Maybe this almost belongs in the PC and Console gaming section, but this is something I thought I'd share as it kind of puts a context on things. As this forum is non-commercial, i will not be sharing any of the commercial aspects or advertising here. This is more a personal description of a journey into becoming a game developer and owner of a small videogame company.
This post is a little self-indulgent. You've been warned.
About two years ago, I hated everything, my life as it was, my job, my industry and what had recently happened to my partner's career.
My partner was employed at a game studio called "Interzone", which came over here due to tax breaks being offered by the WA government. She's a technical artist amongst other things- she makes the tools which the game artists use to make the visual reality of a game and it involves a degree of skill in communicating with programmers-very functional sorts and artists- which are all about the appearance. Anyway, in Global Financial Crisis V1.0, the studio's US owners did very badly, lost all their backing and ultimately allegedly defrauded the state government and certainly their employees out of a lot of money. To this date, they owe us over $25,000 in lost salary and super. You may have seen the article in Hyper Magazine about this or the spot on the 7:30 Report on ABC.
I watched as forty or so highly talented people suddenly had nowhere to go. Most of them have found other careers, or moved away, or tackled other commercial projects, but the grim reality is that game studios have been doing one thing in Australia (apart from a couple of notable examples)- close their doors. It made me very frustrated as I don't see why we can't make games in Australia, we have so many advantages and creative potential here. About this time, I also found out I was soon to become a father and I wanted to do something else with my life.
So I shifted my career and founded my own videogame studio.
I can honestly say, it has been the hardest thing I have ever
done. In combination with bringing up a small child, which is never an easy thing, we have had some really rough times over the past two years. But now we stand ready to release our second game and the reports are all cautiously optimistic.
So when I started out, I found myself some willing partners. The person I share my life with is naturally a partner in the business, but I approached someone who would become technical lead and a project manager as well. I have a good friend who was quite financially well-to-do who was going to become our financial backer.
You can potentially make a videogame on a budget of nothing, but the reality is sooner or later, you're going to need cash if you ever want to do something with it. Costs like insurance, trademarking, labour, contractor skills (who's going to score music into your game, or add sound effects) and all cost money. Let alone if you want to publicise the thing in any professional way. So we were set with the friendliest of investors.
And then his business shifted dramatically and suddenly he had no cash to spare.
I was lucky as my business has always let me have a wide web of contacts. I had written my business plan with the aid of a mentor. When I came to her with my problem, she immediately jumped on board as my investor. Which was great as we were eighty percent finished developing our first game at the time. At the time I was elated. Imagine watch everything you have worked on for a year fall over. So we finished the game, submitted to the iTunes Appstore with a great trailer, a website, and a bunch of other stuff.
The game has sold about 2000 copies all up. I have made a fraction of my investment back. The one thing I have learnt: Do not ever publish a game just
on iTunes. You'll never see your money or the time spent back.
At this point, I will also share something: Never copy someone else's game illegally. Sure, if it comes from a massive established studio, it's not going to damage them that much. But when a colleague from my day job made a point of showing me he had pirated my game, after I had sweated blood to produce it, I was gutted of his callousness. Like any creative profession, producing a game when you are an indie-developer is very personal and emotionally invested business. Coupled with the fact that the only thing that lets you make the next game is how well you have done with the last one.
So I went and organised commercial work to keep the studio going and have struggled through with that, until we went to a pitching event by the local videogames mini-industry group. And I saw it, the next big thing. Using the last of my resources, I have spent building this new one. We have invested in the time dramatically, and also a different marketing and PR strategy and we have had some pre-release wins. The commercial side of the business is now in a really healthy place, so that is my buffer and my investor is finally
happy. Despite everything, producing a game is in itself, ultimately a crap-shoot. No-one needs your game to live or work with. At least with my commercial development, I have a reliable buffer against the business closing as I now have a good pipeline of work coming through. People depend on the software we are producing. It takes time away from what I love, but it's way better than being bankrupt. And I get to meet interesting people with it.
So here we are. I'm about to start the submission process to the on-line stores that will again decide my fate as a game developer. This time, i have tackled four release platforms. Divide and conquer.
Ultimately, if you decide to make a game-and if you have the skills and ambition I suggest you do, you have to think about:
Who's going to play it? How do you define your player-base (target audience)?
Are you building it to sell it, or for the fun of it?
Are you building something new? Really? Or are you reworking something old, but doing it really well?
How are you going to get it to your players?
What can't you do yourself?
What are your plans? Where are your internal deadlines?
Would you ever do a sequel or follow up game?
What are your expenses?
What are you doing to protect your IP?
Who's helping you with the construction of the game? Are you a business and if so, how are you and your business partners protecting your investment? Remember any business can suddenly dissolve to internal fighting. I argue with my partner all the time, but we get a better product because of it.
Just putting this all out there as it's been a massive journey and I guess I wanted to share. I'm now finishing up this one and a friend and I are now writing a boardgame and miniatures game just for the hell of it. It's not really a brag yet as I haven't had anything resembling commercial success. I'll reserve that until after my new game becomes the next Angry Birds and I can chuck my day job in.
It has also near killed my hobby time over the past two years. Damn.