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[As a developer, how do you plan the next game while completing the existing one? Veteran game lawyer and consultant Tom Buscaglia examines snakes eating pigs, metaphorically, to provide the answer.]
Isn't That Supposed to be Ducks?
Well actually no. Allow me to explain. I often counsel developers on the importance of focusing on building a great game studio to make great games, instead of focusing on making a great game to build a great game studio.
The reason for this is that if you build a solid studio your chances of getting to make that opus you yearn to create is much greater.
It also allows you to eat, have a home and live in a similar fashion to other folks in society instead of emulating the starving artists of our romantic fantasies. Quite simply, being consumed by passion is wonderful, but it does not pay the rent... and often leads to madness.
I Know, You Still Don't See Any Animals.
Let's take a look at the issues that need to be considered in building a sustainable business model for your studio. One thing you need is the ability to have a coherent projection of revenues and operating expenses, commonly referred to as a budget. I personally hate spreadsheets.
But spreadsheets are the language of budgets much like musical notes are the language of music. I suspect that many studio heads dislike spreadsheets as much as I do. But the successful ones know how to read and write in that obscure language of the budget.
The simple fact is that without a projected revenue and expense model it is very hard to determine if you are succeeding or even whether your studio is in survival or extinction mode. I am not advocating letting the budget "tail" wag the company business strategy "dog".
But you do need to know when you are succeeding and when you are not. And budgets are a better way to check than the old reliable "Can I make payroll?" model. And even a bad budget should deliver the news well in advance of a catastrophe -- hopefully in time to adjust.
Still No Animals, But We are Getting Closer.
In everything but the most basic games, a team is required to build the game. And in the more sophisticated games, that team is not of a consistent size throughout the project. I am going to avoid the funding issue for purposes of this example and just look at the development process in isolation.
The dev cycle goes through several more or less recognizable stages that we are all pretty familiar with... concept development, prototyping, full design documentation, vertical slice, asset generation, feature lock, testing, GM candidate and final rounds of tuning and debugging, acceptance and release.
However, there are significant differences in terms of the studio's month-to-month budget associated with this process. Moreover, understanding and planning for these budget fluctuations can be critical to the success or failure of the studio, especially if it is operating as a single project studio.
OK, Bring in the Animals.
First, the snake. The snake represents the project leads. Those core team members involved in the initial design and prototyping stages of the project. You probably know who I mean on your team. This is a tight group of highly talented individuals who bring home the meat. (The rest is mostly sizzle.)
For purposes of this example, let's say this is a five-man team. They will be involved in the project from conception through delivery. And whenever the going gets tough, these will be the "go to" guys. They will probably also be the last members of your team to touch the game before the final GM candidate is accepted.
Now we introduce the pig. The pig is the vast number of people involved in generating the multitude of assets that comprise the full game. The artists, level designers, animators, scripters, tool programmers and all the others who build the assets that fill out the game and add that all important sizzle.
In effect, the pig delivers sustenance to the snake. How? By being eaten, of course. And the development process is then revealed to be like that old National Geographic image that haunted so many children's dreams. That small head and long thin body with the huge lump in the middle -- the pig in the snake.