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Ask HN: I want to build a games dev company, what do I need to know?
16 points by all2 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 17 comments
Bottom line: I don't think I want to work for someone else. I like telling stories and game development and I like teaching and conveying interesting information.

I understand that if I pursue this idea that I probably won't be making games in the long run; rather, I'll be wrangling the talent and pushing deadlines.

1) First, what is something I absolutely need to know? Something critical to the success of a game development company?

2) What are common mistakes that indie developers often make? (like feature shift, release delays, and broken hype: see No Man's Sky)

As far as the technical side goes, I know I should push an MVP, then iterate. I know play-ability is important (and, I think that its more important to good looks, at least at the start - you can't play test pretty and broken).

3) I thrive in low to no-management environments. And I'd like to find people who a) also thrive without granular management, b) love documentation almost as much as code, c) know what they are about, and d) are willing to talk to whoever they need to to get something done. How do I find people like that?

4) I'm not a huge fan of advertising revenue streams, but I still want to push games to mobile platforms. What are my other options? What about revenue streams for games in general (if I want a recurring revenue stream)?

5) Where can I find someone who knows about the game industry and is also willing to answer lots of questions (like this post)?

6) What questions should I have asked? What am I missing here?

Uh, don't. It's a notoriously tough industry where it's all too easy to think that you're doing productive work when you're actually not.

I highly recommend that you at least be aware of what you're getting into. For starters, read some of the other threads about this topic/related topics, such as:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14874744 or https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15763013 or https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18092108

If you still want to make games, Seattle is the place to be.

Those were some rough reads. I think I may sideline "making games" as a hobby, and get a job like a normal person.

/edit - by sideline, I mean do it as a hobby.

This is a healthy attitude and I suggest developing games as a hobby. HN is generally negative on game development as a profession because of the horror stories, but it can be a fulfilling career. That said if you are inexperienced (or even experienced), starting an independent game company with a goal of it being your primary source of income is at best very difficult and often a bad idea.

This is one of the best times to be a hobbyist game developer as there are a wealth of tools, assets and knowledge available for free or cheap. If you have no or limited game development experience its always better to start as a hobbyist if possible to build skills, and even find out of you really like game development or want to do something else instead.

I'm the tech lead at a small mobile game studio, the best advice I can offer is pick a role and start developing your skills in this capacity. Main roles are tech, art, or business. If someone says design, don't listen to them, for good reason.

If you pick the business side, please be aware that you're only as valuable as the money you can raise. Of course there are other important skills, but just having good ideas isn't enough, you need to have the funds to sustain a team for the long haul.

Be prepared to survive for a few years. Game dev is an art form and like any craft, it takes years to get it right. However, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is picking one large project for the course of this time. What mobile offers is at least the ability to publish small games you can complete in just a few months. This will ultimately be way more valuable to you and your team as each successive project allows you to build upon the mistakes of the previous. If you're stuck with a large sucky project (it will be cause it's your first), you won't get the chance to do it better before it's too late.

There's so much more stuff... It would help if you were certain about the role you wish to pursue

Thanks for the heads up; I hear 'iterate as fast as possible'.

How would you recommend developing cash flow? Aside from ads, I mean. Do you have any experience with in-app purchases? Other methods of generating cash-flow?

In all honesty, most options will probably be out of reach for someone with lack of experience. For-hire work is one; a lot of smaller studios will do 70% for-hire and 30% in-house projects, but it will take years to build to that level where anyone will trust you with hundreds of not millions of dollars to create a game.

There are mobile publishers that will gladly work with you even with just a few months to a year of experience, provided you can deliver a product. However, the terms will usually be way more favorable for the publisher. What you get though is valuable experience.

"Aside from ads" - be careful not to downplay ad revenue. Many studios live on it. Of course it might be difficult to get enough players without spending a lot of money on User Acquisition, but you just gotta pump more games out.

