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Is having an entirely distributed team problematic? Or preferable?

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That is - rather than all being local, founding a business whose team is flung over the globe, or at least over a few nearby countries. Pick one of the founders, found the business in their country, etc.

First of all, I'm not clear how murky the money side would get. If you were to form a US-based LLC with all partners, can those partners be foreign nationals? It'd seem to be quite weird to implement?

Beyond that, though, I'm curious how difficult it is from a general business perspective. I know that Nintendo doesn't want to give out dev kits to companies without an office, for instance, but that's one of the chief budget advantages of distributed teams - no facilities overhead. I'm not personally interested in Nintendo, but it indicates a certain bias. There are also management considerations, but for a small team, I'm not convinced they would be insurmountable. I've even heard that office space is desirable if you're trying to demonstrate business competency to investors, business partners (Sony / MS), etc, but... again, avoiding that overhead is half the point.

How doable is a distributed team at this point in general, assuming you're looking at a team size of less than 10? I'd eventually want to transition to a more localized setting with only some distributed folks, but especially for those first titles, the budget advantages and general convenience-in-finding-a-team afforded by distributed are/is substantial.

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Original post by "AuSemMau"
First of all, I'm not clear how murky the money side would get. If you were to form a US-based LLC with all partners, can those partners be foreign nationals? It'd seem to be quite weird to implement?

Your lawyer and your accountant, and your local SBA rep, can help you figure out some of those details.
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BI know that Nintendo doesn't want to give out dev kits to companies without an office, for instance

The other platform holders will likely be just as reluctant to license you. And major publishers will likely also be reluctant to hire you -- until you have demonstrated your team's ability to work, to produce good products, multiple times. Personally, I wouldn't hire you unless you could show me a track record and explain to me how you have figured out the problems of communication, time, language, and distance... reliably and consistently, over several projects.
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but that's one of the chief budget advantages of distributed teams - no facilities overhead. ... avoiding that overhead is half the point.

Sure. Everything comes with pros and cons. It's really cheap to teach yourself - no tuition cost, no student loans to pay off. It's really cheap to travel if you just always hitchhike and walk - no fuel cost, no vehicle license fees.
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How doable is a distributed team at this point in general, assuming you're looking at a team size of less than 10?

With that size team, you won't be working on console games anyway. Small web games, iPhone games, Facebook apps...

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Original post by Tom Sloper
Your lawyer and your accountant, and your local SBA rep, can help you figure out some of those details.

Of course, but it would be interesting to hear from people who have done it, too. In this case, I'm just looking for general information - it's still a bit early to be talking to lawyers and accountants.
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Original post by Tom Sloper
The other platform holders will likely be just as reluctant to license you. And major publishers will likely also be reluctant to hire you -- until you have demonstrated your team's ability to work, to produce good products, multiple times. Personally, I wouldn't hire you unless you could show me a track record and explain to me how you have figured out the problems of communication, time, language, and distance... reliably and consistently, over several projects.

To be clear, I'm not talking about a group of random people. We're all people with industry experience, the producer's worked in film and then games for over 20 years, etc. We're just a group of folks considering eventually splitting off and trying our own hand at founding a business.

If you mean demonstrating that as the given team, I can understand that (and you have a similar hurdle even if you are all in the same office), but that's something more than a few groups I know film/TV-side have overcome. In particular, I know a group that produces a television series in a distributed fashion that gets along famously.
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Original post by Tom Sloper
Sure. Everything comes with pros and cons. It's really cheap to teach yourself - no tuition cost, no student loans to pay off. It's really cheap to travel if you just always hitchhike and walk - no fuel cost, no vehicle license fees.

This isn't a new concept. Again, I've seen it employed in the production of a television series, and I know many indie groups have worked this way. I'm simply curious if there's any history of larger studios working this way - that is, of less than or around 10 folks aiming for actual console releases as opposed to small indie releases. (EDIT: Or, alternatively, history / practical reasons why this simply won't work with the industry as it exists - Nintendo's requirement of a physical office is certainly in that category, etc)

If it's impossible, hey, no worries. As it stands, I'm assuming it's impossible. I'm investigating it only because of the above example, along with simple lack of experience with team arrangements beyond the typical larger developer sort that I've worked under before.
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Original post by Tom Sloper
With that size team, you won't be working on console games anyway. Small web games, iPhone games, Facebook apps...

I get the impression you're being less than generous. A team of 4 made Joe Danger. A team of 7 or 8 made Flower. A team of (what, 4 I think?) made Flow. A team of ~16 made Money Night Combat, but could have been much smaller if they used outsourcing instead of internal art. Etc.

I'm not talking about a boxed release, but I am talking about PSN/XBLA. There's plenty of evidence that such is doable.

[Edited by - AuSemMau on August 30, 2010 9:26:50 PM]

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Original post by AuSemMau
1. If it's impossible, hey, no worries. As it stands, I'm assuming it's impossible.
2. I am talking about PSN/XBLA. There's plenty of evidence that such is doable.

1. I wouldn't. Pretty much anything is possible.
2. Sure. "Doable" = "possible." And yes, those small-scale games were simply left out of my previous small-scale list of small-scale games.

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Personally, I wouldn't hire you unless you could show me a track record and explain to me how you have figured out the problems of communication, time, language, and distance... reliably and consistently, over several projects.
QFT.

