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My advice to someone in 2008

Back in 2008 I replied to an email from someone interested in getting into the video game development business. I thought my reply might interest others, so I've decided to "blog" it.

Back in 2008 I replied to an email from someone interested in getting into the video game development business. Today, while cleaning out my email box and stumbling across it again, I thought my reply might interest others, so I've decided to "blog" it (albeit with a few minor grammatical corrections).

After re-reading it, I'll admit that I may have been a little pessimissic. (Okay, a lot.) But that's how I felt 8 years ago about the video game industry. Honestly, even today I think my main points are still valid.

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Okay, let me give you a few key points about the Video Game (VG) industry. (Please understand that I am not trying to sound harsh or negative. I'm simply going to fill you in on how the VG industry works.)

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1. Game ideas are worthless. 
The sad reality is that the great game ideas almost never get made. Those that have the money aren't interested in great game ideas - they're interested in...wait for it...making more money! And that usually means they won't hesitate one millisecond to ignore the best game idea if they can't own it 100%. And forget about shopping your game idea around - all of the big-boys will either say "Thanks, but no thanks", or they will steal your idea outright. (Oh, and if you wave non-disclosure agreements in front of anyone who's credible in the VG industry, they'll simply laugh and you. To them an ND agreement is a big red flag that tells them you're scared and don't know what you're doing.)

2. No one will work for "sweat-equity".
The VG industry is huge. There's tons of money flying around. Those people who are honestly good at their job will not work for anything less than a rock-solid paycheck. And any programmer or artists or designer you may find that is willing to work for nothing is either looking to scam you, or is worthless. Yeah, there are a few exceptions that you might be able to find. But trust me, unless there's a clear and large payoff at the end, those that would agree to work for free aren't worth the time and effort.

3. Developing a VG takes 4 things: Money, Equipment, People, and Time.
VGs these days typically cost about $2-$10 million to create, with a normal team of about 15-25 programmers, artists, designers, and management, and take anywhere from 24-48 months. And what's even better, all of those people you'll need to hire to create your wonderful vision will want to "contribute" their own personalized touches, which means that in the end the VG that is created will NOT be what you had planned. (Sometimes it's better; usually it's just a lamer version of your grand idea.)

4. Publishing is a bitch.
Okay, so now you've spent $5 million, bought all of the specialized equipment and software for developing the VG, hired 20 people, and waited 3 years. Now guess what? Unless you're planning on releasing the game via your own company's web site for the PC, you're going to need a publisher. Don't think for one second you can just walk into Wal-Mart HQ and walk out with a deal to put your new VG on their shelves - believe me, it doesn't work that way! (Hence the need for the "necessary-evil" known as a publishing company.) Now publishing companies don't work for free either! They'll want their cut of the profits right off the top. And most big publishers aren't interested in a finished VG. If you walk in to a publisher's office with a finished VG, they'll look at you funny and ask you what's left for them to do. (See, they believe that only they can help "guide" the VG's development in order to maximize the sales. So unless the game is still in development, they'll just wave their hands and tell you to go away.) And beyond that, if you want your game on any of the premier consoles, you're going to need each console owner's blessings to do so! That means begging them to allow you to put your game on their system. They'll want to see your track record on creating hit games. (First VG for your company? Forget it! All three big companies will laugh at you, and call you a n00b behind your back.) And, if by some miracle any of them actually agrees to let you put your game on their system, not only are they going to require money up front (the development hardware isn't free!), but they'll also want to provide "input" into your game's design. That's right! You'll be asked kindly to make some "minor" changes that, unless you're careful, will eventually end up re-designing your whole VG. Oh, and someone needs to pay them for manufacturing costs up-front. 
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Now, naturally, if you have your own source of funding (i.e. You've won the lottery and have several million to burn), then most of this advice is pointless. Go create your own VG development business and hire some VG industry pros to go make your game. Prove to everyone it's a hit game by self-publishing. Once you rake in the billions, John Carmack might call you for lunch. But until then, my advice to you is this: Write down your game idea. Put down every single detail you can think of. Put it into a binder. Then go get a job in the VG industry. After about 10 years of hard work, the company you work for might one day come to you and say "Got any good ideas for a VG?" Smile, pull out the binder and say "Yes, but it will cost you!"

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Am I right? Am I wrong? What do you think? Leave your comments below.

Cheers!

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