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Why devs should work with agents: ‘A good agent will help you tell the difference between a snake and a ladder’

CEO of Dlala Studios, and game director on Battletoads, Aj Grand-Scrutton explained yesterday at Develop:Brighton why developers should consider working with an agent. Joel Benton, partner at ISM Agency (which represents clients such The Chinese Room, Sumo Digital, Supermassive Games, Saber Interactive and more) was also taking part in the talk, telling developers more about his role as an agent and his experience in business development.

During their talk they challenged the traditional way we see agents, with Benton stressing: “You don’t have to be a dick to be an agent. People underestimate the importance of business development. The one thing we can do is help [studios] protect their future.”

Agents can help developers navigate through the deal making process and show them what’s a good opportunity and what’s a bad one.

Grand-Scrutton explained that despite his preconceptions about agents, it was an easy decision to make in the end, especially money-wise: a good agency will not charge you unless a deal has been signed. He added that it helped Dlala structure its activities: “We’d been winging it and we stumbled on all our deals before [signing with agent Derek Douglas from CAA]. When Derek came into play, things got more serious. it opened the door to more meetings, companies were finally booked in the calendar.”

Dlala Studios grew from five guys in a garage to 20+ staff in an office following Douglas’ appointment as the studio’s agent.

“I think one of the greatest value is that he is always in contact with publishers and books the appropriate meetings,” Grand-Scrutton said. “All I have to do is to turn up on the day. One of the worst thing is that one game doesn’t have one pitch deck – we end up with 15+ variations because different publishers expect different things. It’s like a guessing game. An agent tells you what to focus on, what deck to choose, and so on. It takes a lot of stress off things and he helped us have that perception of professionalism.”

Benton continued, expanding on why working with an agent is beneficial, especially if you’re a bit new to the industry: “Biz dev is like the board game Snakes and Ladders: there’s no ladder going from square 1 to square 100. I spent my career looking for it and it just isn’t there. A good agent will help you tell the difference between a snake and a ladder. Luck has a huge bearing in this but knowing the difference between ladder and snake is crucial, and having a specialist helping you navigate that board [is crucial] tp work your way up.”

He added: “As CEO, you can only look at one direction at a time: you can look inside the studio, building the corporate structure and culture or you can look outside, at the publishers and so on. But you can’t do both. Having external help (biz dev or agent) is very very useful because they do that sort of stuff.  An agent will help you to have as good a relationship as you can possibly get with a publisher. You can’t be at all places at all times. Sumo has three full time biz dev and still uses an agent.”

Grand-Scrutton added that an agent is close enough to give your all the support you need but far enough to give you an outsider’s perspective, helping you make better decisions.

“We really do care,” concluded Benton. “We’re here both for the good times and bad times. Agents aren’t just an introduction service. It’s just the start. Opening the deal is the easy bit, closing it is the real challenge.”

About Marie Dealessandri

Marie Dealessandri is MCV’s senior staff writer, having joined the publication during its days as a weekly magazine. After testing the waters of the film industry in France and being a radio host and reporter in Canada, she settled for the games industry in London in 2015. She can be found (very) occasionally tweeting @mariedeal, usually on a loop about Baldur’s Gate, Hollow Knight and the Dead Cells soundtrack.

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