Empty Fridge and Cup Noodles: Developers on Launching Game Studios

We've contacted several artists and game development to see if they plan to launch their own studios and find out what scares them.

Would you choose a full-time indie dev life with a chance to fulfill your dream and no money or a paid job at one of the AAAA studios? Here's a fridge of Piotr Turecki, one of the developers of Archaica: The Path of Light, which gives a perfect understanding of the ascetic life of independent developers. "We ate ketchup, mustard, horseradish (and beets) for three years."

What does it take to launch a game studio? First, you need money. Five years ago, Nine Dots Studio founder Guillaume Boucher-Vidal discussed costs with Polygon and the sum turned out to be intimidating. Your team needs PCs for at $800+ each (the rigs are more expensive these days and you probably need pricey RTX cards). You also need $150+ monitors, mouses, keyboards, $100+ desks and comfortable chairs (you need something good as you're going to work a lot) from IKEA or other outlets, $2000+ for software licenses per year for tools like Marvelous Designer, SpeedTree, Maya, 3DS Max, and Substance.

That's not all, of course, as there's a number of business expenses. You need to buy a company laptop for your business trips and meetings, pay for business cards for potential partners, and press (though this point might seem a bit irrelevant in 2020). You should also cover the costs of your office including rent and electricity (this number might be crazy these days), internet, insurance, pay your teammates. 

There's more, so the final number gets scary, and the data was shared years ago, so you should probably multiply the final sum. Let's say you want to be a solo developer and work from home. You still need to pay for software licenses, your rig, marketing, and more. You should also consider that working on a game means that you should either quit your full-time job and find the money for your project or develop your title after work/during weekends which might lead to serious burnouts.  

"I was paying myself the bare minimum to make rent and buy food. I was in London and lucky to be sharing a flat with my girlfriend, but £1,000 with London rent doesn’t go very far," Coyan Cardenas, maker of The Stillness of the Wind told The Verge. "Because it was such a cheap game to make, it didn’t need to sell millions to turn a profit. If I’d spent $100,000 on the game, I wouldn’t have seen a penny at this point. It’s paying my rent, but that’s only because I have no employees. If I had even one, then it wouldn’t be enough to keep the studio open so to speak."

And that's just the beginning of this tough journey as a game developer should also think about your business and overall experience and whether it's sufficient to run a company, evaluate your idea to see if it is potentially successful, come up with a clear plan, and more.

"I didn’t have a plan B. I would sometimes wake up in a panic during the middle of the night," said Jason Roberts, the developer of Gorogoa. "I haven’t thought about it in a while because I guess once Annapurna came along, I had more security. But looking back, I was worried a lot of the time. The possibility of a real disaster was always looming. You just kind of yo-yo between too much confidence and panic."

The intro is quite harsh but that's the truth and even a small mobile game involves countless spendings and months of work. Still, we see a lot of people launching their own game studios to work on dream projects. We've decided to contact a number of 80 Level artists to find whether they have plans of launching a new team. 

Have you ever considered launching your own studio and working on your own game? What scares you and other developers? What are the main challenges? Is it mostly about uncertainty and the costs involved?

Tales da Rocha (Interview): When I was younger I really dreamed about having my own studio and doing my games but as I was growing older I realized that being part of a super awesome team would be as cool as having my own game, knowing that everyone working with me are the best in their respective fields is the sensation that I'm looking for. 

I think that the biggest fear of the people is to fail, everybody's going to fail at some point in their lives but sometimes the fear of feeling it paralyzes you.

Alex Bouhabén (Interview): I’m quite new in the industry and what I need now is to keep learning and keep growing as a professional. Also, this is an enormous time/money/energy investment hard to match with a full-time job, and I think this is the scariest thing about it. Another possible issue is to find an adequate group of people to start this project with. Everyone has to be 100% involved, especially at the beginning, and we all have our own lives with our own problems, priorities...etc. so this could be an important point to have in mind as well.

Nabil Kechich (Interview): Currently I'm working alongside a multinational team on a next-generation RTS game, and we are planning to show a demo at the beginning of 2021.

I think what scares most people is the fear of failure and uncertainty about what the future holds. Some of the main challenges are the living cost in some countries, so going full time working on your game project can be a risky move. But if you want to create outsized value and a large return for your time, getting a job is not going to be as lucrative as starting your own thing.

The safe route is not usually the best route, particularly when you’re able to take more risks. At the stage I’m at I’m keen to push myself and work on some big bets. This was my reason for working on Edge of Chaos. I guess I'll be able to answer that question better with some updates in a few months once we get our vertical slice finished and our fundraising plans finalized.

ZA/UM, developers of Disco Elysium

Stan Brown (Interview): I started my art journey wanting to make a game with no idea how to do it. I soon learned why there are so many names in the credits! Instead of trying to learn it all myself, I decided to specialize and get into the industry and meet others who specialize in their fields. The idea was to gain experience in what actually goes into a well-made game. Launching my own studio... Well, it's not in the 5-year plan yet - for now I’m just enjoying being excited to go to work and create art for a living with great people!

I think the main challenge for new studios without experienced directors, is that there are so many different areas and considerations that need to be accounted for. Things that you just don’t know about until you do - when something is wrong, and hopefully it’s not too late to fix.

Shihab Uddin Alvi (Interview): I have a plan to open my own studio in the future and work on my own IP. Lack of a business mindset can create fear and uncertainty. I think funding is one of the biggest challenges in case of running a studio or developing new IP. It takes a lot of time to establish a new studio and generate enough profit in the game industry.

