Developers tell aspiring game makers to forget it

There's an interesting article over at Red Herring.com about a [url="http://www.redherring.com/Article.aspx?a=16830"]panel discussion at E3 with notable indie developers[/url] raising some ugly truths for small teams and startups that are wanting to break into the big time...

quote:?You have a zero percent chance of success,? said Warren Spector, a game industry veteran and the current president of Junction Point Studios, a company that develops games for consoles and PCs. ?The barrier to entry in terms of cost, quality required, access to a market? forget it.?

They say to small developers to look into games suited for casual gameplayers like puzzle & board games (they don't say anything about mobile or handheld markets though).

[url="http://www.redherring.com/Article.aspx?a=16830&hed=Indie+Game+Devs%3A+%E..."] [/url]

J I Styles's picture

as far as I've seen over the last 3 or so years, handheld has been the only reliable stepping-stone platform to launch a team-come-developer business. Blood, sweat, tears, determination, risk, and pouring your entire soul into your work... unfortunately that doesn't fly anymore, now only large capital and the incredibly slow hard slog of building a company from the ground up is the only way to get anywhere near the "big time" mainstream development status.

Caroo's picture

That's rather bleak. So then what are you to do? Be a bitch to the bigger companies forever more and heel to everyone else?s desires?

I'm willing to accept that for maybe the first decade of my career. But for its entirety? I will not so easily succumb to corporate snaking. I will eventually design and make my own studios game.

Wether the industry gets tighter and bitchier. Fine, we'll have to get bitchier back. And remember, when empires fall it's those who seize and lead that pick up the pieces.

LOOM's picture

well all you have to do is kill people who talk like warren spector.
not a big deal.

J I Styles's picture

hehe if only it was that simple [:)]

it's definitely harsh, but he's also being a realist... it's not that you can't get to where you want to be -- it's just that there's no magic ticket through hard work, perserverance and talent anymore. You need all those elements, plus a huge investor relationship for capital, and about 20 other like-minded and able people. And that's to even start thinking about approaching that level of development.

The point I was making before is that it's not that you can't get there - it's just that you have to build up to it like everyone else; there's no longer a clear transition from small developer/team to independant studio. It's now a case of building up a company from ground level all the way through, no easy A-B. And to build a company that is able to produce at that level is definitely going to take you more than a decade of hardship.

Here's a point -- These large companies with the ability to develop the games they want (to a certain degree) sustain themselves on those games. They are established companies with large revenue and audiences and aren't going to disappear anytime soon - what small to mid level developers are solely developing games to sustain their company? There's very few any more, not only in Australia but globally. Companies are selling middleware, or doing outsourcing, or blindly developing someone elses license just to survive and try to get to the point they can do independant development. Solely developing games at that level is hard to make ends meet - The ones that are doing alternate revenue... these are the successfull companies in their bid for their climb to the top to become sustainable in the current market.

unknownuser2's picture

Personally, I totally agree with Spector. Your chance of sucess as a startup is zero, of course measuring 'sucess' as having your game completed and on the shelves and actually making your team enough to keep you and your team continually developing and surviving, not to mention growing in order and in hope of working toward that project your just busting to work on one day.

Unless you have some already rich parents or know of some investors that are willing to throw a bunch of money at you, caroo your statement of being everyone or someones bitch is pretty much right on the head. And JI's comment of having alternate revenue is simply the truth of it, theres no escape.

Recently at Game Connection in France, I know of 3 teams who met with 22 large to smaller sized publishers, now these guys, even though they:

1) Had poored there souls into this work some for even 6 - 12 months (full-time) not part time. yes they burnt through saved money and all the secret stashes to have a crack.
2) Had a playable demo right there to show off.
3) Had full and thorough documentation / plans / budgets & schedules.

Were each and every time faced with the first question of "Have you guys completed any other titles working together ?.... no ? Any game experience at all, credits working on other games ?..... Mod experience only ? ....Well unless a team with your history has pretty much a completed game we just wont take the risk, goodbye"

The best of them consisted of a smaller group of guys a couple had credits on FPS as artists and programmers, so they actually had experience, a playable demo and all the documentation and the best they could muster was a "We would like to see how far you guys are along in 6 - 12 months time with the game - if its still going and around half complete we might be able to look at it a bit more"

IE they will string you out until you cant possibly go a day more without food and water and then offer you a measly sum for your hard work, Because your new and have no experience, most likely they will *only* be willing to strike a deal that completely muscles you out of the equation and getting the smallest piece of the pie, and as a team your left with a situation something in akin to:

"Well hey guys, 5 of us have spent 24 months working fulltime on this game its almost complete ( 40k average wage x 5 x 2 years = $400,000 + $50,000 willynilly expenses to keep the team alive ) we have an offer for $120,000 + 12% royalties its the best offer weve had, we have zero savings left and we cant continue if we dont take this."

