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  • The Hidden Realities Of Game Development (For Non-Devs)

    [09.21.17]
    - Richard Atlas
  • [This feature was originally published at the Clever Endeavour Games blog.]

    Hi friends! In this feature, I wanted to talk about something that comes up all the time in discussions with other game developers, and that is the disparity between what people think about how we make games, and how we actually make games.

    There are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes in a game development company, in fact in all game development companies, that go generally unnoticed by the general population. That's fine, and it's expected, because what you see is what we put out in our game, trailers, blog posts, content updates, and Twitter feeds. But what else goes on that might motivate some of our ideas that the average gamer doesn't know about?

    We make games, and games are fun, but we still need to run a business.

    In an ideal world, every game developer would make exactly the game they dream of, not limited in the content they can produce, not limited by their own talents or the talents of their colleagues, not limited by a publisher's wishes or orders, and not limited by consumer expectations. But in reality, we run businesses and this ideal world would require infinite time and money.

    This doesn't mean that all of our decisions, or even most of our decisions, are driven by making money. What it does mean, however, is that when someone is putting out a single player puzzle game that should last 4 hours and selling it for $9.99, there is absolutely no way for them to make it a real-time co-operative online multiplayer open world procedurally generated puzzle game... still for $9.99.

    What the developer wants in that situation is irrelevant, the fact of the matter is that even if the money was there to hire the network programmers, additional artists, etc... there would still be a question of dealing with the cost of keeping those people after launch, based on how much the game might earn. It also means that developer now becomes a manager more than a developer, and needs to learn new skills and work in a new position. There are hundreds more questions that arise from decisions like this, and all are bigger than most people might think.

    Our friends at Juicy Beast wrote a nice article explaining why they made Burrito Bison 3, if you'd like some additional reading.

    The financials are not always what they seem...

    On the surface, as I mentioned earlier, people see games. The games come out every couple of years or so, and are often delayed. What people don't see is that the driving forces for decisions can be very different for different companies. Just in Montreal, I can name five similar sized studios that have fairly significantly different business models and way of funding their projects, making their decisions about what games to work on, hiring employees, etc. Double Stallion Games (BAMF and OK KO), Thunder Lotus Games (Jotun and Sundered), Kitfox Games (Shattered Planet and Moon Hunters), KO-OP Mode (Please Don't, Spacedog! and GNOG), Norsfell (WinterForts, Airline Tycoon) are all accomplished studios which have put out at least two games (more than us so far!) and have reliably kept making quality games and kept people employed making those games. 

    The event that sparked this section of the post is the announcement that Hibernum (shown below), a seemingly extremely profitable Montreal company that did mostly contract work and used licensed IP to make mobile games, let go of most of their employees last week. Even though I'm close with people from that company (including some executives), and even though their games appeared to be successful, this can happen. So what's the situation under the hood? We never really know. Obviously I can't talk about anyone's (including our) financial situations directly, but in some cases, studios need to put their own ideas on hold and take contract work to survive. Sometimes they need to restructure, sometimes they shut down, and sometimes they make millions of dollars and stay single-person companies.

    There's usually more to the story than just design ideas or preferences of the developers.

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