If you’re a video game designer, you may or may not have considered forming a limited liability company (LLC) for your business. The LLC is a popular option for all sorts of businesses looking for asset protection, and it has a handful of other major advantages as well.
Of course, forming an LLC isn’t the only option for your game design business, so our mission is to help you decide if it’s the best choice for you. There are many different factors to consider when you’re forming a business entity for your video game design company, so let’s dive into the details of the LLC to figure out if you should form one.
What Is an LLC?
First off, let’s quickly outline what an LLC is. LLCs are formal legal entities that are typically taxed similarly to sole proprietorships and general partnerships, in that the owners include any company profits or losses into their personal returns — the LLC itself does not owe income taxes. An LLC may also elect to be taxed like a corporation, although this is not a very common option.
There are similarities to corporations too, especially when it comes to financial responsibilities. In an LLC, the owners or members are not usually personally accountable for the financial status of the business. This means that if someone sues your LLC, your personal assets are not at risk.
Why Starting an LLC as a Video Game Designer Is Important
The top reason to form an LLC as a video game designer is to gain access to the personal asset protection provided by this business structure. Whether you’re a small independent designer who makes mobile games or an in-demand designer working on console and PC games, you need the limited liability protections that an LLC can provide.
As an example, let’s say that you fail to deliver a completed program in time, and you force a publisher to miss a deadline. If you operate your business as a sole proprietorship or general partnership, your personal assets — like your house, car, personal bank accounts, etc. — would be at risk if that publisher decides to sue your business.
On the other hand, if you form an LLC for your video game design business, and you operate and maintain that LLC in a compliant fashion, the scope of the publisher’s lawsuit will be limited to your business assets. In other words, your personal assets will be protected by the business structure you’ve chosen.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the advantages of the LLC for a video game designer. Another important aspect is taxation. The LLC actually provides its owners with a selection of options regarding how they want the business to be taxed, which can save you a considerable amount of money compared to simply operating as an informal business entity.
Your video game design LLC can be taxed as a sole proprietorship (for single-member LLCs) or general partnership (for multi-member LLCs), which is the default option. With this tax structure, your design business itself does not pay taxes, but rather the profits are passed through the business entity and you pay taxes on that money when you file your own personal taxes.
You can also choose for your game design business to be taxed as a C corporation, although this option isn’t very popular because it subjects your business to what’s known as double taxation — meaning that your profits are taxed first on the corporate level and again on the personal level when they’re distributed to you as an owner.
The other option is S corporation taxation. There are quite a few limitations to electing S corp taxation, but most U.S.-based video game designers have no trouble meeting these requirements — your business cannot have more than 100 owners, they all must be either residents or citizens of the United States, etc.
S corp taxation can help your design business save money by reducing your self-employment tax burden. Instead of paying self-employment taxes (a 15.3% tax that includes the employer and employee portions of Medicare and Social Security) on all of your business income, you can pay yourself a reasonable salary for your role and only pay self-employment tax on that portion of your income, while you can reinvest the rest of it into your business without paying this tax.
Compared to operating a sole proprietorship or general partnership game design business, the S corp taxation model can save you quite a bit of cash that you can use to buy upgrades for your computer and improvements for your office space, rather than writing a big check to Uncle Sam.
Finally, an LLC structure can enhance the credibility of your video game design business venture. Informal business entities don’t have exclusive assumed business names and typically operate under the personal name(s) of their owner(s). For instance, if your name is Johnny Smith and you’re a game designer, your company’s name is also “Johnny Smith,” which obviously isn’t a great name for a design business.
In this scenario, you could register a DBA (doing business as) name to give your business the ability to operate under an assumed business name, but DBAs have no exclusivity regarding their naming rights. This means that if another video game designer wants to use your DBA name as their own, they’re not only allowed to do so, but they can actually register a formal business entity with that name, preventing you from continuing to use your own assumed name.
With an LLC, you not only have the rights to exclusive use of a business name, but you will also have either the phrase “limited liability company” or the letters “LLC” in that business name. This provides your business with a jolt of respectability because customers respect the professionalism displayed by an LLC. Also, they typically feel more comfortable writing checks to a business entity rather than to an individual.
How to Start an LLC for a Video Game Designer
The formation process for LLCs varies depending on which state you’re forming one in, but in general, the process has some universal steps that need to be taken no matter what state your business is located in. If you want a comprehensive overview of all the steps required to form an LLC, check out our complete guide on the topic. The basic steps in the LLC formation process in any state are as follows:
The 3 Best LLC Services
When forming an LLC for your business, you generally have three main options. You can form your own LLC using the DIY method, you can hire an attorney, or you can hire an online business formation service.
The DIY route can require quite a bit of effort, and if you’re not comfortable with the process, it can cause some undue stress. As for hiring a lawyer, many startups can’t afford to spend the thousands of dollars it can cost for an attorney to form your business entity.
This leads us to the third option, hiring an online LLC service. There are dozens of reputable companies offering this service these days, and they can all save you a tremendous amount of money compared to an attorney. In addition, while these companies may not have as much expertise as an attorney does, they still provide a considerable amount of peace of mind compared to the DIY route.
If you want to take a look at the top options for online business formation services, head on over to our guide to the seven best LLC formation services available. In addition, we’ll briefly break down our top three options on this page. These are, in our opinion, the best options for business formation service:
- ZenBusiness ($39): ZenBusiness truly has it all. They provide complete LLC formation service along with a full year of registered agent service for one incredibly low rate, and they also have stellar customer feedback. It’s hard to go wrong with an offer like this.
- Northwest Registered Agent ($225): Northwest is a bit more expensive than ZenBusiness, but their industry-best registered agent service (included at no extra charge) includes local scanning of every document they receive on your behalf. They also have the best customer support available for LLC formation services. If you’re looking for more of a premium service, Northwest is an excellent choice.
- Incfile (FREE): Incfile has a business formation package that is free of charge, as long as you pay your own state fee. That’s obviously an enticing offer, especially when you consider that they also provide a year of registered agent. Throw in their strong customer feedback, and Incfile is an excellent choice for LLC formations.
Additional Resources for Starting a Video Game Design Business
- Game Developers Conference: The GDC is the largest industry event for video game designers, and their website features plenty of valuable information. They have tons of news items on their website, along with technical guides, design tips, seminars, and more. The GDC even has thousands of audio and video files in their GDC Vault.
- International Game Developers Association: The IDGA is “the world’s largest nonprofit membership organization serving all individuals who create games.” As a member of the IDGA, you’ll receive exclusive discounts on events, conferences, and software tools. In addition, you’ll become part of their global network of game designers, which provides you with invaluable connections and networking opportunities.
- Game Designing: Game Designing may not have the world’s cleanest website, but never fear — they certainly put far more effort into their actual tutorials than they do their own web design. Their site provides links to game design schools, presents a wealth of information for game design careers, and presents designers with an incredible series of “Tools Tutorials” to teach you everything you need to know to design your own games.
- Game Analytics: Game Analytics offers “a feature-rich and universal analytics tool for studios and publishers everywhere.” They collect and interpret game player data to help you figure out who exactly you want to design games for, and they have a broad selection of other tools and insights as well. For instance, their “21 Free Learning Resources for Game Developers” page is a great resource.
- Pixel Prospector: Pixel Prospector’s incredibly valuable website is split up into several different categories: game development, graphics, sound and music, distribution, business, and marketing. Under each of these various headers, you’ll find a deep pool of information that can help you design the video game of your dreams.