Game Development (the folks responsible for the critically-successful Hand of Fate series) recently announced that they are ceasing operations. For outsiders looking in, this news came as a major shock; it’s another counter-intuitive case of a studio going under despite creating an enormous critical hit. At the same time, it’s a timely reminder that one of the biggest issues any studio faces — whether it’s a one man team or a major operation — is long term survival. And although many successful games are released every year, the number of studios that manage to survive in the long term isn’t nearly as large as you might first expect.
Let’s take a step back.
Every developer that joins the industry has their ideal game in mind, which is pretty much a given. They will do anything to see that one championship become a reality. For many aspiring game developers, their ideal project will either be the first one they ever create or the one that ultimately defines their firm and, possibly, their whole career.
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If you’ve read my pieces on Game Development company in USA before, you’ll know that a consistent theme is passion. That enormous passion is a great motivator which helps to drive developers to get these dream games finished. And occasionally, these big-budget endeavors do achieve enormous success; notable recent examples include AI Wars, Star dew Valley, and Cup head.
There are obviously side projects that don’t always promise or intend to serve as a developer’s main source of funding; such projects do exist. But it’s probably true to say that, in a perfect world, the majority of people want to see enough commercial success from their games to continue working on them in the long run.
But what does it mean to be in it for the long haul? This point raises a further question that many developers don’t consider, at least initially.
Everyone who works in the game industry will tell you what a difficult undertaking it is to design, create, and ship your first game. Regardless of how well a finished product sells, simply reaching the point where it has been successfully transported is very significant.
You’ve now completed your first game, and having experienced the entire process from beginning to end, you’ve probably gained a lot of knowledge and experience. But you’ll need to make a decision soon if you want to keep working as a game designer.
This may seem like an obvious — perhaps trivial — question to you, the reader.
But in the rough-and-tumble of Game Development, it’s a question that has regularly represented a nail in the coffin for many developers for various reasons. Do you try to create an improved version of the game you just shipped in the form of a sequel or a remaster? If you’ve just spent several months (or years!) of your life on one design, do you really want to do the same thing again?
Well, okay, you could create something entirely new. But this option isn’t without obvious problems. Switching to a new genre, for example, will typically mean a start from scratch in terms of both design and code. And if you have achieved a degree of success with your first game, do you want to risk alienating those hard-won fans by producing something entirely different?
Some of the very best indie studios have found a unique balance — they’ve adhered to a unique style or aesthetic, but have build entirely different games within that context.
What’s interesting here is that in these cases, the studio itself has become the recognizable brand more than the individual games. Some examples that come to mind are Klei Entertainment and Kitfox Game development.