A videogame company is a difficult venture for anyone, even with the deepest of pockets. The failure rate is EXTREME. How extreme? The New York Times says 80% of games (8 of 10) fail to make a profit.
So what distinguishes a good videogame company from all the failures?
We came upon this game industry question on Quora:
What separates successful indie games companies from unsuccessful ones?
We couldn’t resist writing up a quick answer. You can see the brief answer at the Quora link below, but here’s a more in-depth discussion:
Great question. There are a lot of elements that go into a successful indie videogame company, just like any other business. It can fail on funding, staffing, management, vision, design, execution, technical foundation… so many pitfalls. But if I were to pick one, I’d say FOCUS is the key to a successful indie game company. You could also say DISCIPLINE. People don’t make videogames to make money or to become famous (although that’s usually in there somewhere*)… they make games because they’re passionate about games, love playing them, skilled at creating or coding, and love sharing the joy and fun of a good videogame. The most common mistake I’ve seen with game startups — and with the personal approach taken by videogame employees toward their work, as well! — is that people don’t know where to draw the line. They overestimate what they can do, lose track of their budgets and their scope, and gallop headlong off the cliff of fiscal and timeline suicide. The saddest cases involve videogame companies that bet the farm on that first game, without realizing how malformed the initial approach was. Examples: 1) The game concept was for a Triple-A title, but they had a single-F budget. 2) The game concept was essentially a remake of last year’s big hit, and by the time it got to market five years later, it looked uglier and played worse than the game that inspired it. 3) The team was passionate but green, and they bit off more than they could chew. 4) The game was well-funded by one of the biggest companies in the world. The team was full of veterans. Great marketing and support. Everyone wanted the game to be a blockbuster, but too many months wasted on building hype, making demos that didn’t improve the game, and indecision on actual gameplay. By the time it hit the market, it sold well enough, but was too late to make a real impact. Bitter? Me? No, never! Focus maintains a clear vision of a viable, polished, and fun product that fits the market and the resources available. You rarely see an indie game company fail because it thought too small (although it’s possible). You often see a game company fail because its reach outstripped its grasp. I think it's also important to acknowledge how stacked the deck is against videogame development/publishing success. The odds are not in your favor, bravehearts. As with movies, it's a saturated market and your efforts are competing with some of the heaviest hitters and most beloved franchises in the world. As a result, a lot of indies cannot be blamed for failing. Market conditions shift during a game's months- or years-long production But I guarantee you: if an indie game company is in the black, they are lean, mean, and focused like a laser on their goals. And they should be championed for it. I met a guy recently who is one of the founders of Storm Wars, a free-to-play collectible card game on PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. He's not a gaming icon, but he's making ends meet while working for himself creating games. I told him, "You're living the dream!" and he laughed... but I really think it's true. Anyone who's hammered out a place in the game industry independently is worthy of our respect. *If you just want to make money, you’re probably at a bank figuring out how to cook up some new and ethically-dubious financial instrument. If you want to be famous, you’re probably… waiting tables in Hollywood.