I am starting an independent video game studio. I have a team of around half a dozen people who are currently at work on our first game.
I'm not comfortable advertising the game under the name of the studio since it is not yet a legal entity, so I have decided to form an LLC.
My issue now is how to keep my team of 6 workers as volunteers, not paid employees. The studio will not have income until the game comes out, and I am currently funding the studio/game out of pocket. I can't afford to pay these people out of pocket as well.
At present, everybody is volunteering their time and we have an informal agreement that we will split profits evenly when the game is released.
Can I legally "employ" my team as volunteers? What does this require contractually to be legal/fair?
From what it sounds they're not volunteers, they're partners. They should be members of the LLC, and your work should be based on the operating agreement of your partnership (LLC).
Your problem is a bit different from what you have characterized.
You haven't identified the state in which your are operating. In California (and, I suspect, in some other states), when the parties agreed to split profits they formed a general partnership. This is a really bad situation. Please see Beware the Unintended Partnership.
I realize that you don't have a lot of money, but you need to see a lawyer ASAP before you make the situation any worse.
Disclaimer: This information does not constitute legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.