Starting Your Own Game Company

I’ve tried 3 times and each time I learned something new.  I hope next time I’ll be successful.  What did I learn?

(1) The first time my company was called Echidna.  I learned that being underfunded is bad.  I can’t tell you how much we were getting paid directly.  Let’s just say 2 of 3 of us were each getting paid 1/4 of what I consider the average game programmer’s salary.  The 3rd person, me, was getting paid by the other 2 to help out.  I was basically living off credit cards.  By the end of the project my credit cards were completely maxxed out and I had to take a real job.

Why did we do such a thing?  Because we were naive.  We were just out of school, we didn’t have alot of experience, we needed the money and we thought it was a deal.  It seemed like alot of money at the time.

(1.5) Between the first and second times I did some contract work.  That time I learned that I can’t work out of my house.  Maybe you can but I can’t.  I get restless.  I wasn’t getting any work done at home and a friend offered me some space at his office.  I thought about it but at first my thoughts were that I didn’t have time to move my computer and desk and supplies somewhere since I was behind schedule.  A friend suggested that if I wasn’t getting anything done at home then what did I have to lose by trying it.  So, I tried it and it ended up making all the difference.  All of a sudden I was productive.  I believe there are several reasons.

One is that I believe it’s important to have a change of location.  At home it felt like at any time I could be working.   I could do things like watch TV for an hour or two because I would tell myself that I could work later, my work is just in the other room.  My office was in my bedroom so waking up I could just get out of bed and sit at my desk without taking a shower etc. On the one hand I felt like I was ALWAYS at work.  One the other hand it always felt like I could just wait a few more minutes.   As soon as Scooby Doo is over I’ll start, really.  It just didn’t work.

Another reason is that I need to see other people.  At my friend’s office there were 6 other people.  That meant I had some social interaction.  I was surprised how much I needed that to be productive.  Without that social interaction, talking to people and seeing other people working, I always felt restless for other people’s company.  I also see this happen when people are working overtime.  When lots of people are working overtime I feel like part of a team trying to achieve a common goal.  If there are only a few people working overtime, especially if they are not near me, I feel like I’m the only one that cares about the project and soon, if I feel that nobody else cares, then I’ll eventually stop caring myself.

The last is just having a place to call work.  This is the place I work.   While I’m here I’m working.  While I’m not here I’m not working.  I need that distinction.

(2) The second time I started a company it was called Seven.  A few things I learned there:  (1) Never except a fixed amount of money for an unspecified amount of work.  This was obvious at the time but we were anxious to get started on something so we excepted.  (2) Partners are generally bad.  Not bad people just a bad idea.   You can hear this advice from many many different people.  There are several problems with partners.  Is it an equal partnership?  Will you have to put in the same amount of effort?  For example a programmer may have to work 11 hours a day to get his work done.  The accounting partner might only have to work 2 hours a week to get his work done especially for a small company.  Sooner or later this kind of issue will cause a painful break in the partnership.  Another is direction, some partners might want to do one type of game where as another might want to do something else, maybe not even games.  I believe this is what happened at Id.  It also happened at Seven and Big Grub and caused no end of frustration for everybody involved.

(3) The last time I started a company was with Big Grub.  This time there were four partners.  Again we had the direction problem.  Which type of game should we do next or should we do something other than games etc. Which small side projects should we take on.  The big lesson I think I learned is that it is very very important to have a good Director.  The Game Director is my definition for the person that has the vision of the final game in his head and it is his job to direct everybody to create it.  That would mean the best Game Director would be someone who is both the main game designer and also the game’s manager (schedules, budget, etc.)  That’s a very hard person to find.  People that design don’t usually want to manage and people that manage aren’t generally qualified to design.  That person also needs to authority to direct.  I believe that can be next to impossible with partners.  Equal partners can generally say, "screw you I don’t want to do that I want to do this."  Employee’s can’t do that.  Next time I start a company I will definitely be the Game Director and not a programmer unless I find someone who’s design and management skills I truly believe in.  Consider the Game Director to be just like a movie director.  He should talk to the Art Director to get the art style he wants for his vision.  He should talk to the music director to make sure he gets the music that matches his vision. He should talk to the programmers and make sure they can create his vision and how he needs to adjust it to fit reality.  You can’t have the art director directing the art separate from the game director directing the game.   The game director should look over the shoulders of each person on the team on a daily basis to see that each person is creating things that fit his vision.  He needs to manage everybody so the project is finished on time and so they are always working toward a common goal.  If a programmer needs certain artwork by next week the game director should make sure somebody is creating that art.

So how do you start a game company ?

*) Pick a game, make it as small as possible.

This is important.  If you’ve read some of my other pages you should have already read about how much work making a video game can be.  That means it’s important you start with something you can actually finish with a reasonable number of resources, in a reasonable amount of time and therefore with a reasonable budget.

