Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

23 August, 2008

Weekend Design Challenge: The negative side of business
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 5:01 AM

I saw a really fascinating article online where Bill Roper of Flagship Studios’ fame talked about the demise of his company. It was a really fascinating and honest look on the inside of a business.

It’s also a perfect example of why I wanted to write and edit my book about business and legal issues. Here’s a competent developer who obviously was able to create a successful game as he did previously at Blizzard, but where not doing the proper business planning lead to a business failure.

(Personal to Bill Roper: contact me if you want to write a chapter for the next edition of the book. ;)

No particular challenge this weekend, but do read that article. A few of my own thoughts after the jump.

From the interview, it looks like the major problem was a serious lack of business planning. They wanted add more content to the online part of the game, but they didn’t have a solid plan for accomplishing this. I’ve commented before that the business model didn’t make sense and really turned people off when it was announced rather late in the project.

It also shows the importance of having someone who does understand the business aspects. You can have a talented leader with a great team, but if your business aspects aren’t taken care of then you can lose control very easily. It’s easy to underestimate the situation and hope you can pull out a last-minute miracle.

The problem is, of course, that a lot of “biz guys” have bad reputations, sometimes with good reason. They have a reputation for being superficial, and focusing on the short term. They don’t listen to the concerns of other people in the business, believing they know best. Some also think that they don’t need to learn about the details of the game industry, because they’ve managed people before. And, even though they always want to stick their fingers into the “fun design” part of the job, they don’t always appreciate it if you give your point of view on business issues. It’s tough to find someone who will act as a good partner with everyone’s best interests in mind, but it can make your business go a lot smoother.

It’s also interesting to see a former Blizzard employee bitten by the one thing most developers point out as Blizzard’s largest advantage: having nearly unlimited resources. It’s a lot easier to make Blizzard-quality games when you have practically endless schedule and budget. But, as the article points out, if you try that trick in the “real world” the publisher will chuckle and ask you, “How are you going to pay for that? Not with my checkbook, you aren’t.” Even the best developers are hampered by the standard industry situations that cause all sorts of problems for everyone else.

In the end, I really feel sorry for the Flagship employees who lost control of their babies. It’s hard to pour your creative efforts into something only to lose it. It sounds like Mr. Roper is going to take some time off, but hopefully he’ll get back into things eventually and takes the lessons learned to make things work better the next time around.

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