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Opinion: Getting A Business Off The Ground - Taking The Gamble And Losing

In this reprinted <a href="http://altdevblogaday.com/">#altdevblogaday</a>-opinion piece, Tiffany Smith shares her experience setting up indie studio Nameless, the dangers of not having safety net in place, and how projects can go wrong even when you do e

Tiffany Smith, Blogger

August 3, 2011

5 Min Read

[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, Tiffany Smith shares her experience setting up indie studio Nameless, the dangers of not having safety net in place, and how projects can go wrong even when you do everything right.] It was a nice sunny winters day in Southern California when I decided I wanted to start up my own game studio. I had just spent several months working hard on shipping Cave Story for Wii and hadn't seen the light of day for what seemed like forever. My head was foggy and I was completely committed to the job at hand. I had been fantasizing about how nice it would be to have the same kind of creative freedom that Daisuke Amaya (aka, Pixel) had when he created his one man masterpiece. Somehow this thought manifested into the notion that starting my own studio was a great idea. I went in guns blazing. I found a lawyer, applied for my business license, turned a part of my house into the "studio", and brought in office furniture and equipment. I even hired my husband, Rob, an awesome programmer who at the time was working at a AAA studio. I had enough money to pay us both, pay the bills, and basically keep us afloat for a year -- as well as a few contracts waiting in the wings (what could go wrong?). As you can imagine I was pretty excited. I was even more excited when only a couple of weeks into the new venture, we had been approached by a very big studio in Japan to work on revamping a very big AAA title. The job had trickled down to us based on the fact that I had previous dealings with people in Japan and Rob had a skill in a specific area that was harder to come by. "I knew he was a great investment", I thought to myself as we began talks with the studio. The teleconferences started and they were very nerve wracking! We were talking to the big-wigs of the studio, and much of our conversations were being translated to Japanese for the lead programmer and other members of the team. Everything they said was also being translated into English for us. The meetings were lengthy, but they were very reinforcing. We had managed to make a fantastic impression. They even asked us to do a second title for them. It all seemed to good to be true, but it was very, very real. We spent the next few months signing NDA's, writing up proposals, and dealing with budgets and milestones, and every single week we would have a teleconference with Japan. In the meantime, I had Rob begin work on the project to give us a good head start. Missing a milestone was NOT going to happen on my watch! In fact, by the time the heads of the studio department had arranged to fly over and have a final in-person meeting with us before we signed the final contract, Rob had already completed milestone one by himself and was half way through milestone two. It was about this point when I realized what a huge gamble I had made. Incredibly, despite being very new, we had actually been turning down work. Rob had spent all his time completing the first couple of milestones, and because I was so focused on talking with Japan, I had failed to put into a place a safety net, something for us to fall back on if this deal fell through. I started getting nervous, really nervous. What if this were a vapor-contract? What if it didn't happen? I was right to be nervous because it did fall through, but it wasn't because of anything we did wrong. The business heads arrived from Japan and we met them at their US studio location. We had an amazing meeting and showed them the completed work, and they were VERY impressed. We took care of details like testing (which they were going to handle), and discussed some of the hurdles that we might face and how we were going to resolve them. I had even brought beautifully wrapped, engraved pens for each of them. We had a fantastic lunch where we all laughed and had great conversation, and they left the U.S. the following day with videos of the code running and screenshots to show the rest of the department. They were excited and so were we. What came next was shocking and horrible. Two days after they had arrived home from our meeting, the earthquake and tsunami happened in Japan. Total devastation! For the first week, we had no idea if they were even alive. The media here was alarmist, and we weren't sure whether their area had been affected. I sent them an email sending them our best wishes and hoped that they and their families were safe, but we heard nothing from them for a while. Correspondence became choppy, meetings ceased, and then came the email; "Our department has decided not to go ahead with the project". The email cited the earthquake and tsunami as the cause. They were making cuts. Gutted. For a few days I was depressed, questioning whether it really was the earthquake or something we had done or said at the meeting, I replayed it all in my mind over and over again, but then a thought popped into my head and I haven't worried about it since. We kicked ass! WE ABSOLUTELY KICKED ASS! We did the very best that we could do with what we had, and we managed to take this idea of me starting my own business to working on 2 huge titles with a huge AAA studio within a matter of months, learning as we went along every single step of the way. That was my first foray into starting up my own studio, and we have moved on a lot since then. We're not making millions here, but we are making money. In fact, Nameless just signed a small programming-related contract last week. We're doing it! I couldn't ask for anything more at this point. :) [This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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