100 game dev tips from the UK's hottest studios

100 game dev tips from the UK's hottest studios
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

September 23rd 2013 at 10:00AM

Key advice on how to be a success in the game industry from the Develop 100

Ever wanted to start your own studio? Or perhaps you’re an established outfit looking for advice on growing your games business. Maybe you just want to ensure your next release is a success.

The UK is home to more than 500 development studios, from one-man and small-team indie operations to large development houses, and some of the best are here to help.

Last month, Develop rounded up the best of the country’s teams in our Develop 100 UK Studio Hot List, and many that made that list have come forward with advice on setting up, hiring, managing your studio and developing that game. So read on, for 100 tips from the Develop 100.

6 top ways to market and sell your latest game

“Posting occasional thoughts on Twitter does not a social media strategy make. Run this like any other part of your business.”
Mike Burnham, Studio Head, Marmalade Game Studio

 

 


“If you think your game is worth more than a dollar, or ten dollars or thirty dollars, price it accordingly.”
Cliff Harris, Founder, Positech

 

“Make something people want, talk to them like real humans, ‘fess up when you’ve made a mistake, and you can’t go too wrong.”
Adrian Hon, CEO, Six to Start

 

 

“Make friends with your audience by building in Twitter and FB Like achievements. The direct interaction is invaluable.”
Lorraine Starr, Commercial Director, Yippee Entertainment

“Set up your own website and sell from it, and if you don’t get the nod from Valve, make a different game.”
Mark Morris, MD, Introversion

 

 

“The best way to get your name out there is to go out and meet people. Social media should be an essential part of your marketing.”
Ian Reynolds, Co-Founder, Quartic Llama

 

 

11 tips on how to start a successful new studio

“Focus on quality: quality production values, quality ideas and quality staff.”
Chris Viggers, Studio Development Director, Blitz Games Studios

 

 

“Stay as small as you can, use freelance coders, artists and sound guys when you need them.”
Mark Morris, MD, Introversion


“When you start a new company there’s no end of people telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. If you listened to all of it you’d never do anything.”
Anna Marsh, Design Director, Lady Shotgun


“Know in advance what kind of studio you are: work for hire or own-IP development.”
Alice Taylor, CEO, MakieLab

 

 

 

“Like any business, you should only start a studio if you have a clear vision for the game or games you want to make.”
Paul Gouge, CEO, Playdemic

 

“You need to have a roof over your head and food in your tummy, so get a full-time job, and make games on the side.”
Dan Marshall, Chief Executive of Game Development, Size Five Games


“Be stubborn, because the likelihood of success is so small you’d never do it unless you totally believe in what you’re doing.”
Ian Yarwood-Lovett, Media Director, Soho Productions


“If you want to make games because you think it’ll make you rich, don’t make games.”
Miles Jacobson, Studio Director, Sports Interactive


“If you are starting a new studio, keep the scope of your first game simple, so that you can focus on polish and bug-fixing.”
Sophia George, Chair, Swallowtail

 


“Don’t be afraid to start your own games company straight out of school if you know you’ve got some
great ideas.”
Daniel Da Rocha, Managing Director, Toxic Games


“Have a secure financial store, don’t set out with nothing expecting your games to be able to support you.”
Byron Atkinson-Jones, Director, Xiotex

 

15 handy pieces of core development advice FOR?games studioS large and small

“Prove that your game is fun at prototype level. Content doesn’t fix broken core mechanics.”
Imre Jele, Creator-in-Chief, Bossa Studios

 

 

“Before we start making a game, I like to visualise it as a sequence of ‘final’ screenshots on the target platform. It’s the quickest way to make it feel real.”
Gary Penn, Creative Director, Denki


“Involve localisation as early on as possible in a project to avoid bigger issues later.”
Sophie Butlin, Localisation Manager, Jagex


“If I ever find myself stuck on a problem, I ask for help from the team, and move onto something new while waiting for advice.”
Anna Marsh, Design Director, Lady Shotgun