The bigger the game you want to make the more important it is you have a very detailed plan.  For example if you’re making a game with 10 levels and your plan says about as much as

"Level 3 – The Ice Level"

This level will be slippery.  It will have 3 to 5 monsters made of ice and the player will be able to throw snowballs.

That’s NOT ENOUGH!  If the game is large, you need to know every little thing you are going to need for that level so you can get a true idea of what it’s going to cost in time and in resources.  You need to know for example that monster #1 will have 3 attack anims, 2 idles and 1 death, 1 reaction and 1 defense.  You need to know what each attack will be.  You need to know what weapons will effect this monsters   The best way to do this is to diagram it with sketches similar to a storyboard for a movie.  Stick figures are fine but the sketches should have enough detail that someone can take it and create the needed animations and implement the needed programming by looking at these storyboards.  If the first attack only happens whe
n the player is carrying the XYZ banana then note that on the sketch.  On the other hand if you are doing a Tetris clone maybe you can wing it.  Still if you take a look at a good Tetris type game like Tetris Attack or Tetrissphere, an awful lot of work when into making those games as polished as they are with several puzzle levels, tutorials, bonuses, characters, sounds, music etc.  It probably easily took 6 months, 2 programmers, 1 musician and 2 or 3 artists to make them that polished.

Note: some people will disagree with this in that they don’t feel it’s necessary to put down all those details.  I suppose I agree to an extent.  I think it’s important to do it for each level before each level starts.  That means you could get away with detailing just the first level and then while the first level is being implemented you can detail the second level.  Just remember that if you find that the 1st level had 100 things to do which was going to take 5000 man hours (about 3 months for 5 people), then if you plan on having 30 levels it’s going to take 150000 man hours and if you forgot 25% of the items in the first level then your estimates are going to be way off.

*) Start small and build bigger in the next game.

You think you are going to be the next Id.  You’re going to make a game as good as Quake and right off the bat you’ll be driving Ferrari’s in no time.  Well I’m sorry to inform you but Quake is Id’s 5th or 6th game.  They started with a smaller game and using the funds and technology from that game they were able to develop the next and so on.

Do the same.  Start with a smaller game.  If your dream game is to make a 30 level game with every feature known to man and tons of graphics and video and music and …  This time start with something smaller.  Try a 3 level game or try a game that re-uses alot of graphics or both.  Then, after you shipped it, make your next game a little bigger.  Build your way up.

*) Finding funding

You’re out of luck here.  Either (1) your the type of person that can get money from anybody (sell snow to an Eskimo)  If you’re that type of person you win!  Please get me some money too 😉 (2) you know somebody that will give you money like a rich relative or you have a connection at a publisher (3) You’re nobody.  In this case the best way to get money is to first make a really good playable demo.  Depending on the game you might be able to do something like this in a VRML like tool or in Director but most publishers are going to still need a type (1) person to sell your game or you’re going to have to make a really really good demo.  Also, a publisher is going to want to know that you’ve got a good team in place.  A bunch of friends who say they’ll quit their day job when you get a contract is not good enough.  Neither is a bunch of people that have never created a commercial game.  Look at it this way, if you had 4 million dollars would you give half of it to a group like yours?  What would it take to make you comfortable to give somebody 2 million dollars considering that most games don’t make there money back?

*) Have a realistic business plan

Everybody only pays attention to the hits.  Quake, Doom, C&C, Mario 64 etc.   Those are the exception not the rule.  Every year something like 5000 entertainment products come out.  How many of them have you heard of?  Most of them you probably haven’t because they didn’t make any money.  Even within all the games you have heard of possibly half didn’t make money.

Therefore, don’t create a plan that only works if your game is one of the top ten games of the year.  In the movies 2 or 3 hits a year fund another 20 titles and didn’t make money.  The game industry should be so lucky.

*) Hire good people

At least at the top.  As mentioned above, the number one person you need is a good Game Director.  Hopefully that is you but remember it will be a full time project.   Don’t think you are going to have time to do more than manage and design.  You won’t.  Of course you need an experienced lead programmer, and an experienced art director.  The rest of the people can probably have less experience assuming the two leads are capable of leading and teaching others.  On the other hand it should be fairly obvious that experienced people should in general be able to get things done on time, to spec and give reasonable estimates.  (Come to think of it I’m not so sure that’s true, check your references before you assume that a particular person’s experience is actually all that valuable)

*) Don’t waste money on super expensive software/hardware

It may sound glamorous to have an SGI and Alias on your desk or an Intergraph machine with a 6 thousand dollar video card in it but in the whole scheme of things, 3 artist with SGIs and Alias = 5 artists with a PC and 3DSMax.  Everything else being equal, 5 artists will out perform 3 or another way to look at it, with the money use save you can afford to pay for outside video or for when you have those late deadlines and you’re short on cash.  I’ve worked with all the major packages, Softimage, Alias, 3DSMax, Lightwave.  Any of them are fine for making games.  They all have their quirks and no matter which one you use you’ll find something you hate about it, your programmers will find something they hate about it, and your artists will find something they hate about it so don’t think if you had just bought X instead of Y things would be better.

