Develop '09: Yorkshire digital-only studio shares some hard-earned lessons
At the Evolve day of the Develop Conference, Team 17's Martyn Brown has detailed the ten lessons it has learnt in its transition to a digital, self-publishing only studio.
Here they are, in compressed form:
1) Plan or fail - you can't take an iterative approach to planning a digital game. Plan the development, plan the finances, plan your approach, and take time to understand the qualities of the platform - its typical user, the price range, what types of games are useful, etc.
2) Understand open and closed systems - open systems, like Apple's App Store, let you get going quickly, but there are benefits to closed platforms (a managed portfolio, less competition). Xbox Live Arcade is hard to get onto, but Sony seems somewhat more receptive towards experimental stuff.
3) Prepare to pass Go - take time to look at the platform's portfolio and what's due to go into it soon. Do industrial espionage if you can! If you can place your product in their portfolio, it's easier to convince them. A golden rule is: be first or be best, otherwise you'll fail.
4) IP - owning it is an advantage, but that doesn't automatically make it valuable. Consider licensing it to publishers for a limited time. But, if making the games is more important than owning the rights, don't worry too much about it.
5) Trials are vital - trials are your marketing. Make it as good as possible, and it must impress within a minute. It's hard to overstate the importance of the trial. Then, marry it with the right price.
6) Assume nothing - supporting the different online architectures is not easy, and takes a lot of time, testing and patching. Use quality QA houses and do a lot of usability testing. The submission process could take nine to 12 months.
7) Publishing is not easy - it involves localisation, certification, testing, usability, finance, accounting, marketing, PR, legal, relationship management, negotiation, product support, after care and community management, and more.
8) Certification can take a lot of time - Team 17 planned three months for certification for the first Worms on XBLA, but it ended up taking eight, which really screwed up financial plans. Plan it extensively - it's absolutely crucial.
9) Know the market - high quality games and well-known IP are what sell. There's no place for 'me too'. Understand the core and the mass market, and make sure you know what they want.
10) Promotion - Team 17 does very little, but it's a hugely different beast on digital platforms. Grow and nurture a community if you can, and use existing networks like Facebook. Digital titles have a much longer lifecycle than boxed product, so you have to keep coming back to it.