Merry Christmas everyone!
Further ‘Indie Studios’ questions
This time the questions are from Alex Champandard, owner of AiGameDev (http://aigamedev.com/) a truly brilliant site for anything to do with AI in Games. We’re big fans of the site and were proud to be bronze sponsor for their Paris Conference earlier in the year.
How many of the skills that you need to run FDL have you built up while running FDL? Which came the most easily and which was the hardest?
I think the easy answer is all of them to be honest – previously I worked in a joint lead / senior programmer (with some production!) role so the running of a business and the business development side was fairly new to me. I’d done some project pitches before and had been exposed to some of the financial side of things but that was it.
When we started FDL we believed it was important to understand everything we were going to delegate (either externally to experts / consultants or internally to other employees).
This meant we quickly built up an understanding of accounts, bookkeeping, taxation, contracts, negotiation as well as things like health & safety and employment law. I’ve also had to develop further in terms of business development, networking and working with clients.
Personally I didn’t really find anything particularly hard it was more case of how much time it took up performing particular administration processes as either I was being extra careful with things or having to triple check things myself or with other people.
Have you taken courses, read books, listened to audio programs to help develop the skills you needed? Which would you recommend the most?
Before we set up the company I got hold of all the books / audiobooks covering small businesses that I could (especially books on Micro-ISVs and general software consultancies – as not many game developers spoke about running a business when we started). I also read all the forums and articles I could find covering the accounts, taxation, contracts and other areas – taking it all with a pinch of salt but storing it up for later.
This approach of absorbing information from a large amount of sources and then distilling the applicable information by seeing what made sense when we were working on things in practice.
We also had some great advice from friends in the industry and from some of our advisers in the administration aspects of things.
There seems to be a lot more information around now in terms of running a micro studio (which is what most people are interested in).
How often, do you have the time to take a step back and think about yourself or the company in a very strategic fashion?
Not as much time as I’d have liked sometimes in the past especially when heavily involved in the development and production process of an on-going project. This is the main reason a lot of companies our size have gotten stuck in a pure work-for-hire loop in the past I believe.
We have improved in this regard and this has become part of other monthly business reviews.
Do you give out bonuses? Have you considered profit & risk sharing on certain projects with your contractors or staff?
Yes we try to do as much as we can in both regards. We’ve had a tough couple of years due to a few clients going bust and a few products not performing quite as well as we wanted but we still try to pay out bonuses when we can. As we’ve developed as a company and tried to do more of our own projects using bonuses is safer for the longer term future of the company than offering unrealistic salaries (without taking on extra risk or needing additional financing to cover between projects). I think the fact we’re coming up to 6 years in business shows that things are working well.
We do already have profit sharing agreements with contractors and have a few titles out in 2011 with one of our long-term artist contractors, likewise some of our internal team have a profit share in our projects. We plan to continue these sort of arrangements as it’s great for everyone and very exciting in terms of the slightly bigger risks we can take.
We’re not a big (or even medium!) corporate so we’re keen to look after the team as best we can and ensure that everyone is happy within the company.
How do you hire in general, not just artists? Do you find it more difficult to convince recruits to work for FDL over a bigger studio or publisher?
We get quite a lot of job applications just through the fact we’ve been around a while and are linked on quite a few sites as a developer. We also occasionally post on games development forums when we’re looking for developers
We tend to grow our full-time internal staff fairly slowly so we’ve not actually encountered many problems, the main form of temporary expansion for us comes from short to medium term contractors (and normally ones we’ve worked with in the past – in 2008 we had on average 15 people working for us including contractors) where as long as the project is interesting enough and the contract terms suit them in terms of length and rate then everyone is generally happy.
This upcoming year we’re looking to expand further and we’ll perhaps be seeing how much things have changed!
Thanks for the great questions Alex!
#iDevBlogADay – good bye for now
This is going to be my last post on the Saturday iDevBlogADay slot, I’m going to let one of the many patient people on the waiting list take over.
I’ve really enjoyed writing the weekly blog posts, hats off to @mysterycoconut for some great organisation and hardwork behind the scenes on it. I have never really blogged at all before and though it’s taken a bit longer than I originally intended per post it’s been a great experience!
I plan to request being added to the waiting list again and I aim to do a few more regular updates here so please perform one (or all) of the following to keep up with our latest news and posts.
Things we’ve been enjoying this week
- Some interesting blog posts from @rexguo on GPU based ray/path/photon tracing
- A blog from Phil Carlisle (@zoombapup) on designing UI’s in games – be sure to check out Damzel
- I3D and Eurographics papers starting to appear
- Some opinions on digital media trends for 2011