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bpoint

Desire to start my own studio

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bpoint    464
Hello all, To start off with, I have over 8 years of experience in the games industry, both in the US (where I was born) -- although mostly in Japan. I have worked as a programmer for various game companies, starting on the PSX, and finally ending up on the GameCube and DS. I have shipped a few titles, and on my last title I was actually a Lead Programmer where I "managed" (read: simple scheduling) a few others below me. I'll be 30 years old in a couple of months and have wanted to do my own thing for almost 10 years now. I already have a self-developed game engine that I've been working on for two years now that would provide a great base for a game. I also have many friends (programmers, artists, musicians) from the other companies I've worked at before that are not only interested in working together to do a game, but put together would make an excellent team. While I do have a game idea I would like to make a reality, the time and money required to develop it at this point in time would be prohibitively expensive. Therefore, ideally, I would like to negotiate with a publisher about a "publisher-concept" deal (as sloperama.com puts it) or two, to initially start my company. Then once I have sufficient funds to keep the company afloat, and a large enough team, I could work on my own ideas. While I'm still learning a lot about the business side of things, I know I have quite a bit to go, but here are some of my questions for now: 1) Does anyone think it might be "too early" for me to break away and start my own studio at this age? I would presume publishers are more willing to dish out contracts to those who are older, but maybe this is not the case. 2) Do I need to already have a company in order to even begin discussions with a publisher? In other words, should registering my company be the first thing I do? 3) Will most publishers provide an advance to start the company? Basically, money that would be used for initial deposit of the location to rent, cost of computers for the employees, server, necessary office supplies, etc. 4) Is there a list of publishers somewhere that would be willing to do a publisher-concept deal in Japan? (In case if it matters, my Japanese is fluent since I've been here for 6 years, but I'm sure there are a lot of business and law-related words I don't know yet.) I'm sure I'll have more questions later, but I still plan to read and learn as much as I can. Thank you all for any answers or tips you can provide.

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Smit    310
These are just my opinions (I have no experience with publishers).

You sound like you know what your doing and where you want to get to, and that you can gather a good team to start with. You will need to talk to the bank/lawyers to sort out the business side of things.

What about producing a prototype of the game using your engine and attempting to show this to publishers? This would probably reassure them that you are more likely to finish the project then if you just gave them a design doc.

If you have the skills, can gather a good team etc. then go for it. Age shouldn't matter and if you can present a good product you should be able to find a publisher.

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Obscure    175
Quote:
Original post by bpoint
1) Does anyone think it might be "too early" for me to break away and start my own studio at this age? I would presume publishers are more willing to dish out contracts to those who are older, but maybe this is not the case.
Age has nothing to do with it. Publishers give contracts to companies that they believe have all the necessary skills to get a game made. That means:
i Experience making and shipping games (you appear to have this)
ii. A well defined development process (inc asset pipeline)
iii. A good management team
iv. Good technology

Quote:
2) Do I need to already have a company in order to even begin discussions with a publisher? In other words, should registering my company be the first thing I do?
Yes you do need a company before talking to publishers - No registering it shouldn't be the first thing you do.
There are a host of other things you should do before registering your company. Read:
http://www.obscure.co.uk/startup.shtml
and:
http://www.obscure.co.uk/legal.shtml

Quote:
3) Will most publishers provide an advance to start the company? Basically, money that would be used for initial deposit of the location to rent, cost of computers for the employees, server, necessary office supplies, etc.
No a publisher won't pay to start a company which you will gain all the benefit from (unless they own part/all of it). You will need to save up money or find it from some other source (friends or family) just as you would if you were starting any other type of business.

Yes a publisher will pay an advance to fund the development of a game (if they believe you are capable of getting it done) but that won't happen until you have your team set up and a game engine developed.

Quote:
4) Is there a list of publishers somewhere that would be willing to do a publisher-concept deal in Japan? (In case if it matters, my Japanese is fluent since I've been here for 6 years, but I'm sure there are a lot of business and law-related words I don't know yet.)
There are several publisher lists about of varying completeness such as the one at Gamasutra http://www.gamasutra.com/contractwork/gamepubdist.php.
The important question is not whether or not they do publisher concept projects (they all do) but if they will work with start-up developers.