The reason I mentioned that a game designer is not a "main role" is because they are a luxury that only the more established studios can afford. The kind of design you should be doing is the monetization kind; design your game to generate revenue. This may sound obvious but it's quite involved. There are books on Amazon about the Freemium model that you can read up on.

In regards to in app purchases, yes I have a lot of experience with them. It will depend on the game design how well they do. There's also the difference between durables and consumables, which you can research when designing your core game loop. You should have a combination of ads and IAP anyway. Even if it's just a "Remove Ads" durable. Virtual currencies are also all the rage and allow for consumable IAP.

Go work at a games studio for a year or two and you will get a crash course.

It seems like a lot of what you're saying is from the perspective of a lifestyle that you want, not from the perspective of what a successful or failed business would involve.

There's a bit of interesting stuff on cliffksi's blog:



Daft (but serious) question - have you ever written a game?

If so, try selling that and learn from the results. Then use incremental improvements on your process. You will probably find that even with a decent game developed, it will the marketing and sales that determines success or not - after all nobody will buy the game if they don't know about it.

The only other advice I can give is try piggy backing off something that's already a successful franchise - for example tools for WoW, Fortnite, even original Doom. For example, look at what Romero has just announced with Sigil.

Another option try to reboot a franchise like was done with Shadow Warrior and even ROTT - what classic game could do with an update? You need to make sure you square away the licensing deal of course.

You are setting yourself for a very tough challenge - good luck!

>What am I missing here?

game templates for the ocean of wannabe game devs like you make the monies that almost all of the actual games veeeeery probably won’t, so make a lot of game templates / content as a shovel & bucket company instead of full games as a studio

Talk to Michael at IHateMmorpgs.com. He did that . Great guy.

Don't do this.

Listen to game dev talks from Rami Ismail. As others told game dev as a hobby is more feasible

1. It's a very tough market, with high levels of competition and really high expectations for games on the user front. Hell, look at Steam for example. There are hundreds of thousands of games there, and even many of the better ones sink without a trace simply because of how many options players have. If you don't have a unique selling point, a decent marketing strategy and a certain level of skill in game design, forget it.

2. Usually one of the following:

A: Over ambitiousness. Feature creep can easily become a real problem in game development, and if you get caught up in too much, it's likely your game will never keep up with competitors. Look at Duke Nukem Forever for example; 14 years spent chasing shiny tech, all for a game that felt dated when it got released.

B: A lack of marketing. Seen way too many indie devs work super hard on their dream project, then fail to really advertise it at all. You can't afford to do that, otherwise your work will pretty much never find an audience. Get running that blog and posting social media updates before launch, and make sure influencers like famous YouTubers and streamers are incentivised to play your game too.

C: Over promising and failing to deliver. Yeah, you said it yourself; that hurt No Man's Sky. But it wasn't the only game affected by this, many, many others are too. Don't promise what you can't deliver.

D: Reacting poorly to criticism. I know, art is personal, and your game can feel like your baby. But when people criticise it, the best response is to find out why and improve anything that needs improving, not scream at them and threaten lawsuits. You do not want to be another Digital Homicide or Dalas Games.

E: Just not offering anything unique. Seriously, if your idea is that you'll release another runner game on the app store or take the match three genre by storm, you may want to rethink that idea.

3. Game development forums and subreddits. Maybe Discord chats too.




Or just the ones in this article to be honest:


4. If you're making games for mobile, the only practical solutions at this point are ads or in app purchases. Not sure any viable alternatives exist, especially given how even Nintendo couldn't inspire people to pay them money upfront with Mario Run.

5. See question 3.

I'll throw out /r/indiegaming [0] as well for a place to see what others are working on and share what you are working on. You might alway find someone to work with on this sub.

[0] https://www.reddit.com/r/IndieGaming/

Thank your for the in depth reply. I really appreciate your time and insight.

My major take-aways: iterate with speed, criticism isn't personal (don't treat it as such), don't make promises (rather - deliver the goods), have something that might be original (also see iterate with speed).

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