Do you REALLY want your own game studio?

Rami really depressed me with his latest Control Conference talk. He made it exceedingly clear that most inexperienced gamedevs will fail. It hurt because it is so darn true. While perhaps the harshest, he is not the only one speaking up about these terrible facts. And that’s a super good thing, but I think there’s something missing from the picture.

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The difference between me* and Rami is that he is doing business while I am making games. You know what Rami was not doing while giving this talk?  He was not making games. He doesn’t make games for at least 100 days in a year, because he travels all around the world to give these talks. He does that because it’s good for business. And if by now you know the names Vlambeer, Super Crate Box, Ridiculous Fishing, Nuclear Throne – well, he is doing a great job! What am I doing to make the world aware of my team, game, mere existence?

The difference between me and Rami is that he opened up a studio with a guy he did not like. In business, there are good working relationships, great synergy, trust, respect and value, but friendship? Not so much. How good a friends are we in our 5+ sized, young student team?

The difference between me and Rami is that he works with outsourcers he can dispose of. He does not include them in Vlambeer’s burn rate because he can get rid of them anytime. Is there anyone I can get rid off if needed? And… Do I want to? Am I emotionally able to push a friend away just to save my business?

The difference between me and Rami is that he doesn’t want to make the next big horror/ MMO/ MOBA/ [insert popular genre here] game. Vlambeer makes games with stuff that explodes. Like, huh?! This will pop in my mind the next time I crave kboom!

The difference between me and Rami, is that he pays the people he works with. He doesn’t starve, nor does his partner. In my case? We’re starving but at least we’re starving together 🙂 YOLO!

Business vs Pleasure

Making money is hard. It has always been so. It doesn’t have much to do with your love for game development. But creating a successful indie game studio is business, not gamedev. I think that’s what is missing from the picture. Are you really sure that’s what you want to do?

Do you want to:

  • cut features from your game that excite you, if business wisdom tells you you should?
  • take every feedback, especially the bad one, as an opportunity and as a warning that you might not be delivering the quality you think you are delivering?
  • humbly, deeply accept your lack of knowledge and the high chance of failure?
  • plan your path far beyond your first release?
  • market your team and your game relentlessly, constantly, experimenting obsessively until you find what works?
  • delegate responsibility and respect the people you chose? Stay out of stuff if you promised you would?
  • trim your team, tell some of your friends to go, so you can stand a good chance to keep the smaller team you’re left with?
  • do stuff traditionally not associated with game dev, such as financial planning, budgeting, burn rates, booth costs, taxes?
  • calculate in cold blood what it means to close shop? And actually act on it, if you get to that situation?
  • Etcetera Here’s an awesome list.

Think about this. Seriously think about it. Picture yourself two years from now, 5 years from now. If you are ready to do all on the above list and more, what are you willing to sacrifice if need comes? You might not have money, time or moments without stress for long times to come.

Given all this, I hope you still want to build your own game studio. If you are so committed, my hope is that you will change the world. Or at least a little part of it. Because you’ll build that company everyone really wants to work for. You’ll help so many others make games. You’ll contract awesome gamedevs. You’ll create another success story, you’ll teach others how to, you’ll give hope. You will really respect your players. And, most of all, you will deliver something of value, something good enough to worth all those sacrifices. Go for it!

But just know, it’s OK if you don’t. Really. There are alternatives.

You can consider getting a job in the video games industry. A job means constant cash and a far lower risk. You might not have all the freedom you wish, or do exactly what you want, but you’ll be making games. You’ll learn a lot in the process. It might take you once again in the Studio Owner’s shoes, only this time you’ll be far more experienced.

You CAN make games out of passion, you can gamedev till you drop, you can do all that, if you accept the fact that this passion of yours is a hobby, and that chances are slim to none to make a living out of it. If you do stuff with an open heart, for joy, for passion, rewards will come 🙂 They might even be money, but that’s called luck. And luck has a tendency to not occur that often in hyper-saturated markets. Like Steam. Don’t build your studio based on luck. Because if you want to build a studio, it’s not just about you.

* I don’t make indie games, I don’t have a team, I don’t want my own studio enough bad enough just yet.