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Making It

1 - The Concept and Getting Up The Nerve

by Anders Russell
Sep 22,2005


1 - The Concept and Getting Up The Nerve

Seeing as this column will be tracing my experience in running an RPG studio as a business and as a full time occupation, I feel it's probably best to start right at the beginning. That beginning was about 14 years ago when I first played Hero Quest and Space Crusade (don't tell me you don't remember those games). Rapidly following on from my experiences with such "gateway drugs" I found myself embroiled in the world of Warhammer 40k. It was only a short step from there to playing Warhammer Fantasy Battles as well. And then from there I moved onto the hard stuff. First Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. Then, when I went to University I started trying a bit of everything: Amber Diceless, Rifts, SLA Industries, Shadowrun, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Conspiracy X, Hong Kong Action Theatre, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st and 3rd Editions were just a part of the myriad delights that I sampled. Gaming has been a big part of my life for a long time and I must say that I've enjoyed nearly all of it.

I first had the idea of running my own gaming studio a few years ago - of course, nothing ever came of it then, but I'd spent a fair bit of time writing up some detailed expansions for various game systems and even a bit of time trying to develop some games of my own. This was all while I was unemployed in the months following my graduation. Those thoughts were quickly dispelled from my mind when I gained employment at QANTAS (you know, the airline), working in a call-centre. After a few months there I began to realize just how unhappy I was with the job and all that it entailed - it was only then that possibly my luckiest moment came along. I managed to come down with glandular fever and was stuck at home for nearly four months as I recovered from it. It was at this time while I was trying to find ways to counter my cabin fever and still felt wholly unsatisfied in my job that I began to seriously consider the idea of starting a games company and begin some degree of "planning".

Taking that first step is easy, you see babies do it all the time, they take one step fine, then come crashing down on the next. It's the same with this - that first step, thinking about it - its fantastically easy. You can lounge around, noting down ideas and concepts and dreaming of running a big office full of writers, artists and designers. You might even make a few concrete gestures, attempt to contact groups to find out about intellectual property rights and even start work on a system or book. Then, you have to take step two and generally, you'll feel that metaphysical ground coming up fast and smacking you straight in the face. This is where you realize how little experience and understanding of business you have. How little you know about the industry (that one can be a real shock). And more importantly, how little faith you have in yourself.

With me, I went back to work after I recovered from illness for one day only. And that was to tell them that I wished to quit. I explained my reasons and left, that same day. I was now back to being unemployed and my hopes and dreams of running a studio had all but disappeared again. It was back into the dole queue and trying to find another job.

In Australia, there is a program called NEIS (New Enterprise Incentive Scheme) that provides training and support for those with a small business idea. It was when I spent more time looking at the NEIS program (I had originally contemplated it while ill, but felt that there was no way they would be interested in my ideas) that I finally decided on a course of action. It just about six months to the day since leaving my nice safe corporate job that I applied for the NEIS program. That was how much time it took me to work up the courage to take that second step. My concept and background must have had something in them that they liked, because I was accepted and two weeks later found myself sitting in a classroom with 9 other entrepreneurs to be, ready for three months of intensive, practical learning about the operation of a small business.

Now, I suppose this is where it branches for a lot of people. Would you be happy running a business off your own back, unsure of success or failure until your first product hits the market? Having to devote as much time as humanly possible each day to planning, writing, testing and marketing your product, then having to find time in order to deal with the actual running of the business side of things. Or are you happier spending a few hours here and there slowly building up a release in your weekends and nights when you aren't working? For some insane reason, I chose the first one.

And this will be my first key point of advice. Do not even contemplate starting a business like this unless have the full support of your loved ones. Because, for the next six months you're going to be stressed, poor and cranky and they are going to be the ones who stand by you through it all, despite the fact that you will find yourself spending less and less time with them as those deadlines approach. Certainly without the support of my S.O. I would never have even considered the NEIS program (she was the one who suggested it to me), let alone starting my own business. My second key bit of advice, try and find a program similar to NEIS in your nation or a business mentoring group or a government department, such as Tasmania's Department of Economic Development (another group who have given me a great deal of assistance and advice). Because, I promise you that if you try and start a business without the help of their knowledge and support, you mightn't fail, but you will forget one tiny little thing that can bring you crashing down before you even realized it existed.

Nerves are a very hard thing to counter, especially when you are entering something almost entirely unknown. But, as I mentioned, if you are serious about starting a games company, or even want to run one in your spare time - try and find a local group that will give you advice and assistance. Without the knowledge gained through my training in the NEIS program I would have never reached this point in my studios development - I would have foundered as soon as I realized the tax implications. Even more important in overcoming nerves is to see your idea taking shape. The first time you print out a trial ruleset, you'll be shocked by your feelings of accomplishment. But then again, getting that first bit done is easy. There's a lot more to come, just hope that you're ready for it.

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