Cristina Martín (Interview): I think most of us have once fantasized about opening our own studio and working on our own video game, but few manage to get to the point of making it happen. I would say that sometimes you have the opportunity and decide to take advantage of it, or other times that the person in question has that entrepreneurial spirit and finds the right team to carry it out.

From my point of view, uncertainty and little knowledge about how to start are key points that can stop that desire to make your idea come true.

Undertaking, creating your own company, your project, is much more complex than it seems and not everyone has the necessary knowledge to face it, or you find the right person for that role or you become the right person.

Adolfo Reveron (Interview): Creating (and releasing) a game requires many talented professionals of many disciplines working together with nice creative vibes, same goes for animation and other 3d-industries productions. If you belong to this world, and you are an artist, you already have this fire burning inside, which drives your energy and pushes you to create. At least, that’s what I feel; after work, I keep on thinking: ‘’...hmmm, what about creating a tool to make this, no one thought about?” So it is my work and also my passion.

In this context, you, or someone around you, will think of creating a game, short film, or indie studio, sooner or later. It is an idea that crossed my mind a couple of times already but, maybe I already saw a few companies rise and fall, I’m cautious about it. In my experience, one of the greatest challenges behind success is creating a rock-solid team, with a clear purpose in mind, clear leadership, and able to stick to a roadmap. It is not about having that brilliant idea or story for a game or film, there are plenty of them within your reach.

To undertake a company you must feel the need of doing it first, the will, which many people do, but you need to deal with the fear of failing too, which is the main obstacle I think. These are not my reasons, though: at this point, I feel comfortable and happy creating beautiful procedural art for both my current employer and freelancing. I like helping to make other people’s projects come true, as long as it is eye-catching, no matter if it is a mountain, a sci-fi environment, or a tree. Beauty can be found anywhere in real-life if you learn to look carefully, it is up to the artist to portrait and showcase this beauty in a recognizable way for the public. Many times I got my friends frowning at me when saying something like 'did you notice, there are no two identical flakes? It’s so nice!' whilst me peering at a peeling-off rusted painted wall.

Marko Zets Prpic (Interview): Actually, I did launch a virtual studio named Boonar and I have published a mobile game named Cubiton. Running your own business usually means working a lot more than expected, but it also brings a certain level of satisfaction. Of course, depending on the success or if there is any. I am also doing other stuff, like fashion jewelry, live and online events, online art community, and so on. 

Marc Puente (Interview): I think that launching your own study is a very good idea if you partner up with professionals who have been working in the sector for years and know what they are doing, but the major problem is the initial inversion. I would not be able to create my own company due to the lack of knowledge in that area. Moreover, I would be constantly afraid of failure. It is a step that only a few are capable of doing.

Anna Koroleva (Interview): I have thoughts about launching a studio, I think I’ll try to establish one someday. Not a game dev studio, but an art outsourcing studio. In my opinion, for an artist, it’s much more interesting to work with different projects and different styles. Of course, if you are not working on your "dream game/job". I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be afraid of the responsibility related to leading the group of people at first. So, it's okay to feel uncertainty in such cases.

Playdead Office in Copenhagen

Igor Silva (Interview): I never thought of opening my own studio, it’s something that does not interest me very much with the whole bureaucratic part behind it. I prefer to focus more on contributing to my work together with my colleagues to reach the best result possible.

When I started in the area, I already organized a team to try to create a game of our own but unfortunately, it didn't go forward, mainly because without an initial investment it’s difficult to maintain and keep the team encouraged to produce. We always ended up changing the focus to work, other studies, college and with time the projects were being left out. In my experience, I think that the biggest challenge is to keep the team motivated in the project without initial investment and with the uncertainty of a release.

Matthew Messner (Interview): I've thought about it and it could be really awesome, certainly the dream of many in the industry. I have a few plotlines and settings for games that have crept into my imagination that I would want to see. They would be fun to build. Retaining some ownership of a concept at the end of the process would also be spectacular.

The biggest challenge is the reality of balancing the art of the game with the business of games. There is a massive risk of sinking so much time into any venture without any guarantee of finding an audience and an abundance of competition. So if it's necessary that you have financial success when a project is completed it's such a tough call. The reality is that there isn't much stopping anyone from just making your own games anymore except for the luxury of the time to do it and the will to learn how.

Chris Ward (Interview): I think at some point definitely once I’ve got some experience under my belt and hopefully when the current pandemic has settled down, but I do think the main reason people hold off is uncertainty. Games obviously take a significant amount of time to develop and are super risky at the best of times. You hear people making and releasing a super successful game in a few weeks and another group spending months or years on another and having it not be successful can add to the uncertainty.

Sergey Rudavin (Interview): We are already working with colleagues on the fubyscans.com project, a platform for selling 3D content based on scans. And, revealing a secret, we laid the foundation for our own game. Now we are searching for a concept, making rough prototypes of the levels to complete the documentation phase. Relatively soon, we will have some news for you, it is going to be a daring project.

Most people are put off by harsh cases. You need to work extremely hard, assemble an ideal team, constantly keep a balance between artistic and business solutions.

Launching a game studio is not the easiest decision to make and you'll probably be eating Cup Noodles for a couple of years and working without weekends. That's not the only scenario though, so you can deal with funding, rent a nice office and hire a team of professionals, but the main thing behind both options is that you'll get a chance to work on your dream project without anyone telling you how to approach art direction. What scares you personally? What are the main challenges? Share your take on the topic in the comments. 

Author: Arti Sergeev

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Comments 1

  • Anonymous user

    Or don't bother launching a studio, save all that time and money, and actually work on making a game in your spare time while still working a job that allows you to eat like a normal person. Plenty of relatively successful one-man dev teams out there. Seems like this is a mindset problem more than anything.


    Anonymous user

    ·a year ago·

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