This one is controversial. If you're building intellectual property and are working with both lawyers and investors to back your company, it will be a painful decision. However, a little empathy will help you make it happen. Game developers hate to debug (in general) and tend to have a really bad time when they hit a problem and are not capable of solving it themselves.
There is a solution that some smart developers have been able to capitalize on: price source code access at a premium price. This is the case with Unity, for example.
All in all, remember you're providing a component of a shippable product that will be the entire responsibility of its developers (or publishing partner). Being able to ease QA and post-sales support is valuable.
There is a growing trend for players to expect to seamlessly play the very same game on multiple platforms, from their smartphone to their PC and television (whether consoles or smart TVs) without paying for their game on each platform. Even more traditionally, though, developers are looking for true cross-platform technologies, easily portable, in order to maximize their revenue potential.
Therefore, if you build a new amazing rendering pipeline or the next artificial intelligence tools, you must keep this in mind. Your technology will only be attractive if truly multiplatform, or at least easily portable.
“I don't want us to be a service business!” said the lead developer of the middleware package to his boss. Your idea is to build this middleware and make money automatically by licensing the software. It's a great idea, really. But you will fail if you stick to this.
Apart from a very few exceptions, all middleware providers end up servicing their largest clients well beyond what they planned. The main reason: you need revenues to survive and grow. These high-added-value services include training, consultancy, premium support (like 24/7 access to a developer), custom feature development and complete project development.
While at Virtools, it took us a few years to accept this idea and allocate some dedicated resources (sales and a custom development team) to offer additional services to a few key, targeted clients. It was not always easy; the service team was sometimes considered lower tier, while the core R&D was obviously Premier League.
However, if we hadn't done it, we would have had to call it a loss, and move on to the next project. In addition, our middleware wouldn't have ever reached the level of quality it did: Having an internal team building a product with a middleware is the best way to ensure it's actually really usable.
You know this little box you tick to confirm you accept the legal terms of your product during the installation process? Actually, this matters, and guess what: it's often related to the bad business guy who will sign the check or hand over his duly completed credit card form to buy your stuff.
There are a few critical rules in the End User License Agreement (EULA):
Overall, make sure you allocate some budget for an attorney to assist you with this critical step. There are tons of templates you can find on the web (this one, for example, looks good), which is useful as a start but cannot be an end.
By targeting the electronic entertainment industry with your technology, you are ready for the worst possible environment. However, once you crack that nut and perform in this market, your technology will go well beyond -- in industries that are sometimes less demanding, easier to work with, etc.
Unless you only target gaming console platforms (if so, read a few articles about the decline of these little boxes and reconsider), your middleware should be able to sell to a few very interesting industries, like the military business (e-learning and serious games), the architecture business (to create amazing sales tools). As an anecdote, I remember exhibiting at GDC in 2004 or 2005 and summing up the leads we got at the end of the show. Over 30 percent of the qualified contacts were in a business related to the military. These guys know where to get the best tools -- trust me.
If you are discouraged by the above checklist, sorry! I hope you will at least realize that there are some barriers to entry when it comes to providing professional middleware and tools for the game development market. If your ambition is purely to share your knowledge without generating revenues, you can post your code or tool on a marketplace and increase your reputation.
If you are ready to get started, that's great! Working with the most creative and powerful game studios is really exciting. You get to see what's coming next in terms of hardware and software innovation, meet brilliant developers who love your product and motivate you every day to work harder with your team, and get the most added value that's possible. Have fun!