Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

17 July, 2008

Advice from a failed startup
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:47 PM

I found an interesting blog entry covering a post-mortem of a failed tech start startup: If you’re thinking of starting your own small tech business, including a game development firm, I think that blog is required reading. It’s not 100% gospel, but it can give you the much needed perspective on your business.

Read on for my take on a few of the issues.

The first bold header, that you need a ton of money to build a platform, isn’t quite correct. I think that you can try to build a platform, but you do need an advantage. That advantage may be a lot of money, or it may be an experienced team. If you get a bunch of experienced people from the area you’re focusing on, they can help you avoid the dead-ends that a younger entrepreneur might stumble into; as Jessica Mulligan has said, the experienced developers know where the bodies are buried. Of course, these experienced people usually don’t come cheap, so you may need a lot of money anyway.

Also, as a game developer you can’t just focus on one project and expect long-term success. Games are a hit-driven business, and putting all your eggs in one project means that you are taking a lot more risk. Of course, the reality for an inexperienced development company is that this is the only option you might have, contractually. A smart developer figures out how to re-use your assets. But, it’s sometimes hard to know how to do that without having some previous experience to give you perspective on how to do that.

I think the last bit is probably the most important tip of all: know your limitations. Sometimes people get into the middle of a project and get in over their heads. The classic newbie mistake is to think you’re going to beat the biggest game out there with 1/4 the team members and 1/10th the budget. Even as you get more experienced there’s the temptation to try to bite off more than you can chew. Even when you’re slogging through development there’s the temptation to add just one more cool feature to the game, not realizing that that one cool feature is actually a bundle of a dozen features put into one.

So, what do you think of these tips?


  1. Blown away by the part about 100 commits in two days. Yeah, if it took my company two months to build a solar array, we’d probably go out of business too. In some cases, the problem really just is that you’re not good enough at making what you set out to make, and the money ran out before you finished. There’s no substitute for experience in your field.

    Comment by Bret — 18 July, 2008 @ 11:12 AM

  2. Post mortems on two failed startups from their founders

    [...] (found via Brian Green) [...]

    Pingback by Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog — 19 July, 2008 @ 8:26 AM

  3. I think the last bit is probably the most important tip of all: know your limitations

    A year ago when I started to work on my framework for Golemizer, I received some comments that I should go with Flash instead of an AJAX interface. The advantages were obvious: works on any platform, pretty much everyone has the Flash player installed, smoother experience, possibility to do more fancy stuff, better performances, …

    The only problem was that I had no experience with Flash. Of course, I could have take the time to learn how to use it but considering it took me 1 year to get to open beta and that I’m still far from making any money with it, going with Flash would have probably lead this project into a wall. You’re limited when doing this on your free time and there comes a time where you can’t help to want some results.

    Comment by Over00 — 19 July, 2008 @ 10:16 AM

  4. I had to make a choice on my project between Flash and AJAX as well. Let me offer up that, as a guy who took three CS courses in college and is really learning to program as he goes, Ruby on Rails plus Scriptaculous has been mostly smooth sailing, and it so far has worked on three PC’s and a Mac without tinkering, or patching. I’m also very unclear on how Flash maintains state.. would you even be able to have a character saved that persisted from day to day and was secure from player tampering?

    Comment by Bret — 20 July, 2008 @ 8:51 PM

  5. would you even be able to have a character saved that persisted from day to day and was secure from player tampering?

    Well in my case, there’s no state kept on the client. Everything’s done on the server so a Flash client would still rely on the server to maintains state.

    Comment by Over00 — 21 July, 2008 @ 6:11 AM

  6. My favorite example of not knowing your limitations is when you talk about developing a new subsystem and some developer says, “Oh, that’s easy, it will only take two weeks!”

    Yeah, it will take two weeks until first alpha. Which will be crippled and break in all sorts of unpredictable ways. You know, you KNOW, it will take three months to get it working smoothly. But it goes into the schedule as a two-week project. It doesn’t take many of these to kill a project.

    Experience is good, but if you limit yourself to only doing things you’ve done before, you’ll only produce games that have been made before. What you want is both feet on the ground, AND your head in the clouds.

    Comment by Toldain — 24 July, 2008 @ 8:05 AM

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