“Learning from mistakes is essential.”
Jeff Coghlan, CEO, Matmi


“A huge mind-blowing concept that only achieves half its features is not going to be nearly as good as a smaller, focuse, idea that’s fully realised.”
Rahni Tucker, Gameplay Director, Ninja Theory


“Use source control, even if you’re working alone. Source control gives you the ability to try things out.”
Henry Falconer, Lead Gameplay Programmer, Ninja Theory


“See constraints as the foundations for your creative thinking.”
Kate Booth, Operations Director, Preloaded


“Build something you believe in. If you won’t enjoy playing your game, how can you expect anyone else to?”
Chris Southall, Studio Head, Hardlight

 

 

“Get the core gameplay loop in ASAP. Towards the end of production that same loop will be the defining structure of your demo.”
Andy Tudor, Creative Director, Slightly Mad Studios


“Rather than striving for a perfect solution and spending too long on it, start simply and iterate.”
Mark Stanley, Software Director, Lift London


“Be careful in assuming others know better than you, be brave and know that to make a difference you have to find your voice.”
Ben Merrick, Producer, Reflections


“You sometimes need to be brave enough to scrap months of progress if it just isn’t working.”
Dan Marshall, Chief Executive of Game Development, Size Five Games


“Story done well has a very powerful effect on a game. Good writing is a hard skill that can be improved like any other.”
Jim Griffiths, Creative Producer, Mediatonic

 

10 ways to avoid growing pains for your start-up

“Never miss an opportunity to talk and listen to your players. They will give you invaluable insights.”
Imre Jele, Creator-in-Chief, Bossa Studios


“Keep your culture as you grow; it is one of the reasons people like working there.”
Bynley Gibson, Executive Producer, Headstrong Games

 

 

“Try to maintain a healthy spread of skills and experience. Junior members of staff can be just as important as your seniors.”
Tim Coupe, Executive Producer of Transformers Universe, Jagex


“Most of your value is in your ability to create new content, so don’t let anything compromise the integrity of your next game.”
Paul Taylor, MD, Mode 7 Games


“Don’t grow too fast. It will dilute your quality, slow your development process and compromise your culture.”
Paul Gouge, CEO, Playdemic

 

 

“To keep moving forwards, you must be making decisions based on where you want to be, rather than where you are now.”
Ella Romanos, CEO, Remode


“Focus on your core studio beliefs and values, and ensure you communicate these every day through your actions.”
Chris Viggers, Studio Development Director, Blitz Games Studios


"Build a team that can support forward movement while keeping all the right roles filled by people with the skills to do a great job.”
Richard Smith, Technical Director, CCP Newcastle


“Lots of opportunities start to present themselves, and human nature tempts us to try and take every one. That lack of focus can be catastrophic.”
Colin Anderson, MD, Denki

 

“Assume a minimum of a four-year commitment to grow a company.”
Alice Taylor, CEO, MakieLab

 

12 Essential tips on hiring (and keeping) the right team for you and your games

“Hire for attitude, train for skills. You need teamwork over and above hard skills when the times get tough.”
Chris Viggers, Studio Development Director, Blitz Games Studios

“The single most important factor is whether the candidate will be a fit with the existing team.”
Richard Smith, Technical Director, CCP Newcastle


“At Fireproof we were very careful to hire candidates who could keep up with the rest of the team in skill, enthusiasm and love for games.”
Barry Meade, Business Director, Fireproof Games


“Don’t rush hiring, it is worth being understaffed while you find the right people; the cost of a bad hire is far worse.”
Bynley Gibson, Executive Producer, Headstrong Games


“Smaller studios and start-ups need multitalented staff. So look for hires that are eager to learn and expand their knowledge.”
Mike Burnham, Studio Head, Marmalade Game Studio

“Don’t be afraid of people smarter than yourself – just hire them.”
Cameron Yule, Technical Director, Preloaded


