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Chewybunny

7 Deadly Sins I learned from a Starter Up

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Alright, you got a game company up and running, you got a good number of investors and resources at your disposal, what are you going to do now? Well, that's all up to you, but I'de like to discuss some things that I learned from experience working at a starter up game company for nearly 2 years and watching it go bankrupt. These rules are not in order, of greatness, but they are all very important. I appologize for making this extremely long. First: Know your Limits. I think it that the number one issue we had was that we had a team of 5 (well paid) employees, with a solid game idea, that was unfortunetly way too huge. I admit, it was a huge mistake for me to take this job so quickly and without any hesitation, but I was just a recent-college grad student with a BA in Game Art, any gig, to me, was a good gig. When I first heard of the Company's (I do not want to divulge the name of the company) proposal for the game I knew it was quite a big idea but they promised me they were still hiring more employees, which meant that eventually the team was going to grow huge. This was not at all the case, as the team stayed at about 5 members (7 at the height of the first summer). The game in mind was an RPG, kind of like Oblivion, with a lot of really great ideas, like watching and growing a town build around you, developing a small army, etc, etc. We even wanted to make it episodic to limit how much time it would take to finish our game. The Problem: It was way too much to program, the bottleneck began then with the artists being way ahead of the programming. Second: Buying Engines-Could save you in a long run Probably one of the more annoying things was that our programmers were working on an engine from scratch, because in their college days they found they can make one in a few months. The engine was in development for roughly 2 and a half years and very little to show for it. Not to mention the backup idea was to sell the engine if the game didnt work out; no one ever mentioned that they had to compete with a mass array of other profesionaly built engines. I believe to this day, we could have actually finished something if we had a pre-made engine that they invested some of their money into, and used that to build on top of. Three: Design Document PLEASE Finish it! Ours was not finished. Ever. There was only one paragraph in it when we started, and we had to take time from all the teammates just to sit down and concept out the general game play. Though eventually we learned from our mistake and tried to fix it for the second title, it was still one of the bigger draw backs, to work with. I remember sitting in a meeting room for 5 hours straight, while everyone debated over the smallest little details at how the town progression would develop, and in the end it was entirely scrapped. Four: Art Concepts for Artist's Sake. This was a huge blow for me, being an environmental artist. Our concept art was outsourced to China, which was ultimately cheaper, but the problem lay in that we would at times wait 2-3 weeks before we got anything real good back, and even then, we would spend hours debating it, before sending it back. For the most part I had the creative liberty to pretty much create anything how I wanted it; the problem was that a lot of times there were many revisions. Concept art is something that the art director has to look at virtually every hour or so, you need to crank a lot of drawings and maybe 1 out of 10 would be selected as the piece that will be used and made. Therefore having a concept artist on board that works close to the director, and work svery quickly is a must. No matter how small of a development company you are, do not expect your modelers to concept out the work for you, unless it's something as specific as a tree or a flower that they can just google. But if the tree is going to have a weird or wacky shape, you got to, GOT to, have a concept artist make it. It'll save you time and money. Five: Being Anal! Our bosses were very huge perfectionists. Now in as much as I appreciate their desire for wanting to see high quality artwork, perfect seamless textures and UVs, beautifuly designed work, in the end mistakes will always occur, and sometimes you just cant get that UV to look right. Take for example the game World of Warcraft, when I played it Ifound many texture mistakes; the columns in Ironforge had their UVs upside down at the base. Some of the floor tiles didnt line up perfectly. Unfortunetly we did not have that liberty, and even though it pushed me to make some of my best artwork it was a waste of time. One of the things that did come out of this was trees, we used speed tree method and after realizing our leaves still didn't look as crisp or as good as we wanted them I had the brilliant idea to model out the leaves, put them all together, and render them out as tiles. Yeah, it took at times 2 days to get a batch of leaves done, but damn did it look good...Unfortunetly many of the starter ups do not have that kind of time and resources, so avoid being anal about every little detail. Six: Leadership We had very very little. Nothing was accomplished unless everone had a consensus on the topic. If one person disagreed, it would mean we would spend hours upon hours trying to convince them or negotiate. In the end, this took away time from building the game. In the end, very little was actually made. Sometimes it's great to hear what your employees have to say about the game, as an employee and a creative person I loved giving them my opinions, and where I thought the game should go. But I sincerely wish someone would just say "No, this idea is good, we are going to go by it, end of story." Even if the majority believes otherwise. Leadership is pinnacle. Seven: Publishing and Recognition (its not just for Game Companies) I've always said it's better to publish a shitty title than to go entirely bakrupt trying to make the next Halo. This holds true. When we canceled the first project and started on the second one, we got very very very far, and many many times I said we really should Publish it as is, and add patches, add fixes, add things for free if need be, to publish it and to see profits roll in, even small ones, would have been unbelievably wonderful. Even if we published as a free-ware game, something people can download and play free of charge, it would be out there, we would have recognition, and a growing community. But for your artists it is a lot more. And I will explain this in my conclusive statement: It's hard for a starter up to get started, we all know this. Some of us will get very lucky and make the next big hit. But one thing a lot of starter ups forget is their own employees. I have worked for this company for 2 years, I made a lot of friends, I learned a lot, and I made a lot of good money. But now I am on my 4th month of unemployment, due to the fact that I am still considered an entry level artist even though my artwork does not show that at all (Or so quote my agent). Developers, don't ever forget your responsibilities to your employees, don't forget where you stand, and who, as the boss, is. We aren't a commune, think of us as a pack of wolves, there is got to be an alpha wolf that has to look out for the pack. As indie companies we are by nature smaller, but capable of much more creativity. But it is because of this we often become more attached to one another, and attached to our projects. I hated to see us cancel a game I worked nearly a year on, and it hurt even more to see the second game be canceled because of bankrupcy. Start small, plan ahead, grow a reputation, grow a steady income of wealth, and grow your IPs. -Chewybunny- http://3dsphere.net/ (Please feel free to add your own frustrations and critiques) [Edited by - Chewybunny on November 25, 2008 12:59:46 PM]

