A Business Model for a Game Studio

Facing the Giants

Success doesn’t mean the absence of failures; it means the attainment of ultimate objectives. It means winning the war, not every battle.
Edwin C. Bliss

Hello everyone and happy new month! I sincerely apologise for not posting last week. I had to do some serious soul searching. It has been a roller coaster so far but I am grateful to be able to pick up from where I left off! This week, I will be talking straight from the heart while looking at business models for games studios.

I developed my first game in 2010. At that point in time I had a trifecta of personal, academic and financial issues. I had reached a point in my life where I was tired of being pushed around. I had to make a stand somewhere. One thing led to another and it was in game development that a stand would be made.

You have met people who wander through life. They simply accept whatever fate brings them. A few may succeed by accident, but most suffer through a lifetime of frustration and unhappiness. They have neither the determination to succeed nor the willingness to devote the time and effort necessary to achieve success. Up until 2010, I was one of those people.

In the 2 years that would follow, I would try to impose my will on the world with disastrous results. I would search for a way to setup a game studio and be rejected at every turn. In the end, in frustration, I would leave everything behind. In my time away from my country, I have retrained myself. I have become a better programmer than I could ever become in Nigeria. This year, I am taking courses in entrepreneurship and learning how to build a business. In the course of learning about entrepreneurship, the concept of a business model came up.

A business model is a sustainable way of doing business. Here sustainability stresses the ambition to survive over time and create a successful, perhaps even profitable, entity in the long run. The reason for this apparent ambiguity around the concept of profitability is, of course, that business models apply to many different settings than the profit-oriented company. A business model is how a company creates value for itself while delivering products and services for its customers.

Last year ended on a mixed note. I tried to raise funding on Indiegogo with no success. When that failed, I had a choice. Give up and live the rest of your life defeated or go on in faith. I decided to go on and by the end of 2012 I had created my first HTML5 game. For that to happen, I had to review my entire technology stack. No longer could I look at the app stores as my first line of attack. This was not due to any technological deficiency on my part but an awareness of technology trends.

The Tablet Wars are starting! In March of this year, the Windows 8 Pro will be officially released. When that happens, Microsoft will have made a firm declaration of war in the tablet space. With the mobile wars over with Apple and Android taking the day, Microsoft knows that defeat here will signal an end to their empire.

So where do developers come in. Well in Nigeria, we have a saying “When the elephants fight, its the grass that suffers!”. From the browser wars of the 90s to the coming tablet war, developers have always felt the brunt of the clash between the technology giants.

For me that is the reason I made the shift to HTML5. I want my own plot of land to defend when the war starts. I don’t want to be tossed around by any of the app stores. On the business end, by shifting to HTML5, I also avail myself of opportunities to develop web applications for clients thus generating revenue. Any one who has seen the revenue forecast for a startup in an new market will have an idea of why this is important. In the first 5 years, revenue is a big issue.

New Markets Revenue Forecast
Currently on the African game space, there are no companies! All we have are startups looking for a way to generate their own funds from within and become viable companies. To this end venture funding becomes an important advantage. With the state of the industry, game development is no longer a street fight. It is now an arms race! The odds of survival favour the game studios that have the financial muscle to withstand the onslaught of the coming years.

But that isn’t the whole story! There are guys like me who have given up everything! Who can no longer go home! Who have only a hope and a dream. How do we give up? Well we don’t! On paper, the odds don’t favour us. What we lack are Money, Education and Influence. But what we do have are Initiative, Faith and Tenacity.

If I had understood the odds before I made a commitment, would I have done it? The answer is YES! The reason being that deep down in my heart I have a belief that this is what I am meant to be doing. Empty pockets have never held anyone back! Only empty hearts and heads! So I will continue learning and developing HTML5 games of increasing complexity. I am however grateful that going forward, I have an understanding of what I have signed up for!

Windows 8 and PC Gaming

With the launch of Windows 8 on October 26, the stage is set for the PC to have resurgence in the gaming space. For years, developers have been inundated with news about the need to embrace the mobile space. With Windows 8, all the lines have been effaced as Windows 8 represents a convergence of the tablet, mobile and traditional desktop spaces. In the transition from Windows 7 to Windows 8, Microsoft has improved the operating system’s performance and responsiveness.

Windows 8 Applications

The default UI for Windows 8 is Metro. However, Windows 8 comes with a mix of desktop and metro apps. Our favourites Paint and Notepad are desktop applications. The Metro UI is great for tablets but for desktop users, it tends to require a paradigm shift.

In this new world, the only way to get applications and games is through the Windows Store. Don’t get me wrong this is for apps and games that use the Metro UI. For traditional desktop applications, they can be installed the same way we have always done.

For developers, this means they have to get a Windows Store Developer Account. Once they have this, developers can then submit applications to the Windows Store for certification. The idea behind certification is to protect Windows 8 users.

