[This article by Ryan Henson Creighton is re-posted from the Untold Entertainment blog, which is awesome.]
One of the biggest challenges of trying to bootstrap a video game studio like Untold Entertainment (in the midst of a global recession, no less), is that prospective clients are drawn to service providers that appear to be able to handle their project in a no-fuss, turnkey fashion. Untold has been passed over for a number of projects because we try to keep our overhead low, which means hiring on an as-needed basis according to our workload.
These days, when someone at a conference asks "Untold Entertainment? How big are you?", i'm inclined to answer "seven inches, sof.t" i get a little tired of the question. The number of employees you have has no actual bearing on the quality of the work you produce, the speed at which you can turn around a project, or the value you deliver as a service agency. Yet it's become this quick litmus test of worth whenever men excitedly sniff each other's butts at conventions.
Smells like you've had a good year, Pete.
Many clients expect to walk into Untold and see a swarm of expensive employees chewing through money like locusts, waiting to pounce on whatever new project they're thrown. It seems to be only the studios that can do this - or, better yet, the ones that can fake it - that are able to properly grow.
In the early days of Untold, i met with a man who ran his own studio, who said he wanted to contract me to consult on and design a kids' virtual world. He said his American clients were due to arrive any week now, and he wanted me to come in and help him sell his studio to them. After many false starts, when the day finally came that the prospective clients were due to arrive, the owner seated me at one of the desks in his small office, and asked me to work on whatever until he brought the clients in. Meanwhile, he met with the clients down the hall in the shared boardroom.
i sat in this guy's office for three hours before it dawned on me: i wasn't there to meet with his clients or to help design the game. i was an office prop - a warm body filling a desk to pad out the scene, to make it look like he was running a thriving operation. i packed up my laptop in disgust and stormed out of the place. The guy's been on my shit list ever since.
i spoke to a few colleagues last night who confirmed that office stocking was common practice. One friend said that he worked at an agency that developed teevee commercials, and that also developed series. Clients from the commerical side would be brought in to see the dozens of warm bodies toiling away at their desks, leaving them with the impression that their project was in many, many capable hands, when in reality it was one lonely dude and an intern working on the project - the rest of the employees were contracted for something completely different.
Another colleague told me the story of an animation studio in town that invited a number of fourth year animation students in to do a drawing test, "because they were hiring". When the students arrived and asked what they were supposed to draw, the employees were evasive and weird about it. They were assigned to what amounted to busy-work. In the midst of this "test", some company bigwigs brought clients through the area and, indicating the students, said "well, here are our animators..."
i have another colleague who didn't have an office or employees, but on his website he'd list a number of freelance colleagues as if they were his own salaried employees. It was a little white lie that i believe helped him to grow his company to the point where he does currently have an office and employees.
Meh heh heh.
This "fake it til you make it" approach runs counter to the first of Untold's core principles, "uncompromising honesty". No, we don't have an enormous farm full of employees of all stripes and skillsets ready to take on anything you throw at them. And no, i'm not particularly keen on producing a smoke-and-mirrors effect to make it seem like we do.
Sorry - the giant floating head in the middle of the office will be able to answer all of your game development questions.
The fact is that if you want Untold Entertainment to work on your project, we'll take care of it. We are extremely well connected, and we can assemble the absolute best team for your project needs. Don't buy it? Check out Project Overboard, where i assembled a team of forty people from a multitude of disciplines to build a game in a single weekend.
Have you ever been used as an office prop? Or do you know other tricks of the trade to make it appear as though you're running a Fortune 500 company when you're really running Buck-Ninety-Five Incorporated? Let me know in the comments! Please also indicate your penis size, so that i can properly determine your worth as a human being.