Starting up a game studio is very exciting and I could recommend this to anyone thinking about it. Besides the obvious stuff like; having the skills to develop, assembling a team, a great game idea and some computers, there are a lot of smaller hurdles you will encounter or at least hold to account in your plan. We can argue about what these skills should be or what this team should consist of, but I do not want to dive into the academics. There are professionals out there with greater articles about that. In this article I would like to describe some of the small but important things that are easily forgotten in your great vision of a dream company.
This one seems quite obvious, but you are mistaken. A lot of start-ups have this great idea, but fail to write this down at some point. If you have great ideas try to place them in a business plan structure, are you going to live up to this genius idea? is this profitable? Writing and placing these ideas can help you see all the responsibilities you are about to take. It can also lead to adjustments in your game idea or game studio plan. Try to do the basic 'maths' on your estimates. It will give everything a feel of reality. It sounds like a chore, and that's what it is. However you owe it to yourself to generate this insight.
Rami Ismail from indie developer Vlambeer once told me 'What makes your company stand out from the rest'. A great tip if you ask me. He told me to create a unique story around your developer. What do you focus on? What are your goals and missions? I already hear you think "Koen, my company is just making Android and iOS games" Well, the world doesn't give a shit about that. They want to know who you guys are, what drives you and what makes you special in comparision to others. Sometimes this means you have to connect things outside the box. It doesn't have to involve game development specifics. For example; it could be your team loves to roast bread three times in a row. That's why you called the company 3TimesRoast Studios. Another example; all of your developers wear a ponytail and you love to create engaging stories, that's why you called the company 'Ponytale Interactive'. This is definition of name, but it could be a story of something else. Maybe your way of development is special or you dropped out of school to start the company. Make your story meaningful.
Yes, this sounds obvious as well, but it takes time to create a great website. When you defined your company story and strategy, why not radiate this through a website? At some point you need a website to showcase the work or at least give basic information about who you guys are. By doing this at the start of the company, you save yourself from headaches when your game is about to release and need to resolve all these extra developments. Prepare yourself in advance. It doesn't have to be very fancy, but with a little effort and great pictures it can look representative enough to be taken seriously.
I know you do not earn anything yet, but you have to spend money already. Therefore it's necessary to have a small amount stacked away for investments, office space, stuff you need to acquire for development and unforseen costs. Maybe your parents, or friends are willing to help invest a small amount. You can also collect this yourself by doing a partime job, or have saved enough from your previous jobs or investments. You have to take some risks, but hey that's what comes with being an entrepreneur.
You are now making commercial games, so therefore licences are needed. The obvious are are for example: The Game Engine (Unity, Unreal, CryEngine), 3D Applications, Art Applications, Music Applications. Smaller licenses like 'fonts' or 'music' are not to be forgotten. It will save you time, money and trips to judicial court.
Where are you going to work? Are you using your Lan-party setup in your attic? or do you want a more representable office? What if you have customers and clients over at your office? Is there enough room? Will your router network support everything? Who will pay the energy and internet bills? I suggest you start looking for an affordable office space. There are a lot of incubators around the world that could help you find space or they could facilitate this for you. The Dutch Game Garden is a great example of an incubator in The Netherlands.
When you want to rent a place, be aware of all the costs your about to pay. Be aware of hidden costs (service costs). Try to get all-in deals without any extra costs. Read everything that will be covered in your monthly contract.
What if you need an investment? There are a lot of foundations that give away compensations or can help you fund (a share of) the project. In The Netherlands we have 'Gamefonds'. They help developers by giving them a compensation on the development costs. It could greatly help you through development and stay alive at the same time. As a start-up you have a lot of benefits lying around you didn't think of in the first place.
If you plan to work five days a week, you have to take 'lunch' costs in mind. This usually is forgotten pretty quickly. It does add-up in costs eventually. I can imagine some of you like to drink a cup of tea or coffee when you start your day. Usually this is provided by the company you work at. Well, without making a deal with your accomodation about this, you have to take these costs for your own.
When your office is ready to 'enter' you maybe need some furniture to place your lap/desktop on. Maybe you were able to make a great deal and got this covered within the monthly contract, otherwise you need to find some cheap bureaus and chairs --> IKEA. Consider carefully what you are buying, because they can add-up quickly. You maybe need a whiteboard, markers, paper and pencils, stuff that does not have to cost much, but can secretly create holes in your budget. You want to drink out of a glass or are you at ease by doing this straight from the carton? I don't think your clients feel so comfortable especially when the tea is still hot. You need a set of cups, glasses and plates. Also don't forget to collect your garbage in a garbage can!
At the start you are able to keep up with this. But when things get interesting you will experience this will take proportions of a full time job. Maybe take time to find or look into an accountant. It will not cost much, but it will be costs you have. Costs you can make up with full time development on your side.
It's very easy to set this up. Just make it easy to read. Eventually it's nice to consult a record of your development. Not only does it record progress it shows your decisions and is instructive for you as a developer. Fans love to check out what happend. You, but also the fanbase can keep track of developments around their favorite game developer. It takes half an hour at the end of each week to post something that sums up recent developments.
Photos and Videos
This seems completely irrelevant, well how wrong you are! What if you succeed in a succesful company or game release? People want to have pictures, videos and want to know how it all started. Try to capture these moments from time to time. It's something that will be of great use when journalists want information like this. Invest little time in a nice photoshoot and great material you can 'arm' your presskit with. (Something Rami told me as well). Besides that, it's very cool and can generate a lot of fun doing this over time.
I think there are many silent time consuming and money grabbing aspects when doing a start-up studio. I know some of them sound silly, but have to be taken in serious consideration. You will experience these at some point in time. Don't try to forget or ignore them.
What do you think is essential to keep in mind when starting up a game studio?
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