I attempt to sum up my most recent expedition into London below… Trips into London were once an often rare affair before the end of 2014. Opportunity however has a funny way of knocking at your door when you least suspect it, even if you prepare for it.
Cryptic enough for you? Well it should be 😉 This year has brought me closer to London than ever before! Meeting some very special people in the world of film and interactive theatre has meant exploration of the busy city streets in some unique and unusual ways – exclusive movie screenings with top name celebs, motorbike taxi runs to meetings with Coney, saloons hidden behind secret doorways and the petal-soft fuzz of canalside wanderings. Courting with the trinket allure of London continues to delight and surprise.
Tuesday this week was the beginning of our NFTS Business of Games module. Oh yes, learning all the things about the world of money. Big money at that. Biggest shock for me was a lot of the conversations we were having with our guest speakers (arriving from all sorts of backgrounds – games lawyer and gamerlaw.co.uk blogger Jas Purewal, indie success Mike Bithell, The Guardian Games Editor Keith Stuart and representitives from Miniclip and Bossa Studios) never mentioned amounts lower than £10k! Everything was pitched at revealing the inner workings of real business, and was invaluable even if only to know that it’s all ultimately the same salesmanship as car dealers when it comes to merging and acquisition of studios!
With so much occuring over the last week, and a lot I’m not necessarily allowed to repeat, I’ll keep my “lessons learned” brief:
#1 I need to research business terms… like wtf are revenues, options, equity and tax credits?
When I’m casually chatting with anyone from business I become the nodding dog, whistfully allowing the waves of financial phrases and terminology to wash over me. In 4 days I’ve let my lungs get quite soggy. Thankfully, I know that in the time it takes to watch Spirited Away I can probably get a lot of the jargon down. Jas’s gamerlaw.co.uk looks like the place to start, alongside researching SEIS funding opportunities and tax relief and all that. I’m not expecting to become a business boffin. But man do I need to swat up!
#2 I want to run a studio
Hells yes I do! And hells yes I’m now terrified of that prospect! After attending the TIGA event I was really encouraged by the offerings available from investors and funders, but the statistics just seem to add up to a sobering stone-walled gloominess. As quoted by our speakers at Ingenious, games companies are traditionally expected to make 1/5 games a hit. Now that means I’ve got to potentially make 5 games before I see any return!! Naive of me not to think otherwise, but really? And it’s expected by investors / funding schemes to show that you can create “revenue” for at least a year before they’ll take you seriously. So evidence of survival in a hit-driven entertainment industry has to be there too. Essentially all the advice points to making a business plan as early as possible.
It’s making me ponder what kind of games I want to make and how they will be viewed by potential investors: the one thing TIGA investors recommended was to UNDERSTAND THE FINANCIAL INCENTIVES OF THE INVESTORS (especially TAX INCENTIVES) because your game won’t fit everyone’s bill. So am I making a game that can be proved to have appeal to investors and audiences (and myself)? Well, the audience must come first in my opinion, because there’s no business without an audience!
#3 I want to run a studio (of a different sort)
I really want to do a proper interview of our successful Games grad students, because I think the passion that they infuse into their projects springs from all sorts of reservoirs. I ask myself now what my lake might look like. The plausibility of actually setting up a studio in the next 10 years is not unimaginable and I think now I’m starting to think about how I might run a studio. My manifesto follows:
Firstly, I want to run a studio that is the Punchdrunk or the Coney of video games. Secondly I want to encourage young developers and artists and support them in a creatively and professionally safe environment. Thirdly I want my studio’s success to be measured in the amount of time given to my team, not in digits and dollar signs.
- Why Punchdrunk? Because they developed a model for interactive theatre and made it renowned, profitable and innovative beyond compare. Why Coney? Because they subvert, surprise, and dedicate themselves to the stimulation of community consciousness. Why not choose a games company to compare to? I still feel ill-equipped to judge the ‘spirit’ and ethos of most games studios at a non-superfitial level. It’s an area I will persevere to find more about
- I remember when I first mentored at the Festival of Code with North Liverpool Academy. It was a huge eye opener to the possiblities that were available to young students, and the work they completed (on time) and presented was astonishing. I never had the support that they had, and I recall thinking “I can so do more to help.” Giving something of the things I’ve learned in education and outside of it feels like the most natural progression, so when these whizkids are looking for work experience or a job in their first studio, I want my studio to be the enticing and exciting place to serendipitously see advertised on Twitter or in a magazine.
- Both Imre from Bossa and Dan Pinchbeck of The Chinese Room (on different occasions) have mentioned their desire to create environments for people to flourish. The success and momentum of their companies are, at their core, built around giving folks the hours to work at something they could quite possibly love, and not just focused around profits. THis idea rang with resonance within me the first time I heard it and I can’t imagine operating in any other way that wasn’t out of necessity. Survival doesn’t mean taking on a huge contract or expanding wildly when the opportunity arises, no it’s about seeing that risky maneuvers risk the livelihoods of your staff! The guy from Miniclip told us how scared he was having this kind of responsibility. Rosetinted Speccy over here sees it as a very arduous, wonderful gift to be able to provide a creative industry for workmates and their families. Fingers crossed I might make it some day.
#4 I was looking at Kickstarter all wrong!
This deserves a post all to itself! But really a lot of issues that arose with my Kickstarter campaign (which ended up successful btw!) came from the fact I didn’t dedicate myself to retaining backers. I did send many post-event emails about. But with school work came distraction and a lot of my investment into the mailing list for Threshold Forgotten Futures just simply fizzled out. An interesting talk from Digital Jam’s Tanya Laird talked about upgrading backers from simple donators to become awesome ambassadors of the invested project. In that way they move from just giving money to actually diverting more people and more social media coverage into your project, above and beyond just the kickstarter. Crowd-lifting is the name of this process of uplifting backers. In principle it’s good community building with an aim to get better loyalty. I’d argue that community building is really hard and just depending on the goodwill of ambassadors would not have solved my many campaign issues, but they may well have alleviated had I spent more time with the evangelical supporters on my side.
End of brief almanac of thoughts!!