Jem Alexander speaks to Mike Futter, author of The GameDev Business Handbook, to discuss common development pitfalls and how his book can help devs turn their great game into a successful one
It’s fair to say that the majority of developers have a solid knowledge of making games. It’s what you do. But when it comes to marketing those games, or starting and running a successful business, that’s less instinctive. Which is where The GameDev Business Handbook comes in. Written by Mike Futter and published by Bithell Games, the handbook is an attempt to arm developers (and wannabe developers) with the skills they need to sell their great games.
“The GameDev Business Handbook is designed as a faithful companion for students and developers just starting out,” says Futter. “Academic programs don’t often dive deep into the business of running a studio, and this material isn’t often sexy enough for conference presentations. Our hope is readers will keep a copy on their desk, bookshelf, or digital device as a reference throughout their careers.”
Our sincere hope is that this book makes it to students and developers striking out on their own for the first time
But this book isn’t just intended for newcomers or students. There’s plenty of useful information within for established developers at large studios, too. “We’re still seeing so many developers break out of big studios and go into business for themselves,” says Futter. “Even if someone has been working for an established company for years, they may have been insulated from all the moving parts. Especially the administrative engine that hums underneath the surface. Additionally, the guidance from experienced professionals, success stories, and cautionary tales offer insight and reflection.
“In the book’s foreword, Mike Bithell describes The GameDev Business Handbook as ‘the book I wish I’d had on my shelf when I started my first job in games 10 years ago.’ We looked around for texts on this subject, and the ones we found overlap some of our intent, but don’t completely mirror it.
“Additionally, the books we found that do touch on some of the same subjects are old enough to have been published before Steam, mobile gaming, and digital distribution.
“Our sincere hope is that this book makes it to students and developers striking out on their own for the first time. The GameDev Business Handbook will build a foundation for readers in the areas of budget and finance, employment considerations, intellectual property, crowdfunding, early access, and more. We can’t answer every question, of course, but we’re giving readers key information to formulate inquiry about core business functions, legal protection, and getting a game to market.”
AVOID COMMON PITFALLS
Many development issues are unique to the specific game you’re working on, or on your team size and situation, but there are also a large number that are relatable by all developers. Futter uses anecdotes from a variety of devs from across the industry to illustrate.
“Developers often risk their personal finances when building their own studios,” Futter says. “There are so many places to make mistakes, and it’s easy to lose sight of all the fiddly bits.
“In fact, one of the decisions that developers often need to make early is about compensation. If your studio isn’t making money yet, and you have a small team of people that quit their jobs, how are you going to tackle compensation? If you aren’t going to take a salary, do you have a plan in place for paying yourselves back when your first game starts earning revenue? We share some thoughts from developers like Ninja Theory’s Nina Kristensen on how to handle this.
“We also see a number of new studio owners tackle too much themselves. It’s easy to say, ‘it’s not hard’ and take on dozens of small, relatively easy tasks. That time expenditure has opportunity cost, though. It’s a concept that many new business owners don’t consider. The GameDev Business Handbook is filled with that sort of guidance. We want readers to come away saying ‘I didn’t even think of that!’
“One of our favourite pieces of the book is the epilogue. At the conclusion of each conversation, I asked each interviewee to share their most poignant piece of advice for up-and- coming developers. The responses touch on an enormous variety of topics, with equally diverse perspectives. We’re beyond grateful for the time and wisdom shared with us during the writing of The GameDev Business Handbook. We can’t wait to get it into readers’ hands in October.”