Some things not to skimp on.

1) Buy large monitors.  Today’s software requires lots of screen real estate. 19-21 inch monitors are a must for production.

2) Don’t skimp on memory.  At least 512Meg per computer or more.  In fact if you’re used to working with SGIs with 512Meg or more of memory then get that much memory for your PC and run NT and it will feel about the same if not faster.

3) Buy reliable equipment.  Remember that time is money.  If somebody’s machine is not working and they are idle for 3 days, at $30 an hour that’s 30*8*3 = $720 dollars in the toilet.  Maybe you shouldn’t have bought from the garage down the street.  This is especially true of the network equipment.  I worked at one company were the network went down at least once a week for a few hours.  That company had about 45 people.  That means one hour cost them at least 45 * 30 or $1350.  After a few weeks they already lost more than they saved by using cheap hardware.

*) Hold your people accountable

Have a real schedule and weekly meetings and make sure people stay on schedule.   If the schedule is unrealistic then fix the schedule.  If the schedule is realistic and one person just can’t seem to meet it you’ve got a problem.  Also, people in the game industry are often at work from 10am to 12am or longer.  That doesn’t mean they are working more than 8 hours a day.  They may come in at 10am, take a 2 hour lunch, a 1.5 hour dinner, play an hour of Quake, browse the net for 1.5 hours.  That’s only 9 hours.  That’s still good.  My point is they aren’t working 14 hours a day.  What’s my point?  My point is that I’ve seen several people at various companies come in at 10:30 or 11 and leave at 8 and still do all of the above not work stuff.   In their head they think they were working hard because they stayed until 8pm (ie, past 6) and they spend all their time at work.  In reality they only put in about 5 hours and they did things they should be doing outside of work at work.  Call them on it.

*) Get rid of bad people

If there is somebody who is clearly not up to the task get rid of them immediately.  Don’t wait and put if off because it’s unpleasant.  People that don’t cut it bring down the entire team.  Other’s will resent the
fact that they are getting paid the same or at all even though their work is crap or is always having to be redone or is always late.  That makes them less productive too.

*) Keep people together

By this I mean that I don’t agree with the books that say programmers need offices.  I’ve worked both ways and for the most part I believe that making entertainment software is different from making other types of software.  You wouldn’t make a movie with the director in his office and the camera man in his and each actor in another.  You’re making something that not only has to be functional but it has to be fun, entertaining and beautiful.  That comes from people being together and collaborating, working together to make things their best.  You might be able to have an engine programmer not interact with the team but your detail programmers, the people that make things work using the engine, need to be in constant communication with the artists and designers and that means in the same room within talking distance.

*) Support your team

Realize that your team is working their asses off for you and that they are trying to make something great.  Support them.  Stock the fridge with drinks and snacks (if you figure out the cost for this you’ll see it’s actually pretty small)  If they are staying late to meet a deadline get them dinner.  Make sure they have what they need to get the job done.   Whether it’s software, hardware, a new chair, whatever.

Also, never take credit for other people’s work.  If the press comes in, show off the team, don’t forget anybody.  There’s no better feeling than getting noticed for doing a good job and no worse feeling than getting overlooked or having somebody else take credit for your work.

Be honest with your team.  Don’t promise them things you can’t deliver on.

*) Finish a level

Make the game playable as soon as possible and then finish the first level of the game.   FINISH IT!   If its got voice put the voice in.  If it supposed to tally your score at the end put that in.  If it needs a HUD (Head’s Up Display) implement it.  If it’s supposed to have a map then do it.  Dialog, put it in.  Video?   That too.  That first level should be ready to ship before you do the second level.  Ready to ship means there is NOTHING LEFT TO DO.  If you’ve still got a list of things yet to be done (like go through the level and add hints, or, add the final bonus crates) then you are NOT finished. Why?  Because until that level is finished and shippable you won’t know how long it actually takes to finish a level.  You won’t know what things you forgot.  You won’t know whether or not all the things you wanted in the level will actually fit.  In order for that level to be shippable you will need every piece of your engine in place and you will have had to do each thing you will ever have to do on your game at least once.  That means you will have to solve your problems now instead of later when it’s too late.  You will also find out things you forgot to plan for which means that sooner rather than later your schedule will become more realistic as you see what’s left to do.  Also, once you have a FINISHED level you have something you can show the press and impress them.  Nothing is more uninspiring that an half finished level with crappy place holder art, no music, no or bad sound effects and that crashes every time you touch the pink tile because pink tiles aren’t implemented yet.

One Million more

I’m sure there are a million more things that should be listed.  For now, these are the things I think are important to start and have a successful game company.   Feel free to tell me I’m full of it.

