A Successful Indie Videogame Company Vs. A Failure: What’s the Difference?

successful-game-companies
ambroo / Pixabay

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.

https://www.quora.com/What-separates-successful-indie-games-companies-from-unsuccessful-ones

Share

Game Designer Hopefuls, Read This

Game Design Competition at SWSW 2010

Game designer wannabes, this is your opportunity, but you’ve only got a few more hours.

The Screenburn at SXSW Game Design Competition deadline is today.  This is a two-phase game design contest in which you file an entry first, and then a followup presentation if you’re picked as a semi-finalist. Nice of the contest designers to construct the elimination process to avoid torturing the entire group of wannabe videogame brainstormers. All semi-finalists get a free 2010 SXSW Interactive badge — not a bad deal.

Effectively, this game design contest will proctor you through the process of creating a game concept document and pitch. The eight finalists will pitch their game concepts to a panel of professional game designers at South by Southwest.

There are two categories – casual game design and full game design. Last year, the two winners walked away with Xbox 360 Elites and other goodies, along with a fair bit of press and new-found cred. Wish I could enter!

If you’re interested, check out the design contest entry page. Even if you don’t think you can toss a quick entry form and game idea together in the next few hours, bookmark it and come back next winter.

Share

Game design innovation… in today’s market?

game-design

I guess a few game designers were paying attention

The game design plaint that I most routinely dispense is doubtlessly one you’re familiar with. Game design is a dying craft. Publishers have forgotten what makes great games. Sequels are the spawn of Satan.

But maybe I was wrong.

A few fresh game design ideas are out and thriving

That’s right – I surveyed the market today using regression analysis and a four-variable study of the current holiday offerings, based on SKUs shipped, sales totals, sales velocity, and foreign distribution per capita. (Just kidding. Totally unscientific, but based on media coverage, advertising, and the ol’ sales chart.)

I have to commend publishers and developers for actually taking a few real game design risks. The primary success I see, of course, is the Nintendo Wii, which demonstrates that fresh game design starts with risky hardware and a canny knowledge of the gaming audience, its potential for growth, and most of all, that elusive forgotten factor called “fun.” Nintendo game designers understand that “fun” and “gigaflops per CPU clock cycle” are not necessarily tied at the hip.

Some games that are changing the ‘scape

I’m also encouraged by these titles. Maybe there’s hope.

Mirror’s Edge. Brilliant visual design and gameplay that might actually make something out of the rooftop-hopping game dynamic that went nowhere in Assassin’s Creed.

Little Big Planet. A fresh world, a world-building approach, and not a bullet in sight. Is it possible? Don’t get me wrong. I love shooters as much as the next game designer. I just want a balanced game concept diet, y’know?

Spore. Will Wright still marches to his own drummer. Certainly appeals to me more than the Sims.

Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Sure, once you saw the game design for DDR, you probably could’ve come up with the concept for these two. But did you? And c’mon, you have to admit that rockin’ the living room with your pals kicks the pants off Jenga.

The game sales chart still says “FAIL”

At the same time, the game designs that are dominating the sales chart are indeed largely sequels. Madden. (I know, it’s football season.) Mario Kart. GT. Other Mario games. Soulcalibur IV. Tiger Woods.

Still, I’m encouraged to see some fresh blood slowly being injected into the game design bloodstream. Without new ideas, the industry will die, or become trivialized and marginalized like comic books and (shudder) the sports card collectibles industry.

Maybe someday game design will be less of a craft and more of an art.

Ah, what the heck am I saying. Set your sights low. We might get some eye candy that engages a few different brain cells than last year’s game design crop. And that in itself is a revolution.

Share

Do good.

do-good

Do Good Now

Do good while doing nothing? How about working on a cure for cancer while picking your nose? How many of you can do that? That’s what I’m doing today. I’m gonna do good while doing absolutely nothing.

Okay, to tell the truth, I’m going to do good by installing the World Community Grid applet. And yes, it will do its good work – solving a small share of giant computing problems like a cure for cancer – using my PC whenever I’m not using the CPU.

Other do-good-er tasks that the World Community Grid is tackling include mapping human proteomes, researching rice proteins to help farmers raise better crops, and finding ways to cure dengue fever and AIDS. Sponsored by IBM and a number of major unis, the World Community Grid is a fantastic, safe, free way for you to do good while sitting on your butt.

If you’re familiar with the SETI screensaver, you know the concept. Do good while doing nothing. Except, frankly, I think a cure for cancer is a helluva lot more likely, and will do more good, than discovering bug-eyed monsters from the Sci-Fi Channel.

Do Good at Work

If you’re an IT professional, at a game design contractor or elsewhere, you should see if you can get some of your execs or your CTO on board with this particular do-good opportunity. A large corporation or even a corporate department can have hundreds of idle computers at any given moment.

Those clock cycles could be doing good things instead of running around empty-headed. Idle hands are the devil’s playground! Get that silicon to do some good work!

How to Do Some Good with Your Idleness

Ok, here’s the link to the World Community Grid. Get out there and do some good.

Share