Publisher concept deal most often means a game based on a license (film, TV, comic book etc). Publishers like these games because they believe them to be less risky than original games. Placing such a title with a new start-up developer is risky so it isn't something a publisher will do lightly. It will take a lot of hard work to convince them you can get the job done

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blaze02    100
1) No. The only thing that matters is how good the game you make is.
2) You need a game before talking to a publisher. And the game has to be good, have potential, and look polished. This is the only thing the publisher cares about.
3) In almost every case, no.
4) Kudos to Obscure on that one.

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VladR    722
On top of everything that has been said so far, I would just recommend you to start searching for smaller publishers in Europe or maybe there are some in USA (I don`t know for sure about USA). This means, no EA, Activision, THQ, but smaller distributors that are expanding their business into Games Publishing.
Those might be more willing to do this.

However, I`ll just emphasize this:
1. You must have your studio set up - all HW/SW/Networking should be done, all necessary people hired. For this, get your own money through bank. If you aren`t sure enough about this to take another mortgage, why should some publisher be ?

2. Demo consisting of at least 1 polished level with final gameplay and most gfx features done. Without it, you`ve got just some design document, which the publishers receive in piles. You have the experience, that`s for sure, but the experience itself is just the bare minimum here.

Plan B:
If you aren`t willing to take mortgage for all things of Point 1, you can make the demo yourself as the only coder and outsource some cheaper art in Eastern Europe for fraction of US costs (paid from your current salary) - by this I mean that you could start outsourcing the art while working for your current company. Hire one artist for characters, another for static meshes.
After few months you`ll have the art for first level and in the meantime you could try to build a demo during your free time (or if noone notices, do it slowly in company time :-) ).

When you have all the necessary art, quit your daily job with enough money to cover just your living expenses for next 6-9 months. Since you already have some code-base, and it`s all yours so you are familiar with it, you should be able to write a playable demo in 3-4 months (depending on style of game of course) using all outsourced art assets. You should still have money for 6 months which should be enough to find a publisher. Of coruse, the first publishers won`t get the best demo, since as the time progresses, the demo gets better and better, and so do get your prospects of getting a deal.
Not all games can have written a demo of in 3-4 months. But some outdoor 3rd/1st person shooter / RPG or a car game or some helicopter action game is certainly possible with nice-looking terrain renderer. Great-looking terrain-renderer with texture-splatting (you`re painting the textures on the terrain and it`s blended automatically) with beatiful trees with some basic optimizations (Quadtree/geomorphing) can be written in 2 weeks (talking from my own experience).
As for characters, the fastest way (2 weeks) is to use just frame-based animations where you`re storing all data each frame. Don`t worry, you can compress them very well later, when you`ll have money from publisher. If you`re unsure about how well you can compress them, rest assured that 8 Bytes per Vertex is possible (with UV as separate stream) without any visible loss in quality of the mesh. You can fit thousand frames of 3k-poly characters in just 10-15 MB of memory (which is nothing these days).
So, it`ll take you one month and you`ll have a terrain renderer with characters. Spend remaining 2-3 months with AI and gameplay. For sound, just use some cheap or free library (e.g. Audiere).
By 6th month (if you haven`t found the publisher by then), you should have some shader eye candy there too.
.... to be continued in Plan C ....

However, here I assume that you have already researched all the necessary programming techniques because of your experience. So all you`ll need is just to write it using your code-base. If you are to learn the new stuff, then it`s impossible in 4 months, that`s for sure. But you must have learned lots of stuff during last 8 years, haven`t you ?

Not only will this plan look better in the eyes of publishers since you took the risk, it will give you better feeling for estimation of tasks and their lengths.
Besides, you`ll realize that you might not need a huge team of 50 people (all assuming, it`s a current-gen product).