Managing a local team is not easy. Managing a distributed team is harder. You will need to prove that you can do it.

There were a lot of dot-com era companies that tried it. Most failed. Your business plan must detail how you intend to overcome the difficulties the groundbreaking businesses already discovered.

All the console manufacturers have requirements about physical security of their hardware. They retain ownership of the equipment, and the contract will specify how you intend to keep their hardware safe. Your business agreement with them will need to make accommodations. It is certainly not impossible, but you must address the issue.

A team size of less than 10 doesn't work for major games. It may work for a single development team, but there is a lot more to a game studio than the programmers and artists. What is your plan for growth? You cannot maintain a studio of 10 people, you'll need to either grow or die. Your plan will need to explain this.






You mentioned the titles Flow, Flower, and Monday Night Combat.

Let's look more closely at them.

Flow was a Flash game that started as a proof-of-concept for his masters degree thesis. He released the game on the web, started a company, got a half million users, and only after showing that the game could be a commercial success, it was moved to PSN. By all accounts it was a relatively small port, since the PS3 supports Flash.

But it cost money, and the three co-founders of the company entered into debt for it. It was a relatively low risk since they already had a half-million fans, but they still needed money to go with their existing hit.

The business plan you described does not start out as porting a game with a half-million existing players.



Flower was their follow-up game. They were already licensed on PSN, which is where they already had the agreement from the first title. They had some cash reserves from the earlier success. The plan you described doesn't begin with a small previously licensed studio with a previous hit.



Monday Night Combat followed a more traditional route: A group of experienced industry veterans, most with 10+ years of industry experience, took a risk and started a small business. Two years (and a lot of debt) later, they released their first game. I've known several companies who did that.

On this route, the co-founders need to be prepared to get a second and third mortgage on their home to fund their studio, or a few people to be independently wealthy.



I'd put you closest to Uber Entertainment with MNC. They needed a lot of startup money, enough to get through two years of development, ESRB ratings, hardware costs, salary, legal costs, QA, Sony submissions process, and more. I don't see that kind of cash reserves in the description of your partners.



That leaves you with getting some debt. Getting that debt puts you back in the need for a solid business plan. A plan solid enough to get money will need low-risk answers to solving what is known to be a high-risk scenario of distributed teams.



I don't have the answers for those problems. I wouldn't lend money to fund it. But if you have the answers, and you can put them into a business plan, and that business plan looks viable to a lot of people, then by all means go for it.

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The place I work for has some people working outside the country. They are paid as freelance contractors and its up to them to worry about their own taxes. Money is paid in US dollars and then transferred to whatever their local currency is.

You aren't going to make a console game for "free". Especially as a first ever game for your team. You will need some kind of secure office space for a dev kit. Home offices don't count either. Plus the cost of the dev kit isn't exactly cheap either. You really want to get that first game done as soon as possible to start making money so you really don't want to be creating every thing from scratch so there is more cost. As frob has said you are either going to have to start much smaller and use some Flash type games as an entry point for a publisher to pick your team up and foot the dev kit or you are going to have to take on some serious debt to start a studio up locally.

As for the remote thing, it is quite possible. I was on a team that has a game on Steam where everybody worked from home. They did have an office though where the exec type guys worked out of but all programming and art was done off site (using a fairly expensive middleware engine too).

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Original post by stupid_programmer
You aren't going to make a console game for "free". Especially as a first ever game for your team. You will need some kind of secure office space for a dev kit. Home offices don't count either. Plus the cost of the dev kit isn't exactly cheap either. You really want to get that first game done as soon as possible to start making money so you really don't want to be creating every thing from scratch so there is more cost. As frob has said you are either going to have to start much smaller and use some Flash type games as an entry point for a publisher to pick your team up and foot the dev kit or you are going to have to take on some serious debt to start a studio up locally.

Yep, I'm not intending to make this for nothing ;) The budget will be still substantial, but being able to shave the ~$40k (which I'd bet is still a fair underestimation) from a year and a half of office costs off of a $400k-esque budget would still be a nice savings - and that would buy a fair bit of artist time too, or another couple months of general operation.

Still, it's irrelevant if I can't sell the platform owners on the idea, etc. At the very least, I can minimize the central office's size and bring on the few that can't move as telecommuters and primarily outsource art, but fully distributed development is still potentially interesting.

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I run a small software company that works exactly in this way. We are small though, using contractors rather than full-time employees partly because I imagine employing people in other countries might get messy.
There are 'real' companies that do this though. I did a short amount of work for Electric Sheep and have also done significant contract work for TopCoder (separate to their competitions).

However a project which requires devkits, I can see them being dubious... they key thing is to make it clear you're a real company working in a distributed way, NOT a bunch of guys messing about. Formal company incorporation, a proper website and infrastructure (company email & phone number), etc.

You question about partners in different countries - why do you have so many partners? It would probably be easier if the company is based in one country and hires people globally, than having everyone be a partner... that again smacks of being more like a hobby team than a serious company with a director, owner, etc.

Might be a bit off the mark, but rest assured serious companies are doing this. On the team management side... yes there are different challenges but as always it depends a lot on the team leader, and a lot on the team members. If you have professional, motivated people, hopefully you can trust them to work without being watched (or you shouldn't hire them in any case!) Keeping the team focused and unified is perhaps the bigger challenge but you can use IRC, forums and conference calls to avoid having lots of lone-wolves who don't talk to each other.

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