  • greggman

    Yes a game designer can be a game director.

    As for tips, just start actually making something. Start on your RPG if you want although figure out how the make it as small as possible. Imagine you were making it for DS or something. Learn to program at least a little. It will help a ton in your game designs.

    On software, Photoshop is great, so is Illustrator. In Japan lots of people use PowerPoint to present their ideas. (and that doesn’t mean boring bullet lists it just means it’s a good program to pull together graphics from different programs and arrange them into a presentation.)


  • Mike
    The starting of the company

    I am only 16 but is the any way to reserve the name of the company I would like to start in the future?

  • John
    Need information on starting game company

    the first game i ever play was age of empire well from then i always dream of making my own game.  money is no problem for me :) i got that solve.  all i need to know is if you start a company what type of equipment do you need and how good does the equipment has to be and the type of computers and the type of people you need to hire and stuff like that i like to make a RPG game.  i got a very good RPG that i had in my head that i want to creat when i get the chance  and also when i go to colledge basically the type of things i need to learn like do i need to learn a little of 3d game design or computer programming and stuff like that willl get a good start on this.  and if i hired people how long should i make them work lol i dont want to work them to death.  plzz tell me all you know about being able to make a successful company. and also THANKS i read some tips up their it really let me learn and think about things that i never did.

  • Dylan

    I just want to say thanks for your perspective on game directing. I really think it gave me a huge boost of confidence about what I want to do in life, and what ever problems come in my way I can sure accomplish tham like you did.


  • TheFallenMoon
    Thanks to a true leader

    This is the first comment I have ever left on any site, but I had to say that you must be a good leader. I say this because you have inspired so many to go for there dreams, when you where just doing the same. You have even inspired me one of the bull headed men in the world, but I just want to say thank you and I hope to be one of your rivals one day, and for any one else reading this never give up no matter what.

  • Mimic
    Great read

    I am currently in the middle of starting a studio/company.  a few things in your article REALLY struck hard: 

    1) “Having friends who say they will quit there job when you get a contract, isnt enough”  Sadly i am depending on that stradagy.  i went to school for game art and design at the art institute. So the number of friends willing to do just that are basicly countless.  The only thing i could think of was to hire people for standbye.  where they would come in and make there own characters to show there work. and using those characters on future games.  The only problem is i dont know how long it would take to get a contract.  have you ever tried to find a job? or have you just tried to make your own games.  For example asking Shrek to make a game for there new movie.

    2) “Dont waste money on expensive software”  I have put together a budget of how much it would cost to open an office with hardware and people on standbye. and the outcome was not out of our reach.  but i didnt think to deep into the man hours.  Desks, tables, whiteboards, T1 line i thought of everything, except detailed manhours. so thank you for that.

    3) you said somthing about letting people go right away if they arent productive.  the only problem i am going to have is everyone working in the office are going to be friends of friends.  have you ever been in that situation where letting one person go, could possibly lead to 2-3 people leaving?


    and one last question.  what are you doing now?

  • greggman

    This is on old article so somethings are probably out of date. “expensive software” back in 1995 was Alias PowerAnimator ($30,000.00 per person) and a SGI to run it (another $30,000.00 per person).  Today PowerAnimator is called Maya and it’s only $1500 and it runs on a standard PC.

    There are somethings though. You can probably live with Subversion (free) instead of Perforce ($700+ per person) for at least a while. Both have their strengths. Subversion is FRIGGEN SLOW so it might be worth it though to use Perforce.

    Photoshop is much better than the Gimp and worth every penny IMO so another example of expensive vs cheap. I really depends on how much time it saves.

    As for getting rid of friends and losing more people in the process there are no easy solutions. You can read in tons of business advice books never to hire friends but of course that’s not realistic because if you are looking for people the people you are most likely to know are your friends.

    If someone is sucking and not getting their work done, not able to do it or not pulling their weight then possible solutions of the top of my head.

    • Talk to them about it in as non threatening a way as possible. Maybe they don’t realize it and can work on doing better. 
    • In that same vein, make sure you know what the actual problem is. Maybe it’s not that person, maybe it’s part of the process or some other issue.

      For example at least twice in my life someone on my team was assigned to make some very complicated system. After weeks or months they had a buggy crappy and non-working system. Not being able to wait any longer I would write a simple system in a couple of days.

      I used to jump to the conclusion that they sucked because I got something working so quick but the truth is they were asked to do something complicated and I had chosen a much simpler solution. Maybe if they had been assigned the simple solution they’d have been just as productive.

      The point is, it might be the situation or specific task. Look for the real problem. Maybe they are waiting on someone else. Maybe they feel disempowered to move forward or suggest alternatives. Maybe they feel their task is a waste of time and are therefore dragging their feet.