Plan C:
After ~6 months you should have a great-looking demo of at least 1 level. When you have this, you can just start showing it to distributors and they`ll be willing to offer you some advance for completion of the game. They wouldn`t just finance the design-document or poor-looking prototype if you showed them 6 months ago. But when you show them final gameplay and 1 level, assuming it`s fun, they`ll be glad to offer you milestone payments (sign,alpha,beta,gold). Some might even offer you more milestones than this.
Now if you would show the signed contract with such distributor to a bank, I don`t believe you should have a huge problem in getting intermediate loan for this. Maybe even first milestone (25%) payment could cover the expenses (if you don`t have team of >50 people) - it all depends on quality of game and financial strength of distributor.

Good Luck !

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bpoint    464
Obscure: Thanks for the links! I was browsing your site earlier and somehow missed that Startup checklist page...

I would like to clarify a bit on my already-built game engine. (In my opinion) It is quite advanced already: particles, skinned models exported from Maya, terrain, shaders, sound/music replay -- are all implemented. In fact, the game idea I have that I'd like to eventually like to create is already at a "tech demo" status. The six person team (including myself) that I would like to initially use to start my company is already helping me with this current project.

However, the world I'd like to create around the game would easily take at least two years. Since I don't expect any publisher to fork out a ton of cash on a completely risky venture on a startup company, I was hoping to get a development contract from a publisher instead so I could get my company started. Then once we were self-sustainable, I could get back to my own game.

As for the "advance" I mentioned to start the company, I was actually referring to having the advance come from the publisher as a forward on royalty payments for the completed title. But Obscure's page had some good info on scouting for grants and such, so I will definitely explore that venue.

Edit: slight clarification / spelling :)

[Edited by - bpoint on April 17, 2006 8:07:19 AM]

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Tom Sloper    16040
"bpoint" wrote:

>While I do have a game idea I would like to make a reality, the time and money required to develop it at this point in time would be prohibitively expensive. Therefore, ideally, I would like to negotiate with a publisher about a "publisher-concept" deal (as sloperama.com puts it) or two, to initially start my company. Then once I have sufficient funds to keep the company afloat, and a large enough team, I could work on my own ideas.

There is a good reason to develop a demo - so you have something to show. You say you've worked at a couple of game companies before. At least you need to demo those games you worked on, and be able to say succinctly which parts of those games you did. But it's usually best, to get a development project, to have something you can point to as your own (something created by your team, under your management and direction, if not entirely by you).

>1) Does anyone think it might be "too early" for me to break away and start my own studio at this age? I would presume publishers are more willing to dish out contracts to those who are older, but maybe this is not the case.

Depends. How many people do you have working for you in your company? How many games have those people worked on? How many have they worked on together, since forming your company?

>2) Do I need to already have a company in order to even begin discussions with a publisher? In other words, should registering my company be the first thing I do?

No. Forming the company. Since your company will be very small at first, you will not only be its president but you will also be its chief programmer, I guess? Will you also be the chief financial officer and the executive producer? Why not figure those things out with your people, before registering a company that doesn't exist yet?

>3) Will most publishers provide an advance to start the company? Basically, money that would be used for initial deposit of the location to rent, cost of computers for the employees, server, necessary office supplies, etc.

Absolutely not.

>4) Is there a list of publishers somewhere that would be willing to do a publisher-concept deal in Japan? (In case if it matters, my Japanese is fluent since I've been here for 6 years, but I'm sure there are a lot of business and law-related words I don't know yet.)

Do you have the program from the most recent Tokyo Game Show? There's your list.
Ganbatte kudasai...

BTW, I know another game programmer in Okinawa.
Tom

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Obscure    175
Quote:
Original post by bpoint
As for the "advance" I mentioned to start the company, I was actually referring to having the advance come from the publisher as a forward on royalty payments for the completed title.

I understand that. Publishers will pay an advance against royalties to fund development but they won't pay one to fund the start-up of your company. You will need to get to the stage where you have sufficient staff, good enough tech and the necessary documentation under your own financial steam. Even when you get to the point of being ready to pitch to publishers that won't be the end of it. It will take anywhere from three months to a year to get a deal.

