Most people who have been in the games industry a long time like I have would call 2008-2012 the most difficult time most folks have faced in our history, eclipsing even the fabled crash of 1983. Others would ask how could that view be possible when the market as a whole continued to grow (albeit at a slower pace than prior to the downturn) throughout the period. The answer is because despite limited successes that drove the top line higher, fear and uncertainty about how best to replicate those results created paralysis in many buyers, and uninspired ambulance chasing in others. How do independent development studios not only survive economically uncertain times, but also become indispensable assets to their publishing partners during this time? Honesty, Integrity, Transparency, and Relationship!
Anyone who approaches the publisher/developer relationship from an adversarial standpoint at times like this is going to lose in the long run. When fear grips the marketplace, self-interest runs high and integrity can be diminished. Choose your partners carefully because some publishers can have a tendency to cut heavily one-sided deals that look good on paper but are totally unrealistic in execution. Likewise, from a publisher’s perspective, developers who need cash flow however they can get it sometime sign up knowing from the outset that overruns or scope changes are going to happen, but they don’t have alternatives and it beats closing the studio down. In each instance, landing the deal solves the short-term problem but makes the long-term problem twice as large.
Because neither party behaved with integrity during the negotiation, both are eventually damaged, both in terms of reputation and fiscally as a rule. The repercussions of being treated unfairly in either or both directions extend well beyond the climate of fiscal austerity that precipitated them, so ultimately it is much better to forgo negotiating positions and truly focus on needs and transparency. When both parties come to the table transparently expressing what they need to make something work, either unrealistic expectations are quickly resolved and the parties forge a much stronger long-term relationship of mutual trust that can be expanded when times improve, or neither side wastes an inordinate amount of time investing in a relationship that is ultimately doomed to failure.
The second major point that is needed to survive economically difficult times is integrity-based also, and that is of having a sense of relationship with and responsibility for the health of the community as a whole. The developer/publisher relationship is a symbiotic one. A strong independent development community fosters a strong publishing community and vice versa. Neither can exist in a vacuum. Granted, both communities go through cycles of expansion and contraction, but examined over the continuum as a whole, the long-term growth of both is virtually assured if the number of “good actors” outweighs the number of “bad actors.” Fortunately, in our long experience, we’ve encountered far more “good actors” who approach this business with integrity than others. Company names may change but the people don’t, there are just more of them over time, so it’s tough to hide from a bad reputation if you create one.
As such, it is the FOG view that, in the long term, collaboration benefits the whole health of the industry better than competition. When you come across a project that is not right for you for any reason, you serve everyone’s interests better by staying in the game and trying to help that publisher or developer find the right solution than by just turning a blind eye at that point. Long-term investment in relationships benefits everyone better than short-term focus on individual- or project-based goals.
You’ve heard it put another way all of your life: “When times are tough, you find out who your friends really are.” But another saying, “what goes around comes around” governs how many friends you really have in the end. If you help others achieve success, they are more likely to be there for you when you really need it. Not always, there are always some who forget, but if you help people because it is the right thing to do instead of only when you expect something in return, people see and reward the difference.
At FOG, our core values are Fairness, Integrity and Trust, which we call the FIT principle. We and our clients behave consistently with these values, and we seek out buyers and publishers who also adhere to these beliefs. We never knowingly set up a publisher/developer relationship with unrealistic expectations on either side of the deal, because we value the trusted relationships we have built more than the profitability of any individual deal. Honesty, Integrity, Transparency, and Relationship, folks, it’s that simple. I encourage everyone to live by this philosophy, and live you will, smaller at some times and larger at others, but nevertheless alive.
Good Hunting, and drop some extra meat on your needy neighbor’s table when the opportunity presents itself. You will never regret it!