Start-up Special 2013: Graduating into games development

Start-up Special 2013: Graduating into games development

By Daniel Da Rocha

November 20th 2013 at 12:20PM

The founders of UK start-up Toxic Games reflects on the challenges of setting up a new studio straight out of education

Toxic Games was formed straight out of Newport University in 2010 and from there we had a rollercoaster of a year creating and releasing our first commercial game, Q.U.B.E.

To begin with, we spent around 6 months learning the Unreal Development Kit at uni and created our final year project. By the time the graduation show came around, we had a 10 minute demo that we showcased, which contained a tutorial and two puzzles.

It was Mike Bithell who came along and said the game looked great. Mike was a former student at the uni and really felt that the game had commercial potential, presenting us with a Blitz 1UP flyer. With this feedback we decided to see where we could take the game instead of applying for full-time jobs at established game studios. 

We put the demo online through IndieDB and received a few thousand downloads within the first couple of weeks, receiving lots of positive feedback. A lecturer from our uni said it would be wise to secure some funding to make the game full time and sent us several links, including Indie Fund.

We sent off a better version of our demo to Indie Fund who were newly formed and were accepting submissions. They got back to us within a week and said they really liked the game. After two months of discussing budgets and schedules, they agreed to fund Q.U.B.E out of 200 other submissions. We couldn’t believe this had happened and were totally over the moon.

The next step was to set-up a company, secure a premises and begin making the full game.

We spent 13 months creating the game with time taken out to showcase it at events and competitions. Being able to travel around the world because of a game we began creating in university was a humbling and heart-warming experience. To top it off, the game was released on Steam on January 6th, 2012 and we were able to pay back the Indie Fund investment within four days.

Of course, behind the success of it all there were many tough times and a lot of hard work was involved such as fixing bugs late into the night. The team had disagreements about who was working what hours, not being paid enough and there was a lack of communication. This resulted in the loss of work which had to be re-created, costing time and money.

Living and working in the same environment didn’t help the situation either. We would get up in the morning and move to our desks, which were in the same room as where we slept. It was pretty hardcore! But these are the sacrifices you usually have to make when starting out, unless you’re fortunate enough to have a sufficient amount of cash in the bank beforehand. We all knew that we had to finish the game and that was the motivation that kept us going through the tough times.

We certainly learnt a lot from working on Q.U.B.E. and here are some of the key tips:

  • Carefully plan your budget and schedule so that they reflect a realistic development timeline. We originally estimated the game taking six months to make with three people and that didn’t end up working. A rule of thumb is to estimate how long you think it’ll take and then double or even triple it because you’re going to need time for bug fixing and general contingency. We were lucky that Indie Fund was kind enough to give us extra time and investment to finish the game to a decent quality, as we had exceeded our development period.
  • Create a game, enter it into competitions, attend expos, go to casual dev meet-ups and speak at conferences. Network like crazy, as you never know who you’ll bump into and make sure you carry a surplus of business cards.
  • If you’re looking for investment, make sure you only show your best work and practice and perfect your pitch.
  • Make sure you pick the right team; people you are comfortable and happy working with.
  • And if ever in doubt, just remember you’re making games for a living and not flipping burgers.

All this month, Develop is publishing its Start Your Own Studio guide online. You can find all of our start-up articles at www.develop-online.net/startupspecial, plus a full schedule of the guides still to come by clicking here.