A client (start-up dev team) I am working with took four months to get from start-up to the point of pitching. They didn't get any takers at that point so they kept working and now, six month on, they have just re-pitched a dramatically different and more advanced version of their game (funded via a media agency grant). Suddenly we have four-six publishers after it (as in actually sending contracts - not just saying its nice).

If they hadn't had the money to live beyond the initial pitch and to keep moving the game forward the company wouldn't have got the deal. The grant to ages to find and then time/effort to apply for but ultimately the planning has given them a chance at success they wouldn't have had otherwise.

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bpoint    464
Quote:
Original post by tsloper
There is a good reason to develop a demo - so you have something to show. You say you've worked at a couple of game companies before. At least you need to demo those games you worked on, and be able to say succinctly which parts of those games you did. But it's usually best, to get a development project, to have something you can point to as your own (something created by your team, under your management and direction, if not entirely by you).

No problem -- as I said, I already have a technology demo. All I would need to do is add some gameplay then, I presume?

As for the other games I've worked in the past, I have no problems showing them as well, but the work I did on them was very low-level. I think it would be a bit difficult to explain, "Well, I did the stuff which made it work." -- but I could be wrong. :) In case if anyone is interested, the last two titles I worked on were Pokemon Colosseum and Pokemon XD, both on GameCube.

Quote:
>1) Does anyone think it might be "too early" for me to break away and start my own studio at this age? I would presume publishers are more willing to dish out contracts to those who are older, but maybe this is not the case.

Depends. How many people do you have working for you in your company? How many games have those people worked on? How many have they worked on together, since forming your company?

I presume you mean "your company" to mean the company I am planning to start myself?

In that case, I mentioned six people (including me), above. The other two programmers have both had experience with developing PS2 middleware, but no real game experience. The other two artists both have a good history of working on games. Since I haven't actually formed my company yet, I would have to say that we have only worked on the technology demo together while all of us have been keeping our day jobs.

Quote:
>2) Do I need to already have a company in order to even begin discussions with a publisher? In other words, should registering my company be the first thing I do?

No. Forming the company. Since your company will be very small at first, you will not only be its president but you will also be its chief programmer, I guess? Will you also be the chief financial officer and the executive producer? Why not figure those things out with your people, before registering a company that doesn't exist yet?

I have actually given this a bit of thought already, but just haven't put it onto paper.

Yes, I intend to be both the President and the Chief Programmer, as well as the Executive Producer. My wife is willing to handle the financials and general affairs of the company (at least at the beginning) as long as it is manageable for her. If necessary, I will hire someone to do it, but since I am only considering a team of less than ten people for the initial product, I wouldn't expect the load to be too much of a burden such that it is unmanageable. But then again, I don't have any experience here, so I could be wrong.

Quote:
>3) Will most publishers provide an advance to start the company? Basically, money that would be used for initial deposit of the location to rent, cost of computers for the employees, server, necessary office supplies, etc.

Absolutely not.

Very well. Unfortunately, money is not plentiful in my situation.

I presume then that my only source of initial funds to start the company would have to come from grants and/or from a VC then? I have connections with someone who has had experience talking with VCs -- actually, he was the CEO of the company I worked with when I first moved to Japan.

As much as I would like to have him on my team, he is unfortunately not currently available -- although that could change within the next three years or so.

Quote:
>4) Is there a list of publishers somewhere that would be willing to do a publisher-concept deal in Japan? (In case if it matters, my Japanese is fluent since I've been here for 6 years, but I'm sure there are a lot of business and law-related words I don't know yet.)

Do you have the program from the most recent Tokyo Game Show? There's your list.
Ganbatte kudasai...

Sadly, I wasn't able to make TGS last year. I already have plans to go to this year's show, however.

Arigatou gozaimasu!

Quote:
BTW, I know another game programmer in Okinawa.
Tom


Okinawa is a great place to live and work, but unfortunately there aren't enough game companies here. :) On top of that, the few that are here are small and don't do any big projects (Artoon is the exception -- but they only have a small studio here).

