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A Year of running game development company — what I learned

I would like to share my knowledge on how Modern game development studios should work. Looking back, I would advise to start with organizational and business planing first.

Volodymyr Nz, Blogger

February 10, 2017

7 Min Read


I started this crazy endeavor a year ago in late November/December 2015. I joined without knowing what I was getting myself into. My former experience is in software development, marketing and system analysis. I did couple of small game projects as freelancers and worked on game level in game engines (UDK, CE3, Unity 4). However, these were rather single experiences and I haven’t seen how game studios operate from within.

I would like to share my knowledge on how Modern game development studios should work. Looking back, I would advise to start with organizational and business planing first. Your first game might not sell million copies, but company will be healthy enough to develop next titles.

There is an existing assumption among gamers community, as well as indie devs, that large — successfully studios just need to pour cash into marketing to get best selling game. From what I’ve seen so far it’s not the case, apart form handful of AAA and indie companies where they focus excursively on marketing efforts, neglecting development side.

This past year have been full of great moments and episodes when I wanted to quit game dev entirely. But as they say show must go on, so I am here guiding this ship (Extinction AG) to the bright future. By any means, my article is not be treated as light at the end of the tunnel or guide on “how to make successful game in X steps”. Read it rather as semi-fiction, semi-guideline to help you spot that light in the first place.

I would divide my experience into 3 areas — people, game production and starting a business.

People. Without them there is no work process. Of course each project thrives when it consist of right people. I can now, more then ever, promote this approach — find right people, not necessarily the most skilled in your business field — but the ones who are passionate, critical thinkers and ready to help you make the product successful. 
Note: Teammates should be highly motivated, but never expect anyone to work like you, for 16 hr+/per day 8 days per week.

Game dev is one of the fields where you rarely find people who got their Bachelors or Masters in Game dev. On contrary, you would probably, get messages or inquiries from people who are working on completely opposite field. For them game dev is a hobby or a passion, which they didn't have resources (financial, time etc.) to pursue

What is my personal approach to work with individuals?
Standard game company have — developers, designers, composers, FX and artist team (and of course all kinds of managers, the more the better, right ??). In most cases they work in isolated environments and in rare cases have access to information on what other departments are doing. Add to this boring and unproductive team meetings. Naturally, this is not the case for all companies, some have communication set-up better, some worse (completely isolated). The hardest part here is establishing communication of 100% remotely operated team.

In case with EAG (TTS company) we are considered to be indie studio. This have its benefits and downsides. I am an advocate for agile and modern project management trends. I encourage each team individual to provide assessment, feedback and critique for works of all departments and influence the game production.

Never push or force something on anyone, at the same time have company workflows, protocol outlining how company works. Transparency and professional attitudes are crucial for our trade

I have been fortunate enough to work in the team of highly professional and skilled people, as they helped me grow as much as I created work environments that is comfortable for them to work.

Game production. Or Why we need to know what game we are making before we develop. Startup experts say “fail fast, fail often“ — this is true unless you have 5+ billions of investment, 5 mentors, living in the Valley and everyone in the Internet is talking about you. If you are small self funded studio chances are — you have to know that the thing you are working on has potential, starting from day 1

Production is one of the most existing and challenging fields for any game dev company. Game producer combines manager, artist and designer roles. He is responsible for establishing 2D, 3D and animation workflows. Producer, in cases of small studios, like ours, can assume roles of CTO and Lead Marketing guru.

The best teacher is practice, for good producer this is true more then anything else. I had to learn how game modeling works, what is composition and color balance. How level designer make level functional and Environmental artists make it look visually pleasing. How both of them collaborate with game designer to make levels convey game mood and explain game setting to new gamers

Wiki has been most useful tool for me to establish game production flows. It simple to navigate for everyone, provides a lot of visual data. Instead of 1000 words i will show one picture:

Opening business and managing it. This is one of those fields where everyone (websites, bloggers, VC and random online dudes) tells you how to do it, there are thousands of guides, such as “best way to ..”/”10 steps in order to …”/ “how to be X in …” . In reality you read them, talk with people who have done this before (yes people do that when no one is watching), but then you are left alone to run your company. If you don’t know your team, have established company workflows and transparent work process, have clear vision of what your company is doing , those guides would remain footprints in the deserted (uninhabited) beach.

The best way to start is to come up with company & game name, start registering trademark, have legal NDA and contract for people. Start looking for your team mates (i don’t like word recruiting). I already wrote my approach to this in my previous article :)

One of the reasons I joined game dev is to change it. There is no better way to do it then from inside, no better approach then to show right example — successfully game and happy (is this possible??) team. So consider this as interactive game story with you as protagonist, at least until EAG has sold 1B copies.

There have been many mistakes, misconceptions and misunderstanding along the way. I will probably come back to them some times later, when I am old enough to write memoirs at the fire sides and chat about “’dem good old times”. In past everything was greater whereas future is more desirable, but we work here and now

P.S. We released Game reveal trailer on 20th December, you can check it here.

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