    • Try to figure out if they’d be better at something else or are more interested in something else and move them too that. Maybe they would be a better level layout person than an artist for example or maybe as an artist they’d be better doing buildings or vehicles instead of humans or creatures.
    • Discuss it with the others. No one feels good if they know certain people aren’t pulling their weight so even if this person that is not working out is a friend of others most likely those friends would also be upset if they have to carry this person. Maybe they have some suggestions.

      If you do have to get rid of this person, if you are lucky maybe they will understand why and actually agree.

    I was in a situation where one person was not needed and did not serve a useful function. We handled it poorly and 3 people left. I don’t know if there was any way around it or not. I would like to think we could have approached it better and figured out a way for him to leave and still all remain friends but that wasn’t how it happened.

    what am I doing now?

    I’m at Sony Japan. I just shipped LocoRoco a few months ago and am working on our next title.

  • Mimic

    wow this article is pretty old. i didnt even notice, amazing how it still pulls its wieght and makes sence even 6 years later. 

    I have read alot about how not to hire friends.  but ive never seen a startup company anywhere that didnt start with a few friends and an idea.  so that just doesnt make sense to me. Hopfully whoever it is will see the work around him and understand.

    What did you think about the process of putting people on standbye?  I am still deciding if i am going to keep people on standbye and find a job from a movie or comic book.  or we could try for an xbox or ps3 arcade game. xna development slots are closing quick, but there might still be a chance.  but the real question is what is your advise as to hiring people before you accually make a profit.

    And SCE? amazing man,  I spent about a week in tokyo with my father a few years ago when he went on a business trip.  wow what a culture, what I remembered the most was there phones.  I know, kinda wierd but i remeber seeing a picture phone on the tram and my eyes lit up.  besides that i searched around trying to find FF11, wich was not released to the us at the time.  And we ran into a sony building, its most likley not the one you are at, but it was about 10 stories high with a floor where you can play demos.

    And congrats on loco,  I just took a look and saw it recieved a 7.5 on GI.  I played a level or two at a gamestop on a display psp.  i liked it.. eventhough i didnt know how to squeeze all those little guys into one big guy which would of helped, but it was still fun lol. good luck on your next title too, hopfully they stick you on the ps3,  unless thats not really what you like to do.

  • Mimic

    by xna i meant xbla (xboxlive arcade). I also wanted to ask where you think xbla is headed? and if arcade type games would be a good choice. 

    I hate to bombard you with questions, its just this would be my first attempt.  and with the various different ways to make games now, a wrong turn at this crossroad would not be a good thing. 

  • Nelson
    In the process

    of forming my first studio with … friends? After crunching the numbers, it’s a lot of capital to even make a game that takes 6 man months. Finding investors won’t be easy…

    I’m fairly experienced console game developer and realize the only way to survive is to find a niche that isn’t served well and focus on it.

  • http://iwouldliketomakemygamecompany sasha
    game rock

    best seller yet better that greggman

  • Dalton
    Still valid

    Its impressive how this was written almost 10 years ago and it’s still valid.

  • the_hidden
    Good Advise

    your full of it, just joking. I think you did a wonderful job on this article. I have created a team on my own and right now we are not involving money. Im using a free software known as Game Maker 6.1. I’ve been getting really good compliments on what i have done. My only question is, is it a good thing to have a small team. right now i have 5 people including myself and another might be leaving soon. we only make games for the fun of it for now. is 4 or 5 people enough

  • TheSniper
    A program worth the Hype

    I have heard about many, many programs out there. I really dont think those free online game making programs are for me.

    So I was just wondering. I have C++ Available. Should I start to learn the program?

  • Usk
    Don’t give up!!

    Hi, i’m 26 years old, computer enginer, and i like games creation, i see that people here is too young!! that’s cool, you have enough time to dream and to failure, then stand up and so on.., then u will have the experience for doing other things, most people just do nothing, just work in a boring office doing what they don’t like, and complaining for the salary, the tasks and the boss, that shit is really frustrating; and they don’t try to make something that is really a challenge and that they really like it. I’m pretty sure some of you got to make something during this years. I’ve seen there’s a huge amount of people trying to make games, and most of them frustrated. That’s life, i have a lot of friends gratuated from high school that tried to make their own company of food, clothes, software, music, and most of them have failed. Some of them have shined and now they are a respected people; that can happen in games too. The thing here is that we like to make games, don’t let other people discourage about making games, if u really like that shit, do it. The life will show u the path. If u discover that the path is not the insdustry of games, so u can quit but at this point i think u are able to do a lot of other things, u will be good at maths, physics, computers, programming, project managment, bussiness, graphics, 3D design, sound, music(quite different to sound), working relationships. That’s the case u wanted the control of almost everything on the game(I saw a lot of this specimen in this forum). Someone could say u can’t do all that things in a good way, don’t listen to them, they are loosers. Maybe u don’t get the hit or the money u expect, but u did and tried what u wanted. Just try it; right now there’s a lot of good tools for creating games relatively easily. Just do what you want, try to get what you need to eat(i mean: u can’t live of TRYING to make games), and if you do things well, you must be rewarded in some way some day. Don’t listen the loosers, i mean: you have to try not to do the things the way they did it, surely your case is quite different. And for them will be most frustrating seeing other people reaching the sucess in the same market. You just have to have your plan B. Maybe it’s not games, but maybe it has something to do with games coz you have been involved in that shit for a long time. Maybe this post is shit but, that was what i was thinking right now, as many of u. e-mail me!

