Starting my studio
Well, I'm taking the dive and going full on into starting my own game dev studio as an indie developer. I'm paying entirely out of pocket and have zero business income. It's got me a bit nervous.
I hired my first 3D artist/animator last week. He was asking for $36k/year, I counter offered a much higher offer @ $50k/year. My reasoning is the following:
1. I can afford to pay someone well.
2. Paying someone well is much better than paying them the bare minimum. You get what you pay for.
3. It makes it harder for them to justify looking for a higher paying job elsewhere. I don't want to be an "in between gig" employer.
4, This gives them the means and power to live a more professional life rather than just scraping by.
5. I also think its more ethical to pay people what they're worth rather than making a race to the bottom. It's the fair, kind way to treat people.
6. I'm not just paying them to work with me, I'm also treating them as an investment. I believe that high quality talent is grown and nurtured over time. It would do me no good to train up high quality talent and then see it leave me for greener pastures. I need to be the green pastures talent flocks to.
I suppose some people could accuse me of being a poor businessman for paying more than I need to. Fair enough. I like to think that I'm getting into business to do two things:
1. Make a high quality commodity which everyone wants (a great, fun video game)
2. Create stable, well paying, sustainable, satisfying, desirable careers at a place people want to work at.
The best time to start doing this is from the very beginning. It's much harder to change course later.
I also made another major decision last week. Instead of focusing all of my attention and effort on building my own game and game engine in C#/XNA, I should use an existing game engine. This sounds like a no-brainer, and I knew I should do this from the beginning when I first started my project, but I was stubborn and a victim of the "Not invented here" syndrome. I spent ten months working on my own engine. It was coming along nicely, but I had this nagging thought in the back of my mind: I'm wasting my time. I could spend years building my own engine, as a team of one or two people, but... what's my end game plan with this? Am I going to sell it? How could I begin to compete with the popular engines out there (Unreal, Crysis, Unity, etc) who each have teams of 50+ engineers who are much smarter than I am? I can't. So, my rationalization was that I'd own my own engine entirely, be 100% familiar with it, and use it to build a game which I'd sell. The money would come from the sales of my game. So, looking at my timeline and pace, ten months of half-assed work and barely a semblance of a game to show for it because I've been focusing on engine design tech and features and getting deep into the weeds on that. Waste. Of. Time. At this point, the only reason I'd continue this pursuit is for my personal ego. I'm convinced I could do it, I'm smart enough that I could make it happen, etc. I've also gotten this far, do I really want to throw out ten months worth of effort? My logical, rational side said I was putting myself into an escalation of commitment situation. The sooner I realize that I'm not going to have reasonably good chances at making a successful game with my own engine, the less expensive it'll be (in terms of time and money). Not to mention, my engine would have to incorporate a production pipeline for team members and support a game editor. Fuck that. I don't want to build more tools. I want to design and build games. That's what I'm here for. So, the obvious decision to make is to choose an existing engine and use it as the platform to build my game on. I see that now and actually believe it.
What engine to choose? Initially, I had been playing around with the Unity3D engine. It's a sexy engine, with an amazing editor. I don't know why I didn't choose it ten months ago. The Crysis 3 engine was released on steam a few weeks ago. It also looked very sexy and offered some amazing capabilities which I could use. It looked attractive until I started reading reviews and digging into the online documentation and tutorials. Their game engine is tailored specifically for building FPS games and the documentation is sketchy at best. If I'm learning something new, I can't be wasting weeks playing the "learn by trial and error" game, nor expect anyone else to. The better alternative is to use the Unreal Engine 4. After looking at their feature set, it's just as good or better than CryEngine, and they have zounds of documentation and online video tutorials. Not to mention, lots of great multi-platform support. So, how does that compare to Unity3d? Aside from the pricing & licensing models, they both have different technical strengths. Unity3D supports C# scripts, which is very sexy and I like that a lot. I didn't like their IDE nearly as much as I like Visual Studio though, so they lost some usability points there. The Unreal Engine 4 has support for "Visual Scripting", or whatever they call it, where you don't even have to be a programmer to create scripted behaviors (great for designers). It also supports compiling C++ code as well for any heavy scripting needs. I'm sure I could have been equally happy with the Unity3D engine as the Unreal Engine 4, but I just picked the UE4 because it seemed more usable and well documented, and supported everything and more that the Unity3D engine supported (including asset market places). Anyways, ten months of work has been put aside in favor of using a game engine. I figure that in a month, I can make up all the progress I've made, learn a new engine, and be years ahead of myself if I had stayed the course with my home brew engine.
There was a third, major decision I made this week: I chose to rent out an office space in downtown Seattle.
For the past ten months, I've been working from an upstairs room in my rented home. It's worked out alright, but not great. While I can work from home, I'm finding it's not my optimal place to work from. There are a bunch of problems which come with that, such as not getting distracted, trying to get into the mood to work, trying to make a distinction between home life and work life, etc. I could continue to do it if I was alone and it would still be sub-optimal. But, since I hired an artist, things have to change. I initially considered having him commute to my home to work with me. My girlfriend isn't happy with that idea and its not a very viable situation. So, I can either continue working from my home office and have my artist work remotely with maybe a weekly meetup, or I can find an external space for us to work out of. Now, working remotely sucks. It's hard to build a team with an organizational culture, keep cohesiveness, communicate, and keep everyone on task (especially me) when everyone is working apart from each other. That means remote work isn't very viable for me and my business goals -- in other words, the benefits of working together in person outweigh the costs of an office space. So, I had to look for an office space as soon as possible. I only have a team of two people and I don't want to spend thousands of dollars per month to rent out a large office flat. It's overkill and way beyond my needs. I found a cool co-operative shared office space with a bunch of other creative types who do video editing, web development, and video production. It would work great for creative cross-discipline pollination. We fit in pretty well with the general vibe of the existing office culture. Not only that, but the office managers have a fully stocked bar with free alcohol, comfy couches, meeting rooms, white boards, candy, coffee, everything you could ask for. It's a very hip office space on the fifth floor. I agreed to rent out two desks for $750 per month. That's almost as much as my share of the rent O_O
This weekend, I'll be building a custom computer for my artist. It's a top of the line specs machine I put together online. On Monday morning, I'll be moving all this equipment into my new office space and beginning work from there. It's a lot of big changes. It's exciting and I'm nervous. I've calculated my new monthly expenses and they come out to about $6,000 per month for me, my employee, offices, etc. This game I'm building had better be great and sell well. I'm betting my life savings on it. There is so much that could go wrong and be totally outside of my control.
I guess the biggest threat to my success is myself though. I've got this bad habit of laziness which I need to kick, and a slight tendency towards making stupid mistakes when I really should know better. I need to work on those personal traits of weakness. A business/organization is a manifestation of the character of the person leading it, and I need to be the best version of myself I can be, for the sake of myself, my employee, and the people who are going to be depending on me. If I can't compel myself to excellence, I can't ever hope to lead others to it either. I've put my money where my mouth is, I've put the logistical works in place to make it happen -- now it's time for the hard part -- to buckle down and get a game built and on the market faster than my money evaporates. Everything is in my control now, so I can only blame myself if failure happens. Let's cross our fingers and hope that doesn't happen and try our best to succeed.