Hopefully I can change that.

Quote:
Original post by Obscure
A client (start-up dev team) I am working with took four months to get from start-up to the point of pitching. They didn't get any takers at that point so they kept working and now, six month on, they have just re-pitched a dramatically different and more advanced version of their game (funded via a media agency grant). Suddenly we have four-six publishers after it (as in actually sending contracts - not just saying its nice).

If they hadn't had the money to live beyond the initial pitch and to keep moving the game forward the company wouldn't have got the deal. The grant to ages to find and then time/effort to apply for but ultimately the planning has given them a chance at success they wouldn't have had otherwise.

I fully understand it takes a long time to get a deal with publishers from the time the initial idea is pitched. Since grants seem to be available, I'll start doing some research into them immediately.

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bpoint    464
I was re-reading the thread and something caught my eye in an earlier post:

Quote:
Original post by Obscure
Publisher concept deal most often means a game based on a license (film, TV, comic book etc). Publishers like these games because they believe them to be less risky than original games. Placing such a title with a new start-up developer is risky so it isn't something a publisher will do lightly. It will take a lot of hard work to convince them you can get the job done

Maybe I misunderstood you, but isn't placing an original title designed by the developer more risky? If the game doesn't sell, both the publisher and the developer lose out -- however those games with a license will already have an existing market to sell the product to.

I also wonder if publisher concept deals are any different in Japan. You don't see as many license-based games here than you do in the US or Europe...

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Obscure    175
Quote:
Original post by bpoint
Maybe I misunderstood you, but isn't placing an original title designed by the developer more risky? If the game doesn't sell, both the publisher and the developer lose out -- however those games with a license will already have an existing market to sell the product to.

Levels of risk. An original game with a new team is more risky than a licensed game with a new team. A licensed game with an established team is less risky than either. Given that the main reason for licensed games is reduced risk it would be rather backward to increase the risk by giving the project to a new team.

Quote:
I also wonder if publisher concept deals are any different in Japan. You don't see as many license-based games here than you do in the US or Europe...
Yes, original games are more common but the Japanese method of doing business requires a more personal relationship. It is harder and more time consuming to get a contract from a Japanese publisher.

Edit: You are from the US but are you of Japanese decent or are you gaijin? If the latter have you done much research on what (if any) problems are faced by gaijin attempting to set up a business in Japan?

[Edited by - Obscure on April 19, 2006 11:22:38 AM]

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zppz    226
I would be most interested in seeing how this goes... particularly the part about doing business in Japan. This sentence applies quite accurately to myself as well :)

"I'll be 30 years old in a couple of months and have wanted to do my own thing for almost 10 years now."

doesn't that birthday coming up make you think about what you are doing with your time here huh?

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bpoint    464
Quote:
Original post by Obscure
Edit: You are from the US but are you of Japanese decent or are you gaijin? If the latter have you done much research on what (if any) problems are faced by gaijin attempting to set up a business in Japan?

Quote:
Original post by zppz
I would be most interested in seeing how this goes... particularly the part about doing business in Japan. This sentence applies quite accurately to myself as well :)

Yes, I am a gaijin currently under a Spouse Visa.

I have already done plenty of research into starting a business here in Japan -- foreigners are basically on the same ground as a Japanese national. Even the "One-yen" Kakunin companies are available.

If you are not married to a Japanese, or do not have an eijyuuken (Permanent Residency), then your visa will need to be changed to an "Business/Entrepreneur" status, which has it's own requirements of initial capital and two other Japanese nationals working with you.

For the most part, the problem is not actually starting the business itself, but getting the proper funding. VCs may not want to dish out cash to anyone who has a non-permanent visa. I may have to apply for my own eijyuuken sooner than I thought...

Edit (to zppz): JETRO's website has a lot of information on setting up a business in Japan in English. Good luck!

[Edited by - bpoint on April 19, 2006 9:02:07 PM]

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