  • Brian
    Wanting to change careers

    Look at this thread!  Ten years old and still extremely relevant!!Unbelievable in this day, age, and industry.  A tribute to the brilliance of this article.

    I have been an MS Office instructor for 10 years now, running my own company as well as working for The Man.  Now I am sick of it, and I really want to get into game design.  I would love to start my own company.

    I know very little programming or graphics.  However, I do have extensive project management skills.  I also have some contacts in the biz, and could make what I have envisioned a reality.  The problems are:

    1.  How to start?  How much cash?

    I have access to probably 100,000 dollars, maybe more, with credit and whatnot.  I have a good relationship with my bank, and access to some angel investors.  But it would be difficult to get too much more than 100 grand.  I know that is not enough.  What are the alternatives?

    2.  What about Marketing?

    Imagine the most fabulous game in the world, and the word does not get out!  Everyone I have spoken to in this biz (and I have been to conferences and heard from many) says that marketing is not only the biggest pain in the ass, but also can cost many times the amount needed to make the game in the first place!  What’s a man to do?

    3.  I lack programming knowledge and I have no graphics talent.  BUT, I do have experience in board game design.  Am I sunk?

    I really don’t want to go back to school and learn C++ if I don’t have to.  I have worked on the most complicated board game ever made (Avalon Hill/GMT’s A World At War) so I am well versed in issues like play balance, historical accuracy, probability, and so on.  But, it seems that the game companies out there really don’t give a crap.  At least they have not responded to any of my resumes and cover letters out there – and I am applying for assistant producer jobs and other such lowest level positions. 

    I have had my own business now for 6 years with the computer instruction gig.  I really don’t want to go back to The Man, even if it is for a gaming company.  I am really confused and frustrated by this industry.  I just want to jump into a garage and make the game of the year! 

    Maybe there is someone reading this who would like to join me?

    Anyway, your thread is awesome and thank you so much for your insights.  Sorry for the long-winded post but I am at my wits end with this whole thing.  I would appreciate any input you have and please be as cruel and candid as you must.

    Thanks again


  • ed
    i got big ideals

     today peaple like on line game play on thier home consoles,i got a ideal of a big game to make it will work on any console or pc.                ,,,,,,,,if you got the pull with any company that can help me bring this pluss many other game ideals to life e mail me,i am 32 i have been playing games sence atarie,i have beat many games in the thousands,i got friends who have done the same.i had a coleco when i was a kid,i have seen many games come go,but i got a ideal that will take many years to play out.

  • LoopStan

    I need (the subject)

    I want to make a 2d game i guess you could say sorta like maple story if you have ever herd of it. If you find a free download that works for a windows 98 PLEASE e-mail me.

    Thanks and i hope you find somthing.

    Oh yah just e-mail me at


  • mike
    2D and arcade games

    Heyy Gregg great stuff after nearly 10 years. I was just wondering about the possiblilityt of putting together a small team to make a more hardcore arcade based game. I particularly have an interest in fighting games and have a dream of putting it on arcade 1st. I’m also interested primarily in 2D games. Is it harder for a small team to make a good 2D game then a 3D one.


    Thanks for any advice.

  • lizardlucas
    2D RPG Games, 1 new game released per month !
  • Invisablegirl
    Games dream

    Games are so cool and when I was a little girl I always wanted a world where i could create my own person… KEEP DREAMING!!

  • RonnyAnderssen

    Great article!

    I just finished a list of good articles about how to start a game studio on my blog.

    And you made it in there of course 😉

    You can it @

  • l2spell

    A lot*

  • nednedshelp2213


    I have really good ideas u wouldn’t beleive my imagination I MEAN WILD.I thinking of starting my own business and creating my own games. I dont care i would work own gaming for THREE DAYS SRAIGHT IF I HAVE TO NO JOKE. Also my own game console thats my DREAM. PLEASE I NEED HELP I WOULD REALLY APPREACIATE IT.  Could you please send it DIRECTLY to me at THEJOKERM@YAHOO.COM it doesn’t matter if you type in email in lowercase.

  • NoLimbsMcGee

    umm, just saying this hasnt been updated in AGES i mean, the last COMMENT was in 2006, now its 2009, i mean your still paying for web hosting, so it seems pointless not to do anything with the site, updating this article might help seeing as a lot has changed since it was written


    still VERY helpful though, im 14 and thinking of my future plans, and this was great for giving me ideas ect. but still, an update would be nice

  • Anne
    A question

    Hey, thank you so much for the great article.

