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  • Five Lessons Learned Growing A Game Dev Start-Up

    [06.16.20]
    - Ryan Canuel

  • #4 The "unsexy" stuff

    Going to conferences to show off your shiny new game on the showfloor, giving a talk on your work to a captivated audience, and accepting awards for your work. This is the "sexy" stuff you get to do, but behind the scenes of that there's a whole lot of "unsexy" work that needs to be done. Legal work, taxes, accounting/bookkeeping, payroll, HR, networking events, keeping track of cash flow, and on-and-on. These things are all extremely important, but not always looked at with the same level of glory - and are most likely not what you set out to do when starting your studio. They are however, the thing that will determine if you sink or swim, and learning to love (or at least appreciate) these activities will be crucial.

    This might seem really obