"Our business is becoming more of a business."
Attorney Jim Charne opened his all-day GDC program, "The Best of Times The Worst of Times: Building and Independent Dev Studio in 2010," with a thesis that set the tone for the morning session. The tide has been shifting the last couple of years, according to Charne, and independent studios this year must strike a balance between diversifying their portfolios and maintaining their integrity by sticking to what they're good at.
Charne and his panelists -- consisting of independent developers, a publisher, and additional lawyers -- gave rapid developer-focused advice on what kinds of opportunities are out there, and how to get yourself noticed by a publisher.
Most panelists agreed that publishers are looking to diversify their portfolios in 2010 to include more lower-risk games, such as those on the iPhone and social networks like Facebook.
"The opportunities are really endless," said Atari's Anthony Jacobson. "There are so many products available for us to look at that we don't have enough people to look at them all."
AppStar Games CEO Garry Kitchen, a thirty-year industry veteran, stressed that it is "critical" for contract developers to build up their own IP while simultaneously doing work for others and seeking publishing deals.
"There's plenty of work out there from publishers looking to expand their offerings," said Kitchen, "but I firmly believe if you're keeping your doors open you're building IP."
Despite the enormous opportunities, Ready At Dawn president Didier Malenfant warned that studios should focus on what they're good at instead of following the latest fad.
"If you're not into iPhone or casual games, I think it's dangerous to try and follow the opportunity and compromise your business," said Malenfant. "People look at Zynga and show that as an example of how you can get a lot of money, but from a game development point of view, Zynga has nothing. They basically copied games from other people and are probably not the most fun company to work for if you want to be creative and make fun games."
Krome Studios CEO Robert Walsh agreed, saying that if a studio wants to expand its IP to platforms like Facebook or the iPhone, they should partner with developers who already specialize in those platforms and could use the work.
"Regardless of how cheap you can be, somebody's already done it," said Walsh. "I think this is the year of partnering with people."