Disrupt yourself: Staying relevant in a fast-changing industry

Team17's Debbie Bestwick on why adding new skills can help keep you at the forefront of new trends
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Midway through the previous console generation, Team17 faced a dilemma.

As a mid-to-large size independent studio, we had a healthy business with an original IP that relied upon traditional publishers, and also a work-for-hire business that depended upon market forces and publishers’ whims. 

We could see the console business moving to a ‘fewer, bigger’ strategy, and a resurgent PC market that bypassed publishers altogether – so where did that leave us?

For the first part, the solution was relatively straightforward: we took the decision to commit early to self-publishing, publishing some of the first PSN/XBLA games.

The answer for the work-for-hire part was less obvious. Self-publishing was so new that moving the whole studio over to original products would have risked the future of everyone there – and our first responsibility has always been to ensure our team can pay their mortgages and feed their families. But, as we watched more and more studios close, staying in work-for-hire became equally risky.

The growth of disruptive new platforms such as Steam, XBLA, PSN and mobile – along with the rise of smaller, more creative indie devs – meant anyone could make a game. The bad news was this would cause big discoverability issues. Add to that a lack of marketing experience for many teams and a fractured platform landscape, and it was clear a new kind of publisher was needed.

In 2013, strengthened by self-publishing successes like Worms, Alien Breed and Superfrog, we decided to be that new type of publisher, teaming up with new indie developers such as Moldy Toof (The Escapists), Self Made Miracle (Penarium), Dlala (Overruled) and Just A Pixel (Light).

This decision has already been vindicated : we’ve seen Just A Pixel win the TIGA Start-Up award, The Escapists win the UK Game Of The Show award at Gamescom, and Team17 named Best Publisher at the TIGA Awards.

This helped us refocus our work-for-hire business into a true partner (incubation) support program, making our experience available in the form of design, code, audio, production and QA/usability resources.

A CHANGE IN STRATEGY

This creates a virtuous circle; our partners are able to have the multi-SKU product launch that consumers demand without additional risk, and keep control of their creative vision. At the same time we increase our value offering as a unique publishing partner, going beyond the usual marketing and PR support without becoming the overbearing beast the word ‘publisher’ brings to mind.

The last few years have seen massive disruptions in our industry. The world of the PS3 and Xbox 360 launches seems a lifetime away and self-disruption has been necessary for survival; those who couldn’t didn’t survive.

Disrupting yourself doesn’t have to mean throwing everything away though. By keeping and adding to your skills and disrupting your focus you can not only stay relevant (and in business!) but continue to be at the forefront of this fast-changing industry.

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