appointment very soon with experts, accountant and solicitors, who will be able to tell me how to proceed

    So far I haven't sold anything and I'm not expecting to make much money at all to be honest, but I'd like to do it "right" from the beginning. It's quite easy to just setup an page and a paypal account, but I don't want to go ahead until I have the confidence it is suitable for my situation (and that I won't have to re-do it after creating an actual company, declaring an activity, etc.) and that I don't expose myself to unreasonable risks.

    Also, to make things more complicated, I don't have a "normal job" anymore and I'm just living on my savings, meaning I don't have "normal tax" forms onto which I can claim additional personal income from other activities.

    As for the marketing side, I've been trying to do my best ; building a small community of followers during the development (updates, screenshots, demos, polls, etc.) I had "some" success - but without much visibility in the first place, it's quite hard to go beyond the small circles of indie game devs themselves. As for the press and games websites, I've got my material ready (resources, screenshots, trailer, etc.) ; thought it's near impossible to catch the attention of "big" news sites unless an indie game is already a success.

    Thanks for the contribution ! Updates very soon...

  • I created a company in the UK through Companies House. All dealings were on line, there was a nominal set up fee (IIRC) and that was it: I received emailed paperwork to validate my business name as that of a sole proprietor and I became my company's CEO lol. By registering as a trader you will have to declare tax, though. But technically your government wants a slice of your profits if you create anything and sell it (above national minimum wages). It sounds ominous, but at least in the UK it's quite a simple task - fill out finance reports once per year on line and then submit them. Keep records of what you sell and what you but. If you buy hardware / software you can declare it as a business cost, which offsets against any taxable profit etc. If you don't make any profit then you don't have to pay tax, and if you make a lot of money and are then discovered as a tax avoider, you could find yourself with a hefty back-tax bill...

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  • I looked into sole trader / sole proprietorship, but I don't think it's as interesting in Hungary (where I live now) as it is in the UK. Lots of obligations, and it seems more suited for a full-time activity :/

    I know at least one music composer here who hasn't had to incorporate to be able to sell his creations, while declaring his income to stay on the legal side. That's the kind of thing I'm considering, if applicable to my situation. The experts I'm meeting next week will surely be able to confirm

  • For those who care and have similar questions - the results of my encounter with experts accountants and lawyers

    As I reminder I live in Hungary, therefore statuses are those of the local legislation, but equivalent do exist at least in most of Europe. Not sure about US/Asia

    The status that works best for my case (see initial post, "amateur/hobbyist" without an infrastructure) is "self-employed" (exact term "önálló tevékenységet végző magánszemély", e.g. "individual working for himself", sort of) ; this is roughly similar to "independent", "sole trader" and/or "micro enterprise" depending on the country.

    I only need to register with the Chamber of Commerce to obtain a "business tax ID" ; this is all done WITHOUT incorporating. Invoices, if any, are therefore done with the name of the person, not a company.

    For information purposes, here this costed me ~50€ (25€ administration fee + 25€ as I preferred to have the paperwork done by the accountants as it's all in Hungarian, which I don't speak)

    Without an actual company, constrains are minimal (no business bank account, no payroll, no minimal regular social contributions, etc.) and we are only taxed on benefits (revenue - spendings ; income tax + contribution + vat + etc.)

    Sounds simple enough in principle ! I'll know more about the actual details when I'll go through some figures.

  • Hi, I live in America and I found this forum very helpful and I am equally curious about the legal side of selling a game. But what about other legal hoops you have to jump through before selling? Like copy righting or patenting your product first? I've never had to patent something before so I don't know how difficult or expensive it may be. Also, if I were to hire people for music, art, or voice acting, how would I go about making a legal contract? Is it as simple as writing something down on paper and having them sign it in ink, or is there more requirements?

    Thank you for all the information you've all shared so far. Any more help and answers would be greatly appreciated.

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