Computer game development studios have some of the most complex payroll situations of any business.

Staff numbers surge as projects gather momentum, usually bolstered with freelance staff and contractors.

It’s not unusual for some of those project staff to be overseas, either, whether in California or Mumbai, depending on specialist game dev skills you might need.

In addition, there can be complicated bonus and overtime payments in the mix as launch deadlines approach, with all the late nights and pizza dinners that generally entails.

Apart from the obvious solution – that is, signing up for Alchemy’s payroll service and washing your hands of it all, which is obviously what I’d recommend – there are some things you can do to make the process less painful.

Hire a payroll temp

If you don’t fancy simply outsourcing payroll a smart alternative is to add another specialist contractor to your development project: a dedicated payroll administrator.

If your business is otherwise fairly lean between projects, you might not feel you can justify a permanent finance team or administrative staff.

But it might well be worth bringing in a project-term temp it if it means you waste less time dealing with disgruntled team members who haven’t been paid, or haven’t been paid what they were expecting.

Bringing on accounting staff for the duration of a particular project can be relatively expensive, of course – interim accountants or bookkeepers charge a premium for their time and you’ll probably have to pay agency fees, too.

Use payroll software

At Alchemy, we’re big fans of Xero cloud accounting software and it’s what we recommend for larger businesses.

What some people don’t realise, however, is that there is also a payroll management add-on available for an additional fee.

With the usual user-friendly interface, on mobile or desktop, you can easily set parameters for each member of the development team, such as annual leave entitlement.

It also has a decent timesheet function – perfect for project staff who are charging by the hour, or when you need to track the amount of time being spent on individual parts of the project.

When the time comes for the pay run, you can review the draft payroll then hit a single button to process the lot.

Those are the pros. In terms of cons, it’s probably fair to say that it’s better for simpler pay structures. And though the software does a lot of the heavy lifting, human error is always a risk when you’re entering staff data manually.

That’s especially true, of course, if you’re also trying to deliver your own software product under pressure.

Simplify, if you can

This is easier said than done, of course, but you’ll be in a better place if you:

  • Take care to plan your team structure before the project begins.
  • Attempt to standardise pay bands and terms and conditions.
  • Standardise the payroll procedure and schedule.

Let’s break those down a bit.

First, there’s planning. Of course you can’t always say for sure which skills you’ll need on a given game development project before it’s started. Creative projects have a habit of evolving as they’re under way, or so my clients in the creative industries tell me, as people have cool ideas which are just too good to ignore, or technology advances mid-project and you need to adapt.

Still, if you can hire developers, designers and other specialist staff with the right mix of skills and experience, you might be able to reduce the overall number of people on your payroll.

Secondly, standardised pay bands can be really helpful. Even if you don’t necessarily share them with staff, they’re a good foundation on which to build.

This might mean bumping a few salaries up, or nudging down the salaries for certain roles when you hire new staff to them.

This is easiest with rank-and-file functions, though, and the minute you start dealing with in-demand specialists, you’ll find yourself negotiating complex, varied pay and benefits packages.

Thirdly, and the simplest to implement, is a standardised schedule. For example, everyone gets paid monthly, and everyone gets paid on the last working day of the month.

It’s rare these days for any organisation to do anything different, and game development studios probably won’t have veteran employees on decades-old terms and conditions.

Back to outsourcing

Getting a payroll agency or accountancy firm to handle your payroll is by far the simplest, cleanest approach.

Our approach, like everything we do, is process-based and straightforward.

First, give us details for each employee of salary, hours, student loan obligations, child support requirements, and so on.

Once we’ve got that, we’ll handle all the bureaucracy, from payslips to deductions, along with real-time-information filing with HMRC on the date of pay, as required by law.

We’ll advise on auto-enrolment pensions for permanent staff, if you need it, and can help resolve any queries HMRC might have about pay or national insurance.

It’s about freeing up time and headspace, basically – when you decided you wanted to work in game development, was handling payroll ever part of the dream?

Contact us to talk about our payroll service.