Letter From a Reader: “Ask Yourself, Do You Have Resources to Finish a 3D Game?”

After making the decision to end the Edoiki development I received one lengthy post that contained so much information that I asked him if I could publish it. For privacy reasons the company names and game names are changed, and the sender wishes the remain unknown.

The sender agreed, and I really recommend you go through this lengthy article. It contains some really juicy pieces of information about game production (especially “casual versus core” or “2d versus 3d” related knowledge). Game developers should ask themselves, do they have resources to finish a 3D game?

Here’s the sender’s email (published with a permission):

Hi Juuso,

I was reading your post for ending Edoiki development. One thing I have to say, it was right decision. The post just inspired me to write you this e-mail, it’s more like from fellow producer to fellow producer.

Anyway, something drives me to tell you some things from my experience, risk management, and some knowledge I gained while working for “other” game development companies before I decided to found my own. Some 5 years ago, I have started my career at The AAA Game Company, working as programmer, and had pretty romantic view on game development.

The project I was working on is The Bloody Good Shooter Game – first person shooter. Important thing is that I had great experience working for almost 3 years on 3D first person shooter project. It’s was one of the most valuable experiences for me, at least from the producers point of view.

Lesson about risk management

It was project with following attributes in terms of man power :

  • 5-6 professional 3D modelers worked just on level assets, models for the environment of the levels
  • 3 professional level editors, for creating the levels
  • 2 environmental artists, just texturizing the models and creating original textures for the game
  • 2 character modelers and
  • 1 graphic designer just to design and place particle effect through the game
  • 8 programmers

All of these people already had at least 3 years of professional industry experience working on AAA title. We also had amazing technology, the game editor and our own engine, everything built in-house, so it was ours and it was amazing. So we had, experienced people and enough of them, we had great technology, we had enough time to finish the project.


How the hell ?

I won’t go in details, but many things went wrong, mostly some critical decisions were so wrong that caused us to waste the time on features which didn’t bring anything good. As a result, you get project which is late for 1 year. I don’t have to tell you what kind of cost for the publisher it was. After the project was ended, 5 good people left the company, and company itself was not able to get new project for another 12 months.

It was all because of BAD RISK MANAGEMENT.

Company management was so egocentric that they though they can face anything. Well, it was proven to be otherwise.

My lesson learned there : if you don’t have a budget of around $1 – $2 million dollars, FORGET ABOUT DECENT 3D PROJECT !!!!!!!!!

Because, there are many things which can go wrong, from people to technology. It’s too risky. First, from technology point of view, and second from human resources point of view. Technology point of view : You need people who are proficient in, 3D graphics, 3D mathematics, 3D physics, scripting, 3D tools programming.

Ask yourself a question:

If I have small budget, and require people with those skills. What will make them to want to work for me, for small money, when they can have great careers in teams in Europe and across the Atlantic, with good salary, good benefits, working for the well known companies on top-titles, working on well known franchise, and putting those projects as reference to their careers ?

The story goes on.

When I have realized that things are getting out of control, I finished all my tasks, and everything what was expected from me in the mentioned company, and left.

Where did I go?

  • I was targeting the company which is profitable, which would allow me to advance in the area of management and production, and which will allow me to work on many smaller projects through out the year.
  • I found such a company actually on the other part of the world and moved there to continue my career.
  • I worked there on 6-8 projects in single year. Imagine the experience gained !
  • I worked on GBA, DS, J2ME, some other mobile phone platforms and also on PC casual games.
  • Guess what ? ALL THESE GAMES WERE 2D !!!!!! And company was making money and still is to the present day !!!!!!!!!!

People in that company were veterans from AAA Amazing 3D Title project who have established their own company. They had significant experience working on 3D games. BUT, they have decided to work on the game for mobile phones, small hand held consoles and casual PC games.

You know why? It’s lower risk! All in all, one great thing I learned there : make games you’re absolutely 100% sure you can finish and deliver to the market (whichever market) !

So, after being present for 4 to 5 years in the industry I had a chance to see it all, big 3D projects slipping the deadline, small projects, medium sized projects, I was working as programmer and had some stellar moments with my engineering in 3D physics, and had great time managing people on smaller projects as well.

With so much experience, the decision to make my own company was really easy one. But what kind of games will I work on ? That decision and many others were based purely on my experience from previous 4-5 years. I’ll make games that I can finish. Games that I can sell on global market. Games which will bring me good contacts in the industry. Games which are unique.

And I’ll make lots of games !

Why are all these points so important?
Because they’re enabling me to position my company for successful growth in the future ! Games that I can finish : are finished games and reference for the company in any way. Once you start dealing with publishers, they will always ask you, what have you done before as a company ? YOUR FINISHED GAMES MATTER HERE A LOT !

Game that I can sell on global market: brings you exposure to global publishers, and you never know when will you get some project from them, so it is important that people know about you, world wide.

Games which will bring me good contacts in the industry: any project will get you some new contacts, and professional networking is very important, and you know it yourself.

Games which are unique : unique games are important, basically, publishers are willing to talk to you more about prospect projects if you show some talent creating unique games (read between the lines, they’re willing to talk to you for financing some projects you would suggest to them with either playable prototype or concept document).

I know that you probably know all this stuff, but I’m just putting this down to make my point further on.

So, I made my decision to make:

  • casual games
  • strictly 2D games
  • use my great expertise in area of physics and develop nice technology and use to innovate

The result after 12 months having my own company :

  • 2 casual games for PC finished and published !
  • my own physics technology
  • over 6-7 distribution agreements across all major portals for downloadable games
  • dozens of contacts in the industry with highly positioned executives, producers
  • innovative game brought me the opportunity to discuss publishing deal in person with biggest publishers in the industry !
  • 2 more games in design and 1 prototype and discussing funding options with several publishers
  • latest casual game will be localized and distributed in US, UK, Japan, France, Germany, and probably Russia, Ukraine, making actually 6 SKUs from single title

As you can see, many goals were set and accomplished. Why? Because I have decided to walk the path in small steps! It’s slower, but it’s less risky, and I’m building solid foundation for the future. Imagine where would I be if I decided to make 3D game, on small budget I had a year ago ?

I’m great fan of all 3D game genres, from RTS to FPS and MMORG games! But can I make any of these games ?

Well, I do have knowledge, for each technology section required to make those games, physics, graphics, AI, scripting. I have people skills, I know how to manage teams, and schedule their stuff and not to slip the deadline.

Do I know right people for the project? Yes.

Do I have money to start the project like that? No!

The question goes again: But can I make any of these games?

Answer: NO!

I love 3D games, but I can not make them!

Once you release yourself of the chains that you are in game industry, and that you MUST make 3D games, you’ll realize that there is whole world out there waiting for you to conquer !

My final point of this e-mail is : Rather make 15 small games in 1 year, than 1 large project which will end up in a drawer after 2 years of energy spent on it!

With every project being finished, no matter of size, you get new contacts, you gain production experience. And experience is something what matters the most. The more you have it, easier will be for you to handle the risks, not just for your projects, but in real life as well.

Juuso Hietalahti