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Repeatable success

Creating a hit game is a huge challenge, but following up on a hit with another hit is as difficult. How do you go about creating repeatable success?

Some time has passed since I wrote my last post. Since then I have switched direction and workplace. Previously my focus was on project management, but now it is completely on automatic optimization  of 3D assets. I joined Simplygon just before the summer and they are a merry bunch of people that I just love to work with.

For someone that has read my past blog posts, this might seem like an odd shift. For me personally, it makes total sense. In my past I have worked as a programmer and I’ve always been fond of the technical side of making games, even though I wasn't the best programmer around. What I found even more interesting, was smart ways of doing things, focusing on the how, rather than the what you do, and that is the red line through my last roles.

Enough about me though and let’s get to the meat of the post.

When you are an unknown studio, with no track record, all you’re looking for, is to build that game that everyone (at least some) wants to play. You don’t really care how you get there, as long as you do. You put in an insane amounts of hours, take every shortcut there is to get to your end goal, with the limited resources at your disposal.

If you ask a seasoned game developer, what they will tell you is that the key to becoming a successful game developer is not as much about what you are building, but how you are building it. Almost all game developers have less time, less money, less people than they need to complete what they want to achieve. So, they have to be smart about how they do things. In order to be able to produce repeatable successes, it’s not only about having great ideas, it’s about having a good workflow to realize those ideas. In my opinion, this is where the games industry is far ahead of almost any other industry. The common solution to problem solving I hear outside of games are “Throw more money at it”, “Throw more people at it”. The successful game developers are typically very smart about how they solve problems. They not only spend time on solving it now, they tend to work towards solutions that prevent the problems from reoccurring. They embed the solution into their workflow.

Some of the advice that I’ve heard from successful developers are the following:

Keep it small

The number one advice is, keep the team small, but recruit good people. A small efficient team can outperform a team several times their size, at a fraction of the cost. Adding more people to a team also adds complexity, not before long you will have to add middle management to keep track of things and then you are on a slippery slope. A smart team will find solutions to problems that keeps their team size down, by improving tools, automation or even outsourcing.

Value your workflow

The workflow is one of the most precious things a successful studio has. Not to imply that you shouldn’t change it, quite the contrary, you should always strive to improve it and take out/replace things that are creaking. It’s important that everyone has a rough understanding of the workflow and that no part of the team is a single point of failure. What do you do if your build system engineer is suddenly hit by a bus and no one else understands how it works?

Solve it now

The solve it later mentality is one of the biggest issues the games industry has. We work our way through pre-production, production and even post-production with the game limping forward at a choppy frame rate crashing frequently. Meanwhile we are packing more and more stuff into the game, hoping for that one solution that will magically appear when the game is about to ship. Many successful game developers will tell you that one of their core pillars is to always keep the game in a playable state, prioritizing anything that jeopardizes this.

 

In order to not become a one hit wonder, a studio needs to focus a lot of its attention on how things are done. Taking into account that any happiness you borrow from tomorrow, a quick-fix today, will have to be repaid with interest at a time when you can’t afford it. How you do things is what will allow you to produce success after success.

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