Part 1 is here. Read it first. Let’s continue with reasons you shouldn’t start a game business!
2. Making a game is pretty damned difficult, actually.
I have a relevant blog post from ADB about this, and then I’ll yell about how much he is wrong:
Most manuscripts do not arrive without our having previously worked with the author, providing him guidance, formats, and things to fix or avoid.
Upon arrival, a supposedly finished manuscript is assigned to somebody to review, usually Steve Cole (F&E, Fed Commander), or Steven Petrick (SFB), or Jean Sexton (Prime Directive).
In such a case, the reviewer conducts a review that may take an entire day or more. The point is to determine how much work it is going to take to finish the project. This partly depends on whether the decision is made to do this as a playtest pack, an e23 product, or a “real” product (which would take more work as it has to be done to a higher standard). The reviewer often comes up with more than one option.
The reviewer will then present a plan to the Board of Directors (the Steves and Leanna). The Board reviews the product to see if it is marketable (and in what format), fits into our plans for universe development, and whether the amount of time it will take to do is justified by the potential sales.
Oftentimes, this step is badly made, and we end up deciding to publish a product with nowhere near the amount of information we should have had to make a proper decision. This has resulted in some vaporware products that have never been finished (because they proved to be far more work than they appeared to take, or were thought to have a far greater market than we thought, or because we thought that the outside designer was going to do things that he did not, in fact, actually do). In the bad old days, we announced the product at this stage (often with a price that proved mistaken based on a project size that was miscalculated). In really bad cases, we actually print parts of the unfinished product (in batches with other products) and that proves to be a mistake (as we really wish the printed elements could be changed). These days, we try very hard to force ourselves not to schedule products until we know a lot more about the work it takes to finish them.
At this point, the board reviews just how many man-hours it is thought that the project will take. If that seems reasonable (compared to the sales potential) we will review the overall work schedule and determine when those hours can be found. Fewer required hours means an earlier production date. Too many hours and we may re-evaluate the project and decide not to do it at all.
Under the new “find out what this is really going to take” plan the Board will define some part of the project and some portion of the estimated time. The designer will then do that part (usually 10-20 percent of the project) and compare it to the time estimate. If the project is taking less time-per-page than expected, it moves ahead. If it’s taking more time, it may be re-evaluated and either delayed or dropped.
One we have a supposedly complete draft, there is the outside playtest and review phase. The reports of the playtesters, proofreaders, or reviewers may mean that the project requires a few hours of editing, or has to be done over or scrapped.
Then we can talk about Jean, who seems to think that the world will end if any project goes to press with a mis-conjugated verb or an unfortunately capitalized noun. (Worse, Jean has a full-time non-game job, plus she handles marketing, manages the BBS and Facebook, and runs the Prime Directive product line, so getting something proofread takes some tricky scheduling. Proofreading a 120-page Captain’s Log can easily take her three weeks, and given the chance, she’d do that twice.
Only when it is a finished document will it go onto the schedule. This is a fairly new rule designed to prevent vaporware from sneaking into the schedule. A playtest book or an e23 pack gets released pretty quickly after that point. In the case of a “real product” (say, Module R19) it goes onto the release schedule for 90 or more days down the road. (This may be even further away if it requires countersheets that have to be batched with other products.)
– from the Federation Commander Blog.
Okay, so this is a game company, that has been in business for thirty fucking years, with a workable manuscript, who can’t seem to handle actually producing the product. Let’s review their process:
1. Get manuscript, spend a day or three reading it. ($150-450)
2. Present to Board of Directors, without doing a job cost review first. ($150)
3. Subjectively review product potential. ($150-300)
4. Work on part of the job, since we can’t actually apply any industry experience and prefer to do it by trial and error. ($1000+)
5. Decide, based on this arbitrary sample, that we’ve already spent too much money and it’s not worth it. ($150).
6. Wonder where all of our money and time goes. ($0)
Those amounts in parentheses? That’s how much they are paying (based on a conservative estimate of the “Steves” and Leanne’s payroll) to review and NOT PRODUCE a product. They have spent as much as two thousand dollars in this process! This doesn’t count any other costs, just payroll. I am done wondering why nothing gets done there.
(I also like the sarcastic commentary about product quality. That’s right, typos are totally okay. Our products are high-quality and professional! See my last big post.)
What I’m saying here is that there is, in fact, a lot that goes into a game that has nothing to do with writing it. Rules are easy, really; effective playtesting and an open and honest design process will iron out most of the issues. I have personally known someone who wanted to produce a board game, and worked on it for months and months before he realized that there was no printer that would be able to produce a board the size and shape he needed. It’s a tragedy, too; the game was a hell of a lot of fun.
3. Even if you’re good at making games, starting and running ANY business is fucking difficult.
I can tell you this from personal experience. I have started two businesses: an espresso stand and a weekly newspaper. There are lessons to be learned here, too, so read and know that anyone can make these mistakes.
The espresso stand was fantastic. We paid way too much to get it going, but it was honestly some of the best experience of my life. I had three employees, worked sixty hours and week, and enjoyed every minute of it (even the early morning alarm company calls because meth-heads wanted to break into our stand). It was by no means easy, though. It is very difficult to increase your patronage at a business like that, so you have to use other methods (primarily increasing ticket averages). It wasn’t lucrative, but I was okay with that at the time.
Unfortunately, I had to sell, and still managed to come out with a little bit of cash. I was riding high on that experience, I had several grand burning a hole in my pocket, and I had always wanted to run a weekly rag. Mistake number one: human beings are experts at raising confirmation bias to an art form. I believe it would work, even though my numbers told me otherwise. People would love this. I could get the word out.
It was a miserable, very public failure, and something I am embarrassed of to this day. What I’m not embarrassed of are the lessons I learned. I needed to get burned; success ruins a person. I’m happy I’m out of the coffee business (my old friends in it are not doing very well), and I should have know that a newspaper was an awful fucking idea. Oh well. So it goes.
The point I am making here is that about half of the things I’ve learned here are not lessons I learned in school. I’ve had them beat into me, many of them while losing big. People talk about business acumen like it’s something you’re born with, like some people are just good at it. Sure, lots of things make you good with business. A great intuitive sense for money, numbers, efficiency, and marketing helps. However, when it comes down to it, you have to actually go out there and manage a business.