“Meet as much creative talent as you can, and meet people even when you
aren’t hiring.”
Chris Cox, Head of Art, Preloaded


“Employing the wrong people is the single biggest threat to your business.”
Ella Romanos, CEO, Remode

 

 


“Always hire people smarter than yourself. Always follow your gut instinct on someone.”
Ian Yarwood-Lovett, Media Director, Soho Productions


“Hiring is the single most important thing you will do as a studio, so take your time and do it right.”
AJ Grand-Scrutton, CEO, Dlala


“You have to actively spot talent and hire whenever they’re available, regardless of whether the time is right for you.”
Colin Anderson, Managing Director, Denki


“Always look for ‘T-shaped’ people, deep knowledge in one area but with a broad range of other experience.”
Simon Barratt, Director, Four Door Lemon


3 Key ways to ensure self-publishing success

“You’ll need someone to work tirelessly on being out there: talking, blogging, tweeting, drinking, partying, meeting, showing, telling, and shaking hands.”
Alice Taylor, CEO, MakieLab


“Do not be afraid of self-publishing. It’s actually easy to do on PC. There are companies that handle the payment side, and you get to keep more than 90 per cent of your hard earned money.”
Cliff Harris, Founder, Positech

“Think as a publisher; sales, marketing, PR, community, QA, localisation, age ratings and customer services specialist. You need to do it all.”
Debbie Bestwick, MD, Team 17

 

9 essential considerations for choosing the right partners

“The right partners are good listeners, and they always look for win/win outcomes.”
Colin Anderson, Managing Director, Denki


“We jumped at doing any work that was out of our comfort zone including casual games, platformers, TV tie-ins, FPSes; anything that we could learn from.”
Barry Meade, Business Director, Fireproof Games


“Think about the longer-term partnership not just the immediate project.”
Simon Barratt, Director, Four Door Lemon


“Network, network, network. You never know when a random conversation can result in a new project, a new backer or a new studio advocate.”
Patrick O’Luanaigh, CEO, nDreams

 

“Do your DD on your partners and their proposed deals. Don’t be romanced into doing a poor deal.”
Paul Gouge, CEO, Playdemic


“Find someone who matches your belief and vision. Working with a partner means compromising, but not on your vision or beliefs.”
Chris Viggers, Studio Development Director, Blitz Games Studios

“The most exciting thing about independent studios is their individuality, so if you are dealing with publishers, make sure you are happy with each and every decision.”
Sophia George, Chair, Swallowtail


“Don’t pick the publisher based on a relationship with an employee who works there. People move on.”
Debbie Bestwick, MD, Team17

 

 

“Remember that opportunities can show up in unexpected places, not just with the bigger studios and publishers.”
Ian Reynolds, Co-Founder, Quartic Llama

7 golden rules for finding the right tech and tools for you

“Understand what you want the tools to do against what the end users experience. Gameplay and content is king.”
Chris Viggers, Studio Development Director, Blitz Games Studios


“Your technology choices should seek to leverage there strengths while compensating for weaknesses.”
Richard Smith, Technical Director, CCP


“If someone else has already made it, buy it. The content you create is what you will be remembered for.”
Barry Meade, Business Director, Fireproof Games


“Consider if you will be able to continue using the solution for multiple projects further down the road.”
Mike Burnham, Studio Head, Marmalade Game Studio

 


“Think carefully about building your own tools. This can be a major asset to any studio, but equally you shouldn’t waste valuable time and resources.”
Paul Gouge, CEO, Playdemic


“I live by the rule that you’re only as good as the tech powering your title.”
Ian Yarwood-Lovett, Media Director, Soho Productions


“Use Unity, build games not technology. Tech is fun but game sales help put food on your plate.”
Byron Atkinson-Jones, Director, Xiotex

 

7 inspirational tips to get you motivated

“Take risks. If you aren’t putting anyone else in the firing line it’s worth taking the chances because they could pay off.”
AJ Grand-Scrutton, CEO, Dlala

