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I don't have data to back this up other than years of entrepreneurship. I'm sure someone could invest the time to dig-up the data and corroborate or refute my statement.

I think game development must rank way up there with restaurants in terms of business failure rates. It might even be worst than restaurants but the data could be impossible to collect.


Because restaurant failures are a matter of public record while game developers more often fail privately. The data simply evaporates. It's a really tough business, even with money.

For the most part lack of business experience and idealism or hubris can play a big role in this. The good old "the market is <insert big number> billions, if we only grab 0.1%" fallacy.

To be sure, hubris and doing something because you love it has it's place and fortunes have been made because of this. That said, the cold hard reality is that the gaming industry is paved with the corpses of probably millions of entrepreneurial efforts who have tried and failed.

Generally speaking, for most developers, I think there's far more money in developing games for those who have cash to burn (whether successfully or not) than to try to create the next blockbuster.

As a small data point, years ago we were approached by a company to develop an iOS children's game for them. Lots of animation, sound, graphics creation, etc. They had no experience in software development at all. They wanted to convert this low budget cartoon character into a game because they convinced themselves they'd make millions with an app.

We told them it would cost $50K to $250K (or more) and months of development depending on specs. Of course, they had no specifications. It would be impossible to understand costs without a solid spec.

We also recommended they DO NOT develop this game and stick to their core business. In fact we pushed back hard on this point. I sat down with the CEO for a couple of hours to explain failure rates, challenges, issues, etc. They needed to fundamentally transform their company and were not equipped to do so at the time.

I got an angry email from the CEO telling me we were crooks and how they found a company in India that could build them the entire game for just $15K in three months. What the hell did I know? Right?

A year later, almost to the day, I got an email from the same CEO asking if we could meet. We did. He revealed they burned the $15K and got nothing more than a slideshow made with templates. They then found a larger company (also in India) and burned an additional $50K and got something that was buggy and wasn't even playable. By the time he asked me for a meeting they had burned through over $150K trying to have their game made and had nothing. They couldn't even submit it to the app store. They were nearly out of money.

You could probably guess what happened next. He asked if we could fix it for $20K. I explained I'd be surprised if anyone would have any interest in touching that code-base for any amount of money. And, no, $20K couldn't even touch building the app they envisioned a year earlier. I repeated my recommendation to stick to their core business. Which they did. After learning an expensive lesson.

Anyhow, long story to relate one type of scenario behind game development where ignorance and hubris meet a pile-o-cash and a bonfire follows.

Sorry to see the Woolfe team fail. I don't think I am being a pessimist when I say this is far more likely to be the outcome with games. Kudos for trying. Move on. Quickly.

This is definitely valuable input from someone who's clearly been in the industry a while.

Your point regarding putting your efforts into building a piece of software for someone else rather than trying to do it yourself is sound advice, but people will still disregard it even if it defies common sense. A tiny part of those will end up becoming very successful, and those are usually the people we hear of later.

It would be interesting to see numbers on failed startups (within both the gaming industry and otherwise).

Thanks for the info.

My take is that a large proportion of game developers are actually game addicts or view it as their artistic calling.

So reason doesn't really enter into the make game / don't make game and scope-creep decisions.

I don't have much to add than this is solid info and advice. Glad I got out of the industry a long time ago.

I wonder what your thought might be on this...

The angle I forgot to add is that Apple has, in my opinion, destroyed the ecosystem. The race-to-the-bottom they promoted created a situation where a game development team could very well spend a million or more developing and game and have to give it away on a hope and a prayer.

And "hope and prayer" it is because you have to dump even more money into marketing and hope it catches on so that your freemium or in-app-purchases model generates enough cash to recoup your investment and make money.

Not everyone is going to get a hit at the level of "Clash of Clans", yet everyone is now expected to produce stunning graphics, animations and game-play, give it away, create a back-end infrastructure to support hordes of free players and hope the game engages enough to generate revenue thorough IAP or ads.

My guess is one could do better gambling with a million dollars in Vegas than creating a game with that money.

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