Thinking of opening your own studio? Developers that have already been through the journey, those that currently are and a range of industry experts share key insights into starting on your best foot
As a start-up resources and money are usually tight. Use these constraints to your advantage by focusing on the most important aspects of your game, which in our case has always been the core mechanic or ‘hook’.
It’s important to differentiate between the necessities and the nice-to-haves.
Virtual reality developer
Talk to lots of people; a connection here or there can make a huge difference. Be flexible; if your dream is to create an amazing zoo manager game, and a surfing game comes up, don’t dismiss it. Maybe you can make it an animal surfing game and suddenly you are halfway to your dream. Karma exists and is very real. Be nice to everyone and try to help them. At some point someone will reciprocate just when you need it most and you’ll be very very happy.
Director and Co-founder, Team Junkfish
Learn how to handle basic accounting and cashflow. I would recommend that start-ups have a decent handle on the admin side of things, especially for grants, payment processors, storefronts and the like. We’ve learned from our own start-up roots that someone will end up dealing with this as a major part of their role, and it will continue to grow as the business develops.
Game Designer, Night Work Games
You don’t need any money. Just do it. You don’t need to get Kickstarted. You don’t need to get funding or anything if you’re just making it. You want to start small? Just make it. Find friends that will commit to that time and the development cycle. If you’re making the game and you have friends who are working on it at home or in the same spot and you guys can actually launch it, whatever happened during that dev cycle maybe created a company. You might actually find the people that will stick with you and go through this ordeal, and you’ve made a company just by making a game. It gets out and then you start from there. If you do it in your spare time, you don’t owe anyone anything. You don’t have someone owning a piece of your company or anything. You did it all yourself, so you own it all.
CEO and Co-founder, Hertzian
Engage with your local community. Find like-minded people near to you, use their experience. As a start-up in a remote location – Cornwall – attending a small monthly meet-up has meant that not only have we been able to tap into the knowledge and network of the group but, when it came to the point where we wanted to build the team, we were able to access an established pool of talent.
Chief Creative Officer, Armada Interactive
This is my third start-up studio, and hopefully it’s the charm. It certainly is the best studio I’ve ever co-founded, and the reasons are simple. One: all key roles and competences are filled. Two: everyone has a concrete view of their tasks. And three: the scope of our first project is very clearly defined. If you lack any of these three key components, chances are that your studio will be in trouble at a certain point.
Developer and Owner, Tikipod
Be realistic about what you can make. It can be hard to maintain enthusiasm/momentum over long projects. Log development time spent, it can help with future projects to both calculate if it was financially viable as a full time job and to see where some aspects of development may have gone out of control – so you can handle them better next time.
Founder and Director, PaperJam Games
For any start-up studio, it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll need to pitch your game to somebody else. In my view, you shouldn’t even consider pitching your project until you have the following assets: a prototype build, concept art and a design document. That may sound like a lot of ‘busy work’, especially when you’re excited to just starting talking to people about your project, but there’s no better way to make a positive impression at a pitch than to have all the angles covered. A prototype build will demonstrate core game mechanics better than any verbal description, strong art concepts will help an audience visualise the final game and a design document – even a first revision – will help you really understand the game you’re trying to pitch and, ultimately, make.
Design, Code, Writing, Northway Games
My best tip is to make sure you are doing something original that you’re passionate about. If you want to do something because a bunch of other people are doing it and making money then that thing is probably over. Find a meaningful twist or a new way of looking at the world that you’re excited about and want to dedicate years of your life to.
MD and Producer, Abyssal Arts
Be ready to roll with the punches. If you’re underfunded, be prepared to take on contract work to keep yourself going.
If you don’t have the skillset to do something, contract someone who can – don’t cheap out – and if those options don’t work, be ready to learn and do it yourself.
CEO, Ansible PR and Communications
I work with lots of start-ups and the one big piece of advice I always tell them is secure your vanity URLs before you start. Even if you don’t have a comms plan in place, and may never use some of those channels, owning them is really important and will be much cheaper in the long run – no imposters. Obviously, getting a comms plan in place from day one, and working out how you are going to tell your story along the way is the very important next step.
MD, Cardboard Sword
Find someone or nominate someone from your team to be what we fondly call your ‘Business Lizard’. This person will be your external producer, biz dev, PR interviewee, trade show ambassador, accountant, lawyer and company manager. All of these roles need to be covered by a confident and extroverted person. Hiring someone like that is prohibitively expensive, so get one early. If that person happens to be your lead coder, you no longer have a lead coder; if it’s your designer, then you need a new designer. Any ideas that these roles can be handled by your current team, without someone dedicated to the role, will quickly be quashed the moment you find any form of success.
Lead Game Designer, 2Awesome Studio
The market is saturated, doing just another game – even if polished – will not make you stand out. You must do something different that makes people know your game is your game instantly just seeing a screenshot, an animation or whatever other piece of art you show. Find your niche and focus everything you do on enhancing and promoting your unique selling points.
Founder and MD, Moov2
Find a success measure beyond money. We all need to make a living, but don’t subject yourself to a never-ending quest for ‘more money’.
Quantify your lifestyle desires, then decide what other factors ‘success’ consists of for you. For example: fame, speaking at conferences, working with idols and so on.
CEO, Joint Custody
For upcoming game Scéal, we found it is more cost effective for us to have an international team working remotely than a local team working together in Slovakia. It also allows us to branch out to find wider skill-sets than what we have locally. My tip would be to see what's out there before dismissing global collaboration as too expensive or difficult.
Article originally published in the May 2016 issue of Develop magazine