The Business Trap that Holds Your Game Business Back
We all need to make money. If you're a reader of this blog, then success in game development is foremost on your mind because we can only make games full-time if we can turn a profit doing so.
When I founded Tech Drone early in 2011, I knew that I wanted to make games. I had some very strong opinions about what makes a great game, and I had a vision for a single game that i wanted to create. It was a first-person shooter inspired by my favorite game, Starsiege: Tribes.
Over the course of the first year, this ambitious project turned out to be quite difficult not only from a technical, but also from a leadership perspective. Because it was so challenging to create this game, and I knew that I needed to make money to stay in business, I decided to focus more on monetary gain than anything else.
I had a team of seven people at the time. They were all students from a local college but they were both talented and passionate. Each one was capable of producing excellent work, if only I could bring them together in a cohesive vision.
But the money was running out.
At the time there was a huge mobile boom going on, and I decided that each of them would create a "simple" game prototype. I wanted to create a game as quickly as possible so that we could become financially stable in the long-term as a company.
Of course, this completely failed. The team members started complaining that we were all moving in different directions, and more importantly, that they didn't see the point of what we were doing. I tried reassuring the team members that we would get back to the main project but that we needed cash flow to keep going and that once our simpler game was completed we would be able to once again work on our ambitious shooter.
Then, people began to quit. First we lost an artist, who took on work for one of the prototypes, then completed nothing and gave no clear reason why. So I had to let him go. Next, we lost two designers. One was working on comedy and the other on technical character implementations. Two other designers working on their prototypes managed to complete something, as they were working together their platforming game prototype was the only one that reached completion. But after finishing it they both promptly quit. In the end, I was left with a programmer and an artist. The programmer finished our first ever commercial product: Easy Bot. It was a simple zombie AI for Unity which we released on the Asset Store. I paid him for his work and he promptly quit. The last artist quit when it was clear that the band wasn't ever going to get back together.
I was the only one left. And I was almost out of funds, drastic measures were needed. I ended up going to stay with a friend for several months and after eventually running out of money, I slept in my car for a while. It was a really hard time in my life but I wasn't willing to give up.
During this time, I decided to refocus my efforts. I've always had a talent for teaching skills to others, so I started to advertise one-on-one tutoring for game development skills on the Unity forums. After getting my first client, he was able to make a mobile game with my help in a matter of weeks with no prior game development or even programming experience. This led to an excellent testimonial on the thread I was using to advertise, and others began to contact me for more help with their own games. I realized that the best way for me to create value through my business was by helping others reach their own goals, and I decided to make that my new mission.
Soon, I made enough money to stay in a hotel and eventually I got an apartment. I pulled myself out of a dire situation by focusing my effort towards empowering creators. I started to tell people that Tech Drone's mission was to empower creators, and I directed all of my efforts in this one singular direction. Instead of being pushed away by mismanagement, people wanted to work for me and I also kept getting more clients with very little marketing effort.
Fast forward to today, four years after I pulled myself out of poverty, and I'm on track to reach my financial goals next year. I have had many clients, and even one large client earlier this year: IBM. This happened not because I was pursuing money, but because I was focused on a mission to provide value to others, and I was focused on that specific mission instead of being focused on generating revenue.
So this is the great trap that will destroy your business: no one wants to work with, for, or hire someone who is simply pursuing profit. When you pursue profit as your primary mission, you end up cutting corners, producing shoddy work and pushing people away. No one wants to work hard and give you their time so that you can buy a nicer car, people simply don't work that way.
People don't just want, but in fact need a reason to do their job, and do it well. Having a concrete, clear and specific mission statement that inspires your audience empowers you and it empowers everyone around you. It allows you to focus even when times are very hard, and in my opinion a strong and guiding mission statement is the single most important thing to have in any business.
I sincerely wish you the best in all of your creative endeavors! Even if you never buy any products or paid content from Tech Drone, if you get massive value from our free resources then my work is officially successful.
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