The year 2009 was a recession year for many, presenting great challenges in getting funding to do projects. How did the gaming industry, with its million-dollar budgets, handle this? An interview at BlueFang found some answers.
BlueFang is the amazing creator of the Zoo Tycoon series, a favorite of mine, which achieves the spectacular combination of being addictively fun to play and educational at the same time. We talked with Chief Operating Officer Scott Triola about what it was like to work with a gaming company during these kinds of challenging times.
Scott explained that, for many companies, a recession was a time to give up on certain projects. Those companies fall victim to "the blockbuster mentality, where a lot of publishers, if they don't think they can do two or three million units, they won't even bother." They have to invest two solid years of development, involving an incredible investment of manpower, resources, time, energy. If they get to the end of that investment and few people are willing to pay the $50 per game pricetag, that can be an incredible amount of lost money. As Scott points out, "Most games don't do 2 to 3 million units - There's only 20 or 30 of those a year." The remaining companies barely break even in the best of times.
The new online and smart phone markets have opened up a wealth of new opportunities - but also fresh challenges. In a way it is like opening up Pandora's box. "You can get VC funding, you can bypass the publishers / retailers and go directly to consumers. We've never been able to do that before." Often stores can take up to 50% of the profits, so that is a substantial savings! On the down side, few people are willing to pay $50 for a Smart Phone game. The price is usually more like $5 (or less). You have to sell a lot of games to cover your costs. "It's a great opportunity," agrees Scott, "but it's like a gold rush - everyone's going there and it's hard to make money off of it.
One benefit is that you are no longer locked in a long 2 year cycle where you aren't sure how people will react until the end of that investment of time and money. With handheld games, often the development time is measured in weeks, and the feedback comes fast and furious.
This retooling has made getting into the gaming work force even more challenging. Most gaming magazines have folded or gone online. Game coding projects are often sent overseas. Even at BlueFang, where they have a US based operation, they feel the stress. However, Scott feels this has been a blessing in disguise for many game enthusiasts. They get laid off from their "regular" jobs, and because they have the time, they decide to finally turn their energies to coding an iPhone game. As he explains, "you're seeing a lot of these iPhone games that are coming out that 1) potentially can make the developer a little money or 2) is a great way for them to show their development skills to a potential employer so you can point to that and say 'here's this iPhone game I made and this is my role'. All these online and mobile opportunities really open the door."
The take-home lesson is, if you're interested in finding a job in the gaming industry, take heart! This is the perfect time to work on your rapid-application-development skills, take some courses, and prove your stuff! With many companies migrating from large-scale console gaming to quick-release smart phone games, if you're able to create a game that proves your talents, you could be in high demand!
Getting a Job in the Gaming Industry