Running a games company start-up – what I’ve learnt so far

Original Author: Pete Collier

It has been almost 6 months now since I co-founded our games company Hogrocket. I’ve learnt a lot over this period and it feels like the right time to write some of that down and share it. I hope that it’ll be of interest to you. Some of the points may be obvious; all that I’ll say is that I set up the company to learn and I certainly don’t claim to be any kind of authority. The following constitutes the most important discoveries and lessons I’ve learnt so far:

Making decisions is critical for momentum: Indecision and constant discussion is a comfort trap and a big time sink. Make decisions with conviction and then learn your lessons. You’ll learn far more than endlessly debating over the perfect course of action (which doesn’t exist anyway).

You’ll swiftly learn your strengths and weaknesses: Which is fantastic because knowing them is a strength in its own right! Working in a small team is like a boiling pot, things will bubble to the surface quickly. This tends to give you a heightened sense of everyone’s skills and character traits, including your own, which is a welcome side-effect to the volatility.

You’ve got to be in the same room together: Working from home seemed like a good idea, we would save on fuel, use Skype and not have distractions. However, creative collaboration needs face-face communication to effectively exchange ideas and the energy behind them. Even more important is focus, when working remotely it’s all too easy for team members to start pulling away and heading in their own direction. Working remotely becomes an exercise in reigning things in rather than getting stuff done.

Running your own company is a different kind of stress: Note that I didn’t say more stress, I can certainly attest to the stresses of working for someone else. The difference is the increase in stress you place upon yourself. There is more internal pressure than the usual external because things matter much more to you personally. As a result I’ve gained more self-discipline, more appreciation for the benefit of exercise and just as critically, the need for rest.

Let your experts be experts: If you’re contracting people to do work for you then give them clear direction on what you want to achieve and then get out of the way. Just because it’s your company or your project it doesn’t make you an expert on everything. Sometimes sticking your oar in can serve only to muddy the water. You’re paying them for a reason; because they can do something you can’t do yourself.

Make money: This attitude you may think is not becoming of an ‘indie’ studio doing things for the love. And although I care a lot about what we’re creating ‘love’ is not guaranteed to pay the bills and I’m getting kind of tired of the romanticism surrounding being ‘indie’. I want to create a viable business, let’s not fool ourselves here, whether making games or crackers if you’re not selling then you’re screwed. Seth Godin always talks about the fear of shipping and he is absolutely spot-on. I think we’ve created a great first game and hopefully it will make money but I’ll be a lot more comfortable once we’ve shipped it and next time I don’t plan for us to take nearly as long.

Humility: I’ve gained a much greater admiration for those who manage to run successful companies and projects. This has been particularly apparent for me because after writing my blog for a year now I’ve realised quite how much of a difference there is between saying and doing. I’ll be held accountable to what I have written by the quality of our games and quite honestly this scares me to death! But there’ll be no greater judge on those accounts than myself.

That final point is a good place to conclude this review because it ties in with a broader lesson that I’ve learnt – which is the need to make mistakes for yourself, its one thing to be told, but quite the other to learn the hard way. Lessons tend to sink in more when they affect you directly! So in this regard the life experience has been invaluable and worth taking the risk for.

I would love to hear about your own experiences, feel free to contact me or comment below.

This article was originally posted on my blog: Running a games company start-up – what I’ve learnt so far