For most people, unless they happen to already be loaded, running a games studio is the same as running a business, like it or not. That means there are six core things that you have to keep in mind at all times.
It's all about the people
Be fussy in choosing your team. A strong, capable team will make the whole thing much easie. If they are weak you will always be papering over the cracks. Try to find people brighter and better than you are.
Once you get them keep them happy. You may not be able to pay them a fortune but treat everyone with respect, openness, courtesy, praise (when due), honest feedback, and be prepared to listen and you will have a happy motivated team. Believe it or not most people value 'please', 'thank you' and 'well done' more than a free coke machine.
This is just as important when you use external people, but at least in those cases your mistakes can usually be corrected more quickly.
It's all about customers
If you don't have customers, you don't have a business. If you are planning to self-publish, make sure you understand your route to market.
If you are going to do work-for-hire, make sure your customer is properly contracted and financially stable. Ideally get one or more customers lined up even before you open your doors. Perhaps someone who knows your work from when you were employed, but don't poach from your previous employers.
If you find you have a bad customer who is not reasonable or does not pay reasonably promptly, don't be afraid to sack them as a client and go find a better one.
It's all about reputation
A long-term business needs long-term relationships. Be open, honest, reliable and do what you say you will on time. Be willing to help others as you go along and no doubt they will do the same for you when you need it. This is simply good business but it also is a much nicer way to live.
It's all about business
You need to master all the skills of running a business including marketing, negotiations, accounts, HR, sales and so on. Don't forget to register for all your taxes (PAYE, VAT, Corporation Tax) and pay them and all your creditors on time.
We might like to think the games industry is special and different, but it isn't really that different from any other business so look around you at how other successful businesses operate and learn from them. If there is something you don't know how to do get external help, but don't hand it over and forget about it. Challenge and ask questions since it is your business and you have the right and duty to do so.
It's all about cash
This might be a dirty word to many, and most of us would prefer not to have to worry about it, but cash is the lifeblood of your business and if you ignore it then it will run out. If you can't pay your staff, even the best motivated team won't (and shouldn't) stay with you for long.
Run two cash flows to manage cash. The first is a rolling 12-month cash flow (ideally part of a clearly written business plan) that shows you will generate cash over time, since cash in the long run equals profit. The second is a 12-week rolling cash flow that shows how you will pay your staff and bills as they fall due.
And be pragmatic – very few customers will pay you bang on time. Neither cash flow needs to be complex; a simple spreadsheet of money in and out will do the job. In fact, the simpler you can keep it, the more clarity you will have about upcoming cash issues.
It's all about the product
If you don't make great product, you won't win out in the long run. Remember: great product is what the consumer wants, not what you happen to think is cool. At the same time, don't forget you are a consumer too – if you don't like your game, why do you think someone else will?
All this month, Develop is publishing its Start Your Own Studio guide online. You can find all of our start-up articles at www.develop-online.net/startupspecial, plus a full schedule of the guides still to come by clicking here.