Development Frameworks

The reason for using a framework is to speed up the development process. The above represent 5 framework companies that are in partnership with Microsoft. appMobi is an HTML5 framework for applications while the other 4 are for game development.

Over the course of the week, I did my research on the above 4 game frameworks and I strongly recommend GameMaker. GameMaker was developed in 1999 and has gone on to be a teaching tool for game development. For anyone interested in game development, I would recommend a look at GameMaker.

The business model for the company is freemium. You can download the free version and when you are ready to go commercial buy a relevant version that meets your needs. The beauty of GameMaker is that using the same program, you can export it to the Mac, Android, HTML5 and Windows 8.

Microsoft Surface

In a move that was out of character for the software giant, the announcement of the Surface Pro tablet came as a surprise not just to consumers but to PC manufacturers. With this move, Microsoft is now setting the precedent that they are willing to compete with their hardware partners by building their own devices.

This reminds me of when Google announced the Chrome browser. The idea was to encourage quicker adoption of web standards by browser manufacturers. It would interest you to know that the Chrome browser is currently the best in the business.

I see a similar trend emerging here with the Surface Pro tablet. I expect the Surface team to work tightly with Windows 8 developers to optimize and improve their hardware. I also expect the Surface to be better than anything their competitors produce.

Closing Doors

As far as openness is concerned, the end is near. With Microsoft taking control of its distribution; more platforms are going to close their doors. The tech world is gradually becoming reminiscent of the cold war era with iron curtains being put in place by the giants.

It’s like every giant out there wants to lock you in. Google has the Chrome browser which asks you to sign on with an email account (Gmail). From this one browser the advert sellers can get a glimpse into your online activities. Did I mention they have a social network that they signed you up for when you get Gmail?

Facebook is trying to do the same and become an all embracing platform but is yet to succeed. Amazon has its own devices that ensure you only buy your books from it. Apple well (I am too scared to even try talking about them)

Conclusion

With the launch of Windows 8, it is clear that there is a big market for game developers. Given the current state of the gaming space in West Africa, I would recommend that start-ups look at how to take advantage of the Windows 8 opportunity.

The next 3 years promise to be an exciting time. In the next 3 years we can expect Windows 9 to be in the market. I cite 3 years here because that is usually how long it takes Microsoft to release a new operating system.

It is hoped that in that time the West Africa gaming space would produce serious contenders on the global gaming scene. The news reports concerning the industry are good. What remains to be seen is if there is any substance to the hype. In the years to come, the story of how we used this opportunity to leverage the industry is really how history would be made.

The State of the West African Gaming Space

Africa

Hi everyone and thanks for joining in this week! I can’t believe that we are on the home stretch! 20 posts and 5 to go! In this post I will be looking at the West African Gaming Space. This post is my personal opinion on the current state of the industry and where I feel it needs to go.

Before we start, I will state something about myself: I am a dreamer! I dream more than I work! For me, it leads to an idealism that may not be realistic. So without much ado …

The Players

In the gaming space today, we have two sets of players: startups and bootstraps. As at now there are no companies. A startup is a temporary organization  setup with the aim of finding a scalable and repeatable business model. A bootstrap is an individual, flaunting an organization that is not even registered!

It may sound funny when you hear a bootstrap being defined. But truth is in the last 3 years, I ran a bootstrap. There was little money but I learnt. Strange when I started out in 2010, I didn’t know that you needed money to start a business. THAT BAD!

In this posts, I will not focus on bootstraps, I will focus on startups. In the West African Gaming Space, there are four that have come into the fore. They are:

  1. Leti Games
  2. Maliyo Games
  3. Plegde51
  4. Kuluya

I will look at each of this four because the gaming community is a tribe and in a tribe, the elders eat first.

Leti Games

Started in 2009, Leti Games is a Ghanaian Game Development Company. Notable games from them are Street Soccer and iWarrior. Personally I loved the game story behind iWarrior. It is the story of a warrior protecting his village from attack from wild animals. What I really love about this game is the jazz.

Maliyo Games

Started this year, this startup has gone on to show what is possible when a financial analyst runs a tech firm. Talk about achievements in such a short time and you would not be wrong. From a partnership with a leading bank in Nigeria to appearing on CNN, they seem to have it made!

Pledge51

One game that makes this company make this list is Danfo Reloaded. Its one game but enough respect to the developer. This game was first developed in 2007 but gained critical mass in 2012 when Nokia took up the game.

Kuluya

Apart from having a lot of titles, Kuluya didn’t really hit this year. But I sincerely comment the number of games they have successfully developed. While all their games are browser-based, I know it is a matter of time before they breakthrough! For me what is truly important is that they are out there!

