After ten years in business and despite weathering some truly awful periods in the industry during those years, it’s the first time we’ve been forced to take such extreme measures. So it’s probably a good indication of just how tough the market conditions are becoming for mid-size developers at the moment.
My advice? If you’re an Independent Developer, and you’re not selling games directly to customers yet, start worrying, because this industry is changing beyond all recognition.
The obvious first question is “Why has this happened?” – the answer, unfortunately, is rather less obvious. The main reason is that Denki has been running on an old business model. We rely on “the industry” for funding. Which wouldn’t be so bad, except we’re making games for people who love games – which isn’t necessarily “the industry” unfortunately.
As a result we haven’t been able to find the right publishing partner for Quarrel. Despite the game being finished, super polished, and everyone who plays it having great fun with it, we’ve slowly been remembering why we got out of the traditional games industry for so long and escaped to Interactive Television in the first place: this industry doesn’t value good games. Players do, but the games industry doesn’t. Instead it values low risk games – not even “calculated” risk games, just low risk. And as a result there’s now one more truism we’ve discovered about this industry – “Word Games Don’t Sell On Xbox Live Arcade!”.
We’ve heard that from everyone with the exception of all the gamers who have actually played Quarrel and now can’t wait to add it to their collections when it launches. We’ve also realised that if we continue to spend time looking for a publishing partner who believes us, then instead of releasing the game this year we’ll almost certainly end up running out of cash.
We’ve stuck with this strategy as long as we possibly could. We’ve tried to play by the rules and take Quarrel through the industry the old-fashioned way, because we realise how important good marketing support, etc., is – but you know what? It just isn’t worth the hassle any more. Being developers “of a certain age” we cut our teeth in the industry at a time when you listened to Publisher’s opinions. But those days are clearly behind us now – there are just so many alternative ways of getting though to people who love games, and we’d rather save our energies for people who love games, play games and buy games than waste it trying to convince the industry of their worth (not that those groups are always entirely mutually exclusive of course!).
All the people who are doing things we like, admire and aspire to in games at the moment are bypassing the established industry and going straight to their audience, and now we understand why. It’s because the road to Innovation and Progress does not pass anywhere close to the established industry it seems (okay, with the odd exception, but you know what I mean).
We’ve realised we’re “not normal” and don’t make games that fit neatly in to income forecast spreadsheets. And we’re okay with that. Mostly. We also know we will always find it a challenge to get support for our games within “the industry”, and we’ve reluctantly accepted it’s now time to stop trying – despite the tremendous pain it’s going to cause us.
From this point on we’re going straight to the people who play games and value games, focusing on platforms that don’t have arbitrary gate-keepers who periodically change the requirement goal-posts halfway through development. And we’ll wait until we have absolutely conclusive proof of the value of our games before we go anywhere near the industry. After all, I think everyone at Denki would be quite willing to accept that “Word Games Don’t Sell” if it was gamers telling us that, but when it’s the industry… well, you might be right, but we’d like to hear it directly from gamers themselves thanks because the ones we’ve spoken with say something quite different.
So today we’ve taken the extremely difficult decision of restructuring and scaling back the business. It’s hoped this will give Denki the opportunity to build itself back up with a different business model as a publisher of an entirely new category of game – not Casual Games; or Hardcore Games; but Denki Games.
It’s taken ten years to put the current, most awesome line-up of the Denki team together, and there’s not a single person here that doesn’t bring something truly special to the group. We’ll miss every one of them that has to leave us. Quarrel is all the better for their input, but cashflow forecasts don’t lie. We couldn’t risk becoming another “typical games developer” where the first anyone knows about the challenges facing the business is when the staff suddenly don’t get paid and/or can’t get in to the building. That’s just Totally Not Denki.
So, please bear with us during this difficult time. I’ve only just announced this internally to the team and we’re all still coming to terms with it. It’s going to be some time before we get through the consultation process and have things resolved, ready to move forwards again. So we’ll be going incommunicado for a bit. Please don’t think we’re being rude if we’re uncommunicative, it’s just that we’ve got a lot to deal with internally right now.
We’ll start updating/blogging/tweeting/whatevering again just as soon as we have things sorted out, but it’s going to be a sad time for us all over the next while. Please spare a thought for the whole team at Denki right now. We could all do with your support at the moment more than ever.
One thing doesn’t change though: Denki will be releasing Quarrel this year – supposing we have to bring the board game version round each of your houses one-by-one.
PS: And if any companies out there are looking for top quality people to bolster their teams please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know about any opportunities.