    My brother plans to set up a computer game company. But he does not really know what departments there should be and what positions there should be for each department. Would you please give us some advice? Thanks in advance!

  • Cody

    Hey Gregg, I’m currently a college student and I’m thinking of starting a game designing company as somewhat of a side-project. I have a number of friends willing to help me out, including two who will be living in my hall next year. Unfortunately, they’re the only two at my school. What’s your stance on trying to start up a game design firm without having everyone work in a central place? What’s your take on video-conferencing? Also, could you give me any recommendations for cheap designing software, and an ideal motherboard, CPU, PSU, etc. (if you have any experience in making a computer or know what the best components are for a reasonable price). I’m planning on building a custom gaming/game designing PC this summer, so the hardware shouldn’t be too much of an issue as long as it’s reasonably priced. I’ve had this passion, like you, since I was 5 or 6, and I’m ready to prove to my parents that video games CAN get me somewhere in life.

    Hopefully you’ll respond.

  • the following leader

    i have been reading this whole thing for so long that my whole being is sucked into this… my computer looks small and i feel like a gaint. i loved your whole imput in makeing a company. my friend wants to make one too and i have apointed myself as director of his company haha. only because i love handeling money and makeing sure people make it to the top but i also want to be the guy who is working on the field. can you help me become that person, if there are any free sites i can download for doing whatever i can to help out the team. im 17 and willing to make a game that people will cry over. oh and what cologe classes you took to do what you do?

  • bmxryder711

    Hey if anyone here has aim i would love to chat with people that are interested in creating games. I currently mess around with the unreal 3 engine. My aim is bmxryder711

  • Angelous

    Hey everyone,
    I am currently finishing my bachelors degree and am planning on opening my very own Gaming/Animation company here in South Florida. I have four games (game play, story, characters, etc..)that I will make. So far I am seeking to build my team and making a few decisions left before I can write the actual business plan so that I can get the finance’s for the company. anyone interested? my email is email if interested. Location will be at Miami FL.

  • Kayla67

    i love to create games so if anybody knows hoe to reply and i will get vback to you as soon as posiblle

  • Bob-is-kewl

    How do you make money from the demo….. like if you make one what do you do with it then?

  • Amonite

    Every college is different, so class names will vary. To actually start a company amongst you and your friends, then you need to head into college already knowing which one of each of you will focus on each task (these can be combined):

    At least one of you should take some business, marketing, and management classes, and some basic law. This could be a minor or a major. Having such a person on your team will not only save you legal fees (you may still need legal consulting when your studio gets larger and for setup, but less often, and you are less likely to be taken advantage of by other companies.) A business/marketing, or business/writing – or business with any apsect of the company (such as sound design), that has not yet been met will be a bonus.

    One of you should focus on programming. C++, game mechanics, level design, game design, physics, trigonometry, flash, computer science, etc.

    One of you should focus on art. If your company plans to do any 3d games, then this should ideally include 3D art and animation as well. Digital design and storytelling, illustration, painting, animation, video, Maya or 3dSMax, photoshop, design, any traditional art classs, interface design, or taking on the artist role in a game design class will all be beneficial. If their are two artists, one can specialize in 2D and the other in 3D, but it will be helpful for both to be constantly learning from the other. Whichever of the artists will be the ‘art director’ in the company should take a management class or two.

    One of you will also need to be taking english, video, storytelling, physics, and game design classes – this person will be the lead game designer. This person will be the one writing game mechanics and new worlds into 20+ page design documents that the programmers and artists will follow off of.

    One of you will need to take english and some writing classes. Some theater classes or history of drama classes, or literature, will also be very useful. This person will be the one who writes any diologue or text in the game, including branching narrative paths, according to how the game design document calls for them.

    Someone will need to be the project lead: project management, statistics, etc.

    Someone should take some audio/sound design/editing courses.

    If you yourself want to be head of the business, I would suggest you take the business courses, and either the writing or the design classes if you have talents in those areas. You can always contribute to the art on your own games, but having the business background opens up a lot more opportunities and gives you greater leverage.

  • Determinedkid88

    That was a lot of great information for people looking to start a video game company. I enjoyed everything you said detail by detail. It was generous of you to share with people your experiences so that others can benefit from them. Thank You Very Much! Good Luck With Yours!

  • BenPaget13

    I am 14 years old, and i have wanted to be a game designer all of my life, i live in the North West of England, does anybody know of any colleges in that area that specialise in Game Design or any that just teach Game design?  please reply a.s.a.p!

