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Our First Year Running A Small Game Business

Our first year as a game development company is plenty of lessons that we want to share with people thinking about starting a small dev studio.

Starting a business is both exciting and consuming. The story begins long, long time ago, in the sunny east coast of Spain. I was working (as well as my current teammates) in a renowned spanish company. We completed our first full development cycle in the industry and the game we worked (we were coders) just launched on the Wii.

Thanks to that game, and of course thanks to our teammates and an excellent lead coder, we learned a LOT during this development. With the game released, we were working on another project at the same company when the global economical meltdown reached the company, and several team members lost their jobs. As you can imagine, we were some of them. That was early 2009.

On June the same year, we started to talk about founding a new company and apply our new knowledge. There was a entrepreneurship award with a deadline on July, so we made a business plan (our very first one!) and sent it to the competition. It was a very small business plan, with 25-30 pages, but when we started the financial section, we found that the business was viable.

So, we dealt with bureaucratic stuff on August (it's really tedious and costly to start a business in Spain!), and we launched the company (Ninja Fever) on September 1st, 2009. We applied to be Official Developers for some consoles and, meanwhile, we started our first project using XNA and headed to the XBLIG Channel.

We completed the game in 3 months and released it on December 7th. Dual Zone (we did a post-mortem post here on Gamasutra) was a total disaster.

We were still waiting to become licensed developers for other consoles so... we begun to code other projects for XNA, while one of us started an iPhone prototype. None of the games sold much copies BUT we were doing something well: we were almos every month on the local press because of our new releases.

Oh! But we also won the Entrepreneurship Award, so its 4000€ and the new press focus on our company started to work for us: we were receiving proposals! This is something that it's critic. If you start receiving prizes, that's good. If you start receiving third party proposals, that's REALLY good. You are doing something well after all!

So, second half of 2010 has been all about working on work-for-hire projects for media agencies (advergames) and even a big TV Channel. We also received a grant from our Ministry of Culture to develop stereo 3D technology.

And now? Right now, one of us is at the Game Connection Europe (Lyon, France) and his feedback is really positive. We are a small indie company, with a core of only 3 people, but our current projects are receiving very good feedback from publishers (both big and small ones).

So, what about the lessons? Here you have some of them:

The good ones:

- Media attention is always good. Try to send press releases to the local newspapers, TVs... Video games histories are very interesting for the media.

- If you don't make cash instantly, keep trying. It's really complicated to make any money from your first projects, but they will serve you in other ways, such as media focus, 3rd party proposals, outsourcing opportunities, etc.

- Smile: Try to be always positive. You love what you are doing, right? So smile! There are lots of people out there that are working in something they doesn't love.

- Network a lot: We are attending a lot of meetings. There, you will meet people that, eventually, will ask you to develop a small project... or a big one!

The bad ones:

- Rent expenses: The rent of our first office were too high. We relocated on August to a less expensive office. It's not as glamourous as the first one, but ey, we only need a table, a chair and a computer, so it really doesn't matter!

- Art: We are 3 coders, with very little money to expend. So the graphical level of our projects isn't even average. Now we are investing on some professional art, and our new projects are benefiting of this A LOT.

- Lack of focus: We started doing things on XNA, then iPhone, then Flash... and finally on handhelds. It can be a possitive thing (lots of new knowledge!), but I think sticking to one or two platforms is a better approach, because you will understand better the platform, and this is a KEY success factor.

We are not the best coders, we are not the best businessmen... but we started a business one year ago and it's still alive! This year, lots of companies have closed their doors and we are still in business. And other small companies have emerged too during this time! Will you be yours the next one?

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