Yo, Kamal here!
Having your own game studio is a dream come true for every indie game developer out there. It even might be the dream of a lot of those who work in the game industry. Why? Because having your own studio will allow you to put your own vision and creativity into games that bring new experiences to players. It’s a sweet feeling when you know that people are loving your game and your efforts to make something of your own. But the truth is that more than 90% of all of those who are dreaming of starting their own studio either can’t actually realize that dream or end up failing fast. Today we will talk about why they fail, how to best avoid failure, and most importantly, what questions you should be answering before starting your own game studio.
This blog is purely based on my personal experience as an indie developer who managed to start his own profitable game studio.
Why indie game studios fail fast, or why indie developers cannot raise sufficient funds to start their own studio is not a simple question since a big part of the answer would be personal decisions as well as the environment around the developer, but I’ll attempt to give general reasons that I’ve seen around and personally went through.
- No Clear Business vision
Business vision is not just a statement that you make as a header for your website or social media bios. Business vision is your studio’s identity and what you aspire to become. Your vision has to be carefully crafted as if you were crafting a game. Because when the times are tough, and there will be a lot of those, you will refer back to your business vision that will help you take the best action to stay true to that vision. Without a clear vision, you’re just another game studio making another game; Nothing new, nothing special.
- Not enough technical experience
Unfortunately, I’ve seen this situation a couple of times where people of a very good business background try to start their own game studio without enough research about the industry or at least a trusted CTO who would take care of the technical side. In all of the situations I’ve seen, these people were able to raise the funds they needed but ended up with no game and no profit because they didn’t know the amount of effort and hardship that goes into making a game.
I know you’ve heard this a lot, and I know that you’ve probably guessed that I’m going to talk about it, in which case you were right. Marketing is very important, and I personally almost failed my team because I didn’t give it much thought. And this is especially true for people coming from a technical background. They might have a great game on their hands, an amazing team, and a fantastic effort that they’ve put into their studio to succeed, however, they ignored marketing a big time and thought that marketing is just posting on social media hoping they would one day go viral. Don’t do this, please. Stick around and I’ll tell you exactly what you need to do.
- No connections
Again, this is an issue with a lot of us who came from a technical background, I was guilty of this as well, which is having no connections in the industry. Here’s the deal, connections are what bring you business opportunities. Being a shut-in or not knowing others in the field blinds you to your rivals, your potential co-developers, your potential investors, and publishers. It will just make your task 100 times harder.
- Taking on the challenges head-on
The game industry combines a lot of massive work fields, from music to visual/sound effects to programming to digital art, and so on. No one studio can take on all of these challenges head-on. I’ve seen some indie developers who have so much pride in doing everything on their own, which is a shame in my opinion. Instead, looking around for outsourcing studios or co-developers who can share the burden of developing your game while cutting production costs AND ensuring the highest quality from all development parties is very important in the game industry.
Now that you know the general reasons why many game studios fail, it’s time to ask yourself if you’re making any of these mistakes and recognize that it is a problem. Only then can you start looking for a solution and truly move forward.
“But Kamal”, I hear you ask, “how do I even attempt to fix these problems? I wouldn’t have done these mistakes if I knew better!”
Don’t worry, friend, I’m going to give you my personal advice on how to best avoid these mistakes. I’ll try to generalize my advice as best as possible so you can personalize it.
- Spend enough time in the industry first
Yes, before you attempt to make any risky moves like running your own studio, make sure that you understand the ins and outs of the industry, the workflow between different teams, what it really takes to get a game out there in the market, and how to think of a game as an experience and as a business. You don’t need to know every technical detail, but at least know the general workflow so that you can better relate to the industry. This will help you in your decision-making down the line. If you’re coming from a technical background, this part is somewhat covered for you.
- Join Events and meetups
Clubhouse, Twitter spaces, discord servers, game industry events online and offline, all of these are great opportunities to meet people working in the industry, form connections, and spread the word about your studio and your game. It’s very important to be regular at events and meetups and to be smart about them. Don’t just join an event for the fun time, but rather have a unique goal that you want to reach by the end of a meetup or an event and work to reach that goal in said event.
- Don’t cling too much to your ideas
Game Ideas are great, they are our dreams, but you should always do thorough market research to see if this idea can actually become a real business (more on that in our Market Research 101 blog). On top of researching the market and building a detailed business plan around your game, you still have to be cautious; Don’t go all-in. Build an MVP first; a vertical slice of the game, then run it by gamers in your target audience and see what they think of it. If you get mostly negative feedback time after time, maybe it’s better to drop this idea and move onto the next one. Don’t sink your whole studio for one game idea that you’ve seen not working.
- Learn Marketing
It goes without saying that every business owner should know marketing. Even if they end up having a marketing agency to help them with their marketing, you still should learn marketing. Not only will it give you a better understanding of people and how to pinpoint your target audience, but it also will help you process and manage the strategies and decisions done by the marketing agencies you might work with. Marketing is a lot more than posting online. Going to events and talking about your game is marketing, creating a demand for your game among your target audience is marketing, paid advertisements that speak clearly to your players is marketing, engaging with your community on a daily basis as a studio or on a personal level is marketing, carefully crafting professional emails and sending them to the people who care about your services is marketing. I cannot stress enough how important marketing is. Do you want to stand out? Do you want your amazing game to be seen? Do you want to sell enough to turn a profit? Then you should be learning how to market your game.
- Learn how to work with other studios
If you need more assets done in a shorter time, the solution isn’t to hire more employees, the solution is to find a partner that can help you grow your business. Whether it be an outsource studio that you get to hire on-demand or a co-development studio that would help you boost your productivity or even a publisher who would take away all the non-technical burden off your shoulders. The point is, you need to learn how to work with other parties to achieve the same goal. It will save you time and money beyond your expectations. We at Game Hermits offer all kinds of outsource and co-development services. You can Check out our services here.
And there you have it! Running your own game studio isn’t easy; Yes, the market is huge, but the requirements for success are insane. But that is exactly why we should be insane enough to take the shot, and wise enough to not miss it.