And thats pretty much the truth of it, even for a company that has titles under its belt, its a bloodbowl and they would face identicle situation aside from their figures looking a little bit more healthier in terms of actual postive income or breaking even.

So anyone, and I may sound like an asshole for sayign so, thinking of making an FPS or an RPG, or 'the next best thing' and you have goals to release on pc or console - Your pissing into a Cat 5 hurricane, and your chances of sucess are like Warren mentioned 'absolutely nil'.

The Alternatives are IMO:

1) Take the 'who gives a shit about huge AAA quality and budget titles, lets make some small casual games and release those to handhelds' path and forge a solid reputation in that area and use that weight and experience to work your way into the bigger scene 'Epic Pinball' anyone ? now look at them !

2) Grab yourself a construction kit like elder scrolls, or UT2004 (Soon UT2k7), Doom3 and start making 'useful' mods and additions to games and get yourself and your name right out there and into the face of the actual developers in *hope* of working your way up through those ranks and actually being paid to complete mods.

3) Start working on designing middleware, perhaps a set of tools for mobile phone development, a full development environment etc etc.

Either way the best piece of advice I can offer any startup, is to be smart about your approach, and target something that will be a good base for the building of revenue, and that is tailored to suit your team and situation. IE dont set out to make the Unreal 4 Engine if your team consists of 2 or 3 mates who dabble part time.

Once you have revenue (which whether you like it or not is the key to sustaining yourselfs for the long term), you can then start moving toward doing what you actually want to do.

Making games is a 'long term investment' speaking for myself and the rest of the team, in the past 2 - 3 years now, we have experienced many emotions, ranging from orgasmic joy to utter ruin, and personally I have spent some nights wondering to myself 'seriously, why the hell am i doing this?' your persistance and sheer determination plus your will to survive will be tested and you will be pushed beyond all of your limits, and probably goto lengths you never though you would, to 'make games'

SO be prepared for a bumpy ride, but enjoy!

Thats my 2 Cents!

Happy Gaming [:)]

nathan's picture

??Publishers?? are saying they won??t sign anything until they see a working prototype,??

hehe, of course. Developers should connect to the publishers with an almost completed demo.
And the most important factor is whether the game is attractive.
I believe when the publisher was deeply attracted by the game, they can sign anything.

J I Styles's picture

quote:'Epic Pinball' anyone ? now look at them !

modest roots and continuing alternate revenue or cash-cow license development is unfortunately not limited to smaller developers - that threshold continues up the change right through mid range as well. I'm guessing Dice going from "Battlefield" to "Barbie Groovy Games" wasn't exactly a labour of love.

PS Mouse's picture

Idle musing:
We're all familiar with 'AAA games' and could easily count off a handful of examples. But what of 'AA games' and 'A games'? While the latter terms aren't exactly in common use, what would differentiate a AAA game from a AA game?

souri's picture

It's pretty ambitious for any startup/small team jumping head first into the foray of next-gen console / PC development but there have been a small handful that have, like Ninja Theory and Project Offset. There've been some really exciting things coming from smaller games on the PSP, Nintendo DS, Wii, with stylized and asset-unheavy games (Loco Roco, Project Rub, Brain Age, Nintendogs etc), so I still think there's opportunity for startups and small teams to still hit it big. Just have to be creative and innovative!

LiveWire's picture

There are ways to get some experience though, for a start up to get a game distributed

You dont have to go through a major publisher

There's always alternatives like Greg Costikyan's Manifesto Games, a serves he hope will provide an outlet for low budget and/or self funded titles over an online serves.

And all three next gen consoles will, or do, offer a download serves of some kind. Microsoft and Nintendo seem the most open to actually publishing games through this. Microsoft with it's Live serves for arcades and casual games, and Nintendo has said it will look at it's online serves as a way to sell titles that might not sell very well off the shelf, such as Electroplankton. I look forward to what support they will give smaller companies (not much i'm guessing) who want to distribute their self/alternatively funded titles through their online services. Xbox being ideal for casual games, and the Wii for more traditional titles (apparently the dev kits only cost about US$2000). Of course this isn't going to happen unless these giants actually offer their services to companies as an distribution alternative, and then start-ups have to somehow meet the the quality assurance standards of the companies, but there is hope in there somewhere.

And if Microsoft and Nintendo do, and it's successful, expect Sony to follow soon after (and then talk it up like it was all their idea).