 


“Some days and weeks you’ll find that you barely progress at all, and those times are hard. See those days as part of the process.”
Anna Marsh, Design Director, Lady Shotgun


“Keep working on things you love and giving them the attention they deserve.”
Paul Taylor, MD, Mode 7 Games


“Believe in your gut feelings. Enjoy the highs. Ride the lows. Do stuff you enjoy and have fun.”
Oli Christie, CEO, Neon Play

 

 


“It’s easier to get over the fear of speaking up than it is to forget the brilliant games that could have been.”
Ben Merrick, Producer, Ubisoft Reflections


“It’s really tempting to design purely for commercial success, but you’ll never be able to scratch that creative itch that got you into this business.”
Ian Reynolds, Co-Founder, Quartic Llama


“Be prepared to work very hard, especially in the early years, and don’t expect success to be automatic.”
Byron Atkinson-Jones, Director, Xiotex

 

10 studio management rules of thumb to live by

“Embrace mistakes. Make people proud to take ownership of their work.”
AJ Grand-Scrutton, CEO, Dlala


“No matter the short-term pain, always be sure to kill off any source of negativity for your team.”
Simon Barratt, Director, Four Door Lemon


“Be open and approachable to your team; try to be empathetic to an individual’s concerns, problems or feedback.”
Tim Coupe, Executive Producer of Transformers Universe, Jagex


“Everyone is different and motivates themselves differently; it’s a truism, but it’s also an incredibly easy one to forget.”
Paul Taylor, MD, Mode 7 Games


“Create a strong culture and ethos. Employ brilliant and nice people. Look after your team. It brings loyalty.”
Oli Christie, CEO, Neon Play


“Consensus can kill creativity – sometimes the idea everyone can agree on is the worst idea.”
Rahni Tucker, Gameplay Director, Ninja Theory


“A poorly thought out process can cripple teams, but a well structured one can empower them to make better products.”
Kate Booth, Operations Director, Preloaded


“Every two weeks, privately ask each person in your company how happy they are, and what they think would improve their time at work.”
Jamie Walker, Studio Director, Rocksteady

 

“Make sure the whole team believes in it and enjoys what they are doing.”
Chris Southall, Studio Head, Hardlight


“Build around the people you have, and be prepared to be constantly adaptable.”
Ian Yarwood-Lovett, Media Director, Soho Productions

 

11 of the most important business tips for A?successful studio looking to grow

“Get an accountant. You may be able to do the accounts, but wouldn’t you rather be making games?”
Byron Atkinson-Jones, Director, Xiotex


“Everyone has different approaches to risk, and none are right or wrong. But understanding the potential implications of that risk is crucial.”
Ella Romanos, CEO, Remode


“Embrace the competition. If there’s competition, you’re probably working in the right neck of the woods.”
Chris Southall, Studio Head, Hardlight


“Unless you are a businessperson, then the admin side of things is unlikely to be where your strengths lie. We figured out that it was much cheaper and easier to hire someone to do it for us.”
Dan Pinchbeck, Studio Head, The Chinese Room


“This is an ever-changing industry and it’s crucial to be open to that change.”
Jason Avent, MD, Boss Alien


“Observe the herd and do exactly the opposite.”
James Marsden, Director, FuturLab


“The assumption by many devs is that indie games means platform games about your emotions done in 8-bit retro style. That’s a design aesthetic, not a business model.”
Cliff Harris, Founder, Positech


“I’m a big believer in crowdfunding – it’s gotten Six to Start to where we are.”
Adrian Hon, CEO, Six to Start

 

 


“We have done very well at making branded content, and developers should not
be ashamed of working in this field.”
Jeff Coghlan, CEO, Matmi

 


“Be prepared to bin duff projects.”
Oli Christie, CEO, Neon Play


“Your account manager is fundamental. He’s your new best friend. This is where it all starts.”
Debbie Bestwick, MD, Team17