Conclusion

This post has looked at the main players in the gaming space. Don’t get me wrong, there are others out there that I have probably not heard of! That said, we must not stay where we started from! In the years to come, I will love to see game companies go on to play on the global market competing and winning!

Fund Raising

In recent times, I started a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. Straight off I will say what the limitations are

  1. Nationality
  2. Absence of a Paypal account

Given that I don’t have a Paypal account, getting donations will involve people using their credit cards and trust me on this, NOBODY likes to use a credit card to make donations.

So someone would ask knowing all this, why did I go ahead. Simple I can accept failure but I cannot accept not trying. If I failed to clarify my thoughts then I would be failing myself.

Business Framework

Start Small

Granted this is easier said than done. People have an innate desire to look at the biggest and best and want to start from there. This could be fatal as every tree once once a seed. The process of building from the ground is essential for any product that will remain viable. It also filters out those with an interest as against those with a commitment.

seed sprouting

Earn A Few Pennies

There is the need for a business to monetize quickly. However like the rule above, a business must first learn how to make and manage small amounts of money. The businesses with a stable financial base generally had to fight to stay alive in their initial years. As a result of this fiscal discipline is maintained.

Penny pinching is important. It means that value will be received for every single amount of money entering the business. Also, it enables the management team adapt to funding issues.

Coin Jar

Begin With An Idea

Every product whether a game or a piece of software is a product of an idea. Ideas are the first stage in the design process. It is important that a picture of the piece of software to be developed is formed in the mind of the creators before product development starts.

inspiration

Think Like A Visionary

In his classic book Outliers, Author Malcolm Gladwell talks about how on average it takes about 10,000 hours to master anything. Working full-time, that’s 5years! Business is a commitment and not an interest! It is a process for those who have conviction. Only people of vision can have conviction. Without a dream, one is destined to fail.

Vision

Keep The Faith

Faith is the fire to continue long after you should expire. On a personal note, there have been many horrible days when I just feel like closing my laptop and never writing code again. When I am all burned out. But the next day, I am back at work. It takes a reason greater than reality to believe.

chimney

Ready, Fire, Aim!

There is a strong need for experimentation. In the west african context, there has been no major success in the technology space as a whole. Iteration and continuous improvement are the key. Without failure, there is no blueprint for a business to look at opportunities objectively.

failure

Profit or Perish

There is the need for a business to make a profit. For a startup, the basic reality is that for the first five years, there might be no financial profit. That said, a business can win in other areas especially technically. That is why the foundations of a business must be strong. The important thing is to have something to show for the hard work.

success

Be Positive

There is the need for continuous optimism in the business. For that to happen unwavering belief in the vision of the business must be shown by the leadership of the team. This belief must be backed up by authenticity and integrity. Being a Nigerian, my ears are used to fluff and I know it when I hear it. For most people, this is true. So words must not be rhetoric.

optimism

Continuously Improve Your Business

There is the need for businesses to continue to improve. Yesterdays home runs don’t win today’s games. In the Nigerian tech space one thing I have noticed is that when you hear about a product this year, you come back the next year and even though it is on a new platform, there has been no improvement to it. Granted boys are trying, but trying isn’t good enough. This is where all the lessons from failure tend to shape operations.

improvement

Believe In Your People

One is too small a number to achieve success. Any venture of note while it may be guided by the vision and leadership of individual must involve a team of people working together for a collective purpose. In product development, few individuals can combine Art and Engineering. This means that collaboration must occur. However, respect and trust must be guarded at all cost. Once credibility is lost, the team is no longer cohesive and any mission fails.

team

Never Run Out of Money

Funding is critical for every start-up. In all the years of studying business, one concept stands out and it is the concept of the BI triangle. At the base of the triangle is cash flow. Cash is king. Enough said.

bi_triangle

Attract New Customers Everyday

Customers the most direct way of sustaining cash flow. Seeing that most businesses are tight on cash, the best strategy is to use social media. However, it must be noted that a business must first guarantee that they can deliver the goods before marketing themselves.

marketing

Be Persistent: Don’t Give Up

Never quit!

persistence

Build A Brand Name

On a personal note, this is my goal for game development. When I started game development, I built games because I was going to be an uncle and I felt that games where a way to pass on a legacy. Two years later they have become my brand. But like I tell my solution developer friends, none of them can outcode me. Not only is game development the most difficult part of programming, it is also the most rewarding.

branding

Opportunity Waits For No One

Finally a quote from Sun Tzu “Opportunities multiply as they are seized”. I remember in 2010 when the Samsung Application Developer Contest first came up and I had to develop my first game. Nay-sayers persistently insisted that the ideas will be stolen. Here I am 2 years later with some awards under my belt and I know right now that all this happened because of that one event.

The stage is set for game development to emerge to the fore in West Africa. It will require passionate programmers who are willing to fail and stick with the process. Let the gaming continue but remember opportunities multiply as they are seized!