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Seems like you learned a lot during your experience. Too bad that it is nearly impossible to transfer all the experience and knowledge to other groups to limit the repetive nature of start-up flame outs.

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I'm part of a company myself that is working towards making a game. We've hit upon a lot of these issues already, and we've not even recieved funding yet.

I must say that whichever company this is about is very lucky to have recieved funding with such obvious lack of planning. Most the investors/invesment groups I've spoken with require IP that can/will span several games, design documents complete for the first title, work well on the way for a second title, ideas for ongoing titles.

Much appreciation for posting this though, it's nice for me personaly to see other people hitting the same issues and it's also nice to have this resource(?) for other people getting into the industry. I'm just sorry another small dev house had to suffer to provide it :).

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Mistakes all too common with startups. My advice to anyone thinking about starting up now, read the above, make a casual game for xbox arcade, playstation network whatever. Something achievable which you will even get time to polish, build your company from there.

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Thank you all very much for the commentary. I wanted to post this because I believe very much in the indie development part of the industry. Big IPs make big cash, we know, but people are getting very burned out on it, while small companies that make indie games are attaining more attention than the bigger ones; Braid is an example.

So since I believe so strongly in this aspect of the industry, I wanted to give insight into it, beacause frankly, all too often do I see people in "wanted" forums asking for help on MMORPGs...or even just RPGs...And I'm sorry, to say, you have not just a mountain to climb as someone else put it, but Mt. Everest, with nothing on you but a tshirt and sandals.

I want to see everyone here succeed, but success takes time, and patience, and big ideas often need big funding.

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Even if you secure funding for a big project (unlikely) you'll be on a deadline and finding good staff is hard. (Especially when you have no track record)

Start small, think smart, make some good arcade games, earn kudos -> grow your company

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Good post. Perhaps you can elaborate and upgrade this post to a postmortem-like article?

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