  • Morgan

    I loved this article. It helped me decide on weather or not I want to design games, and I do. Thanks for the advice and hopefully you’ll play one of my games in the future :) Thanks, Morgan

  • CorvetteCris

    Hello guys or girls reading this,
    I am planning to make a game company in the future maybe in 4 to 5 Years from now, in a year or two I will be leaving to Dallas Texas finish my college then go online to the game institute. After that I’m goin to need a team, people that are willing to make this happen. Anyone interested let me know

    Gregg this article is amazing and will follow this all the way, but one question. Where to start making games with my team? And how much money would I need to start for the equipment? Thanks in advance :)


  • GameTech500

    i have been looking everywhere of how to make a video game company and this helped me more than anything else

  • Marcalinehaley

    how much money will it cost to start a game designing business?

  • Rhinan

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha XD

  • zProsperr


  • delaiah

    This is… unreal. I’ve never seen such a gap between question and answer on the internet. I get chills.

  • Siddharth Patil

    Hey Man, read your article. Really the most helpful one till date. I need a few suggestions. I plan to start my own gaming company. I have a plan laid out what will happen in my game, what I lack is capital and top class developers. Coz top class developers even if they are freelancers for me will cost a hell lot of money. Can I expect a suggestion for this. Please if possible contact me on 

  • Siddharth Patil

    Also is it possible for me to buy the copy rights of a game from a company and make changes and add additional features, making that company a shareholder etc etc… I am just on my first step so please guide me

  • billy42

    Im a sophmore in high school. Im looking at becker college, uat, and digipen. I want to double major in game dev./programming and game design. When i get out of college should i start out in a company(programming/designing for them) or go straight into my own business?

  • Alex Badson

    This is great advice, alot of it applies to other business’s as well. My partner and I just started a graphic design business, we were going to focus on branding and campaign design but realized it would probably be better to start out smaller, as a logo design company, then work from there! Thanks for the tips.

  • Nallib Tala

    read it
    the whole article


  • Zack Tomeo

    ok so ive noticed that my company is going into a highly competitive market here, but greg, i WILL revolutionize video games as we as developers know it, no i wont give you my idea because, well thats just insane. but i will tell you everyone in this chat log and every person thats posted a comment here WILL play my video games, now, i just need to find a place where i can come up with a grant, i need about 10 grand to completley start, office space, hardware, software etc, and i have an idea for a small little arcade game which is what im going to use as my “kickstart” to develop me even bigger more substantial, revolutionizing game, gregg you look like youve been through hell trying to accomplish your dream and i understand that i probably will be very stressed even before the release of my smaller game but, i have some honestly good ideas, i dream about these games day and night, everyone i fill in even on small details that arent even part of main quest lines are like “what game is this where can i buy it?” im unfortunatly forced to tell them it isnt released yet, i have a small, very small team of about five people ones my buisness partner, ones a concept artist ones a idea consultant and the others are just to help with production. can you help me?

  • hari haran nair

    Can anyone tell how much investement is needed to start a game company?

  • James

    Hey there! Loved the read, good information. I related to a lot of it. :) I noticed though that this article is 15 years old now, and I wondered if you had anything more to add?

  • greggman

    A ton has changed since I wrote that. Like “Don’t skimp on memory. At least 512Meg per computer” haha 😛

    Making games has in once sense become super easy since then. Unity is effectively free. Unreal is effectively free. HTML5 works across many platforms. It’s trivially easy to make at least a prototype now-a-days

    Some of the basics above still hold. Good People, Small Games. Since that time I’ve come to believe that prototyping and iterating is far better than paper design up front. You still have to decide on a size though. I know at least 2 teams that set out to make small games and argubly failed. One set out to make one game every 3 months. I think over the last 10 years they’ve shipped less than 1 game every 2 years. Another friend also set out to make small games. He made a pick 3 game. It took 14 months.

    So that brings up the question: Why did they take so long?

    You’d have to ask them. My guess is partly feature creep. Partly they might have spent a very long time iterating and trying to find the fun. Another might be they took a turn in the middle and changed direction. Like they might have started as Pay to Play and switch to Free to Play.

    In any case the point is it’s hard to make a small game. If you’re not careful it can take way too long. Long = costs lots of money = you go out of business.

    I really don’t know how to plan for that.

    I have another friend who prototyped 1 game week for 13 weeks. One of those became his shipping game. I think (I should double check) he got the game done in under 6 months. I’ve worked on several games that were done in a short amount of time relative to the scope of the games. I’ve also worked on games that took too long. Really knowing what you want to make and reeling in the scope is probably the best way to keep it small and on schedule

  • James

    Yeah, the specs were fun to read, haha. 😛

    I started messing with Unity in 2010 or 2011, it’s a wonderful way to make games. I did release one tiny game but it took me a few years. Feature creep, motivation, regular job, life. There were a lot of things in your article that really made sense, like needing to have an ‘office’. I’m that kind of person too, I really need to get one. I never want to do anything here at home. And I need to get to the point where I can have employees instead of solely partners.

    Thank you for the article and thank you for the update. I really appreciate it! :)