[This article is from a series of special features on starting your own studio, as found in Develop #133, which is available through your browser and on iPad. We'll be posting up further articles in the coming days.]
Starting and building a sustainable new studio is no easy feat.
Research conducted by GIC and TIGA shows that between 2008 and 2011, 216 new games companies entered the UK games industry, but there were also 197 closures.
Yet despite the high studio mortality rate, this is a great time to begin a new venture. Self-publishers today have considerable choice, with the number of platforms that cater well for independent developers, from the App Store to Google Play, being greater than ever before.
Certainly, there is more to development than producing the actual game. While this is the most important focus for a studio, to ensure success and to secure the funds to continue development, a studio needs to rely on a mix of marketing, PR, advertising, localisation, bug testing, age ratings, end user support, taxation and focus testing.
One of the first mistakes a studio can make is to be over ambitious. You really need to work within your means. Starting a games company and dashing headlong into creating a triple-A title is not going to be possible for the vast majority of new studios. Making use of open platforms and building a reputation and cash reserves is usually more sensible, and this can work to your advantage.
Independent games development is a space in which you can experiment. Try to take on Call of Duty and you’re likely to be disappointed; produce a quirky title that brings something new to the gaming space and you are likely to be far more successful.
START AS YOU MEAN TO GO ON
Ensuring your games business gets off to the right start is crucial. TIGA can help. Many of our members are self-publishers and have considerable experience of owning and managing a studio: we can share this collective expertise to help new start-ups that are self-publishing. TIGA provides professional business advice for new start-ups, including our Self-Publishing Guide to all of its members and a mentoring service.
We also reduce developers’ costs via discounts and are working to secure an effective Games Tax Relief which will reduce the cost of games development. TIGA also organises networking events to enable developers to build business relationships.
Networking is crucial. Developers need to reach out to customers and to each other and being in close proximity helps enormously. Networking is vital for tapping into fresh ideas and talent which can help make a game a success, and it is why TIGA stages networking events across the UK throughout the year.
This makes one of the first decisions a studio will make even more crucial: where to base your company. Location can be important, with the most successful studios being based around the creative UK clusters of games studios that can be found in Guildford, Brighton, London, Dundee, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Cambridge, Oxford, Leamington Spa and Birmingham.
But some independent developers decide to cut costs and set up their company in a bedroom or home study. This is often the cheapest route and it does not mean you have to compromise. It is easy to present a professional front with a good website.
Free blog software makes setting up a website a trivial task and it is easy to get the message out about your game via social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter. You can work together with colleagues remotely using instant messaging, Dropbox and Sugarsync.
Whichever route you decide, the crucial thing is not to operate in a vacuum. The danger is that developers stay in those small rooms and don’t talk to other people in the industry and that is because being around like-minded people is of the utmost importance.
Networking offers the advantages of sharing knowledge, ideas and engaging in collaboration. Networking can be the bridge for small studios which have to set up in a bedroom or home study.
Events such as the Develop conferences are important. TIGA’s events prove popular. Our Battle of the Platforms: Self-Publishing Conference was a day which discussed the issues facing those already self-publishing or considering it. It focused on the benefits of different platforms and the challenges involved in creating a cross-platform game from an early stage.
TIGA’s GameDev Nights are also great get-togethers where the emphasis is on learning and networking, with ample time for people to get to know other developers and understand the skills they have which may prove useful for your own venture.
The message is clear then: don’t operate in isolation. When you start your new business, learn from others. Network, talk, listen and understand. You need to make both yourselves and your games known and seize every opportunity to showcase both your talent and your creative endeavours.
Richard Wilson is CEO of video games industry trade body TIGA, which is devoted to making the UK the best place in the world to do games business. www.tiga.org
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