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Pocket Gamer Connects 2014: How to build a gaming business

You've done it. You've spent hours working late into the night, face illuminated by the cold glow of your screen as you code and render until the keyboard cracks. Your friends don't call any more. Your vocabulary has devolved to monosyllabic grunts. To all intents and purposes, you are now a caffeine-based life form. But at last the game is now done.

It's not over yet though. Now you've built your game, how do you build your business?

This is the question that a team of industry experts sought to answer at this year's Pocket Gamer Connects conference in London. In the scrum of Indie developers trying to make their game's voice heard, how do you make yours shout louder than the rest?

Sell yourself, sell your game

First off, you need to understand that a great idea is not enough. "Developers don't get business savvy enough," noted Colin MacDonald, Games commissioner at Channel 4. "Create a great game, but don't do it at the expense of creating a sustainable business. Certainly if you're self-publishing, you've got to understand that making a great game is half the battle, getting it in front of people is the other half."

Being confident enough to travel to see commissioners, publishers and investors is a vital ingredient in the recipe for success. All the panellists noted that it's the companies with the drive to come down to London (or even get on a plane to somewhere more exotic) that get investment.

"Time and time again I see mediocre studios, generic digital agencies rather than specialised games companies, receiving large amounts of money to make a game that they're ill-equipped to do, just because they're the ones getting in the face of the people with the money," said Macdonald sadly. The solution, said the panel, is to go to events and talk to Indie developers that have already won investment; find out who gave them their break, and seek those people out.

In an industry where there is so much competition, however, the idea of pitching your idea to countless corporations with greedy eyes and fat wallets sends many indie developers in a cold sweat. The fear of having an idea stolen seems to be a constant among small games companies, but video games lawyer Paul Osborne stressed on the panel that this threat is greatly exaggerated.

"I think many developers focus too much of their attention on confidentiality agreements," he said. "There's a slight paranoia that whoever you pitch to will spring up and say 'What a fantastic idea!' and steal your game from you. Actually that rarely, rarely happens. In my experience, a lot of the newer Indies are overly paranoid about that point. People are investing in you, and it's your execution of the ideas almost more than the ideas themselves. There's very little that's really, genuinely original."

Video games publisher Wilhelm Taht agrees, saying "there's no value in ideas unfortunately". It's a sobering thought, but the panel's point is that nowadays there is very little that's genuinely original. Most games will have been developed by crafting multiple influences into a newer form – an idea that's not totally unique has very little value. What does have value, however, is a name.

Shakespeare would disagree, but a game by any other name won't necessarily be as profitable. As Gardner recalls, "when one of my clients launched Tetris, there were numerous Tetris clones but what was valuable was the name Tetris. If you come up with a really good name you may want to apply of trademark or domain name. It's relatively inexpensive, and probably more important than an NDA." Essentially, if there's anything you have that might be patentable, that's when you need an NDA.

Money, money, money

Once you've got your head around that, Enda Carey, publishing officer of Standfast International, says you need to consider your investment options. According to him, "few people understand the variety of money available to them," but by researching your options you can find the best form of finance for your game.

Your first option is going to a bank, but like an Alsatian watching television, the banks often don't really get it. Your second option is a government authority like EIS and SEIS, schemes designed to help small companies raise capital by offering financial incentives to investors. If that doesn't work, there are always angel investors and venture capital. Lastly there are private equity and hedge funds, or more esoteric sources like PIK and VCTs.

They're three small pieces of advice, but having the confidence to badger the right people, the legal know-how to understand your rights and the financial roadmap to success is the Holy Trinity of any business-savvy games developer.

Image: The strum law group