Soapbox: About the Industry
Startup Feverby Sandy Antunes
Soapbox: About the Industry
Startup Feverby Sandy Antunes
by Sandy AntunesThere are just two important questions when deciding to 'go pro' as a game creator:
Back when I was running a business (RPGnet), I was also working full time. We reached that point in start-up success where we simply couldn't keep up with growth. So my wife and decided we needed to sell the business in order for the business to remain strong... we had become the bottleneck. Having helped with other start-ups, I find this happens a lot-- success can be more difficult than failure!
While most of my side of the family are wage slaves, I have a sister-in-law who makes films, a mother-in-law who started a bakery, and a cousin-in-law who basically co-invented then sold Claris Organizer for a bundle. Two of them reached the point where they sold their businesses... one because it had gotten two bid, one because they were offered gobs of cash. The third is still chugging, but enjoys her work.
I've also dealt with, well, a lot of economic failures, many of whom dusted themselves off and started anew. After all, failing with a business isn't a character trait, it's a reflection that building a business is hard and also requires luck.
With game start-ups, the most common story I hear is "I have to spend all of what time I have doing business, so I no longer get to create-- but I went into this to create."
So, suggestions herein for doing _any_ creation venture as a job.
1) Get a partner who isn't a creator, but loves accountancy or financial work.
2) Then get another partner who isn't a creator, but loves marketing or sales or just simply schmoozing. Now you have a team.
3) View being a publisher as being a game, an interactive simulation. You are roleplaying yourself as a businessman, and the goal is to win by conquering 'the market'. Let the operation of the business itself bring you satisfaction, regardless of what you produce.
Here's my quickie quiz for the prospective start-up:
a) If your business grew enough that you had to hire freelancers to write everything and a line editor to decide what to publish, would you still want to be the publisher of it?
b) If you like producing products of 'type A' and hate working on 'type B' items, but suddenly you realize you could make a fortune by ditching all your 'type A' stuff and making a really sucky, lame, derivative piece of garbage of a 'type B' product that _might_ make you lots of cash if you could keep doing it for five years, would you switch?
c) Do you want to have fun, or make money?
If this all sounds like a sort of Achilles' choice, it probably is. If you can answer 'yes', 'yes', and 'make money', run your own business.
If any are 'no', though, well... if you're a creator, create. Design games, write, etc. Spend the time you'd normally be doing revenue models and contracts and taxes, and instead use it to network, submit your work to other publishers, et cetera.
One publisher said that James Earnest told him specifically "don't send me ideas, publish them yourself" (wow, a 3rd party quote... my research is shoddy, yes?). But a creator also wants to have fun. So you figure out what 'fun' is for you. Is it building a business, or being the lead designer? Thing of 'running a business', 'designing games', and 'being with family' as a "pick any two" choice.
You could do all three, but you'll have to think different for that. For example, Chris Clark owns a web press and can do small runs at good cost, allowing him to, I think, succeed in all 3 (biz/design/family). Ken Whitman finds investors so he can staff up and do marketing from square one without risking his house. I know two companies that basically were underwritten by the founder or spouse and could go into debt $X before having to decide whether to continue. There are other interesting and inventive approaches, most of which end up trading money for time, or cleverness for money.
You always have options. Creators can freelance and brand themselves, instead of building a company. People who love the ebb and flow, the rush of business, are the ones well suited to starting companies.
Do you want to be "X Games" or "X Game Design"?
If you have any measure of success, there's also the studio option. If 2-3 handful-of-games-out publishers team up, they are now a studio like The Game Mechanics and can use their combined track record to more effectively shop ideas to other publishers. Now, not everyone is a WotC alumnis like TGM, but still, the studio idea time and time again makes sense-- share the work and have more time for creating.
Unfortunately, issues like 'ego', 'control', and 'business sense' factor in here, again because "creatives" often have a hard time approaching things "businesslike".
Fact is, I wish there were more studios, and less companies, so that creators could create and actually make money. For that matter, I wish there was a studio I could join, instead of always approaching third-party publishers with individual pitches. But I'm a smart enough businessman to realize I myself shouldn't create one-- because then I'd never have time to design! I'm caught by my own advice. And pitching may take time away from creating, but it's a lot less time than running my own business takes.
This all sums up into the recurrent bit of ignored advice I often repeat: if you can't convince one company head your game is worth publishing, why do you think you can convince an entire market that it's worth buying?
So your options remain to self publish, be in a studio, or freelance. All requires work, one requires business acumen, one needs a strong reputation, and the third is inconsistent. None provide stability. So... which is the most fun, for you?
Until next month,
Appreciation to the GPA elist, where I first published a version of this column