Are you a game designer or a game publisher?
When we were starting Atheris Games, the team was hyped up about one particular game that we were developing at the time called Holeshot Heroes (the company was actually named after the name of our first car in Holeshot Heroes). When we ran out of capital to finish that project, we pivoted to Cul-De-Sac Conquest and we were all incredibly passionate about that. Most of the team at the time had worked on the game, and felt connected to Cul-De-Sac. If you asked us if we were going to publish other designer’s games, we probably would have responded “no.” However, that is what we just did by launching a second Kickstarter campaign for Mutant Crops, a game designed by Argentinian board game designer, Sebastian Koziner. So what changed?
To answer that question, we must first start by posing a question to our reader that we had to ask ourselves. Do we want to build a gaming business or do we just want to design games? Though it is possible to do both, it is not common to be able to only produce, manufacture and sell your own games and make a living doing so. Therefore we had to weigh our options – it was a tough call. On one hand having a publishing company is a lot of work, requires investment of time, energy and money and a majority of companies don’t last more than a few years. On the other hand trying to make designing games your sole job is less likely than paying yourself as the founder of a board game company.
Ultimately as we thought about it we realized that we really want to be a part of the industry full-time and we like entrepreneurship, sales and marketing, which meant for us the decision was to create a publishing company. We want to share the top 4 questions to think about to decide whether you want to create a business or if you want to publish games.
*As a caveat we must say though few publishers find success only releasing games created internally, it is possible, and has been done – maybe you’re the exception to the rule – and we don’t want to dissuade anyone from trying to do both, if that’s what they want to do.
Do you or one of your potential partners have the ability to sell, promote, and market your game?
Sales and marketing is tough. If you’ve never done sales, and/or are introverted than you likely should seriously consider just working with other publishers. In order to manage a successful publishing company you’ll likely have to communicate with masses of people, manage convention booths, run in-store demos, work with distributors to try to have them stock your games, manage social media and online sales, and work with game store owners to facilitate sales in that channel.
It also is a great idea to try to have other companies publish your first game or two and once you have some industry credibility and learn more about how they market and sell your game then make your own company if you believe that is a better alternative for you.
Are you focused on the money?
If you’re interested in getting rich off your game – you’re in the wrong industry. The likelihood of getting wealthy from either owning a gaming company or selling your game is slim. If your goal is to have a ton of people play your game (in which case you would probably want to work with a larger publisher that can market and sell it better than you could) or to create amazing experiences for people (in which case you will have more control if you start your own company) than you’re in the right place.
When starting a company in almost any industry, and definitely in this one, the ability to take money out of the company will be rarely utilized within the first few years. The goal should be to grow the company and therefore most profits (if any) will be reinvested back into the company to help scale it for some period of time – often 3-years.
Though it is entirely possible to work a full-time gig and run a publishing company it is definitely super difficult. Therefore, if you want to make good money and a comfortable living it might make the most sense to design games on the side since it is easier to do that while working full-time compared to running a company.
Does anyone have money to put into the business to fund going to conventions, marketing, maintaining an LLC (or other business entity), legal agreements, taxes, etc.?
It is easy to see Kickstarter and think, “oh, people are going to give me all the money to make this thing!” However, a game without solid artwork will oftentimes not see the light of day on Kickstarter. Therefore unless you or a business partner has an artistic knack you’ll likely have some start-up costs for artwork. Additionally, you’ll have to manage an LLC or other business entity, pay for legal agreements, will pay taxes, etc.
Starting a business can cause a financial strain in the short-term. Though it is possible to try to begin a company on a shoestring budget – bootstrapping your way to Kickstarter – it is tough.
Are you truly passionate about creating a business or does your passion lie in making creative projects? Also, do you want your games played by more people, or are you more money motivated?
A business will require a lot of work that might not always be deemed “fun.” Though there are a plethora of things that we love about this industry, there are some things about running a business that we don’t enjoy. We don’t really like doing taxes, we’re not huge fans of international shipping (especially with out issues with the Hanjin bankruptcy), and we love interacting with fans on social media but don’t like posting new content. Though, when you run a business it doesn’t matter if you like to do it – you have to. No one else is there to delegate to. You’re going to be doing the majority of the work for things since your team will be small (most start-up game companies are only 1-2 people).
If you really enjoy seeing something you built grow than starting a company can still be a great thing. Our goal is not to discourage creating your own business, but rather to allow those who have yet to start the realities of how much work it will be and hopefully give readers a better view of what is the best option for them. If your goal is simply to utilize your creativity and develop games that you would like to see on the market – look for a publisher.
Furthermore, if your goal is to make cool games and have them played around the world, you can surely run a Kickstarter and deliver the games to others. The drawback is if you just care about people playing it and you have little marketing experience and a start-up company the amount of games you can manufacturer and sell will be less than a larger company. This is not always the case and there are exceptions to the rule. Sometimes first-time creators raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and make more money and sell more units than even other larger publishers would have been able.
Thanks for reading!