Newbies guide to the 4 stages between an idea and selling a game.

This discussion is the Business Development side the 4 Stages of Game Design.  If you’ve been paying attention you’ll notice that ZoRTS gets referred to as a project a lot.  Have you ever wondered why that is?  There is a good reason for that, and it can help you think about your game project.  There will be some elaboration on these concepts in a future post which contains a free business plan for a computer game.

My Project Management Professor at Boston University one day told our class to make sure not to confuse a company with a product. This idea has been expressed here as a logical expression Game Idea != Product.  Many, many people especially gamers, confuse an idea, a plan, a project, and a company. This is completely understandable, they get excited about taking an idea and turning it into a business. It’s very important to understand the difference between them to preserve productivity, and to put your efforts into the correct thing at the correct time.  A big point that Scott MacMillian makes is that some projects can be created without starting a company.  Why go into $30,000 to $50,000 (or more) worth of dept when you would be completely happy just making the prototype?

  • Project: A plan for taking a set of ideas and turning them into a product (in this case a game).  Additionally the  process of taking that idea and actually doing something with it. The project would include starting with some kind of plan (referred to as Project Documentation) to create Game Design Document and then execute the plan to produce a prototype.  The documentation should also include a deadline, goals and a timeline.  You obviously cannot sell a Project to a consumer.  In the game design industry until you actually have an executable file that you can have another human sit down in front of and enjoy, you don’t have anything.  You simply have a collection of ideas written down.
  • Prototype: The output of the first project should be a playable prototype. Unless you are really ambitious, like the Dwarven Fortress folks, then your prototype will be a demonstration of the technical skills of the coders, and the basic ideas and game play you intend to elaborate on.  The DF prototype/alpha is way more than a technical demonstration, and they happen to be the exception that proves the rule.  For us mere mortals we want to make our prototypes demonstrate that we can deliver something that has some fun game play.
  • Computer game: (aka a product) the full release version of executable piece of software that someone can get some enjoyment out of.  We learn that there are multiple stages between Prototype and Full Release in a previous post.  For the big AAA titles there are years of production which include QA testing, Beta Testing, all kinds of polish.
  • Company: Once you have a product, something that generates revenue, something that the players can get their hands on, you finally can start a company.  Why wait this long?  Because on your first project, or first game you are bootstrapping.  Which means you have to pay out of pocket for the expenses the game incurs plus the expenses the company incurs.  The second you start a company, your expenses go through the roof.  People have to be compensated for working at a company.  Employee’s are much different than ‘volunteers’.

Go through these stages at your own pace.  And if you find one partcular stage that you don’t want to move past, don’t.  You could stay in the project space forever and still produce a game…  It may not be really great, but you wouldn’t incur the cost of incorporation.  If you really want to make a company, respect the stages that lead up to it, because you can save yourself a whole lot of money by making mistakes before incorporation.

For these reasons I try very hard to tell people that ZoRTS is a Project, and the result of that project will be a game prototype.  It is very tempting to tell people that I work on a computer game or that I have started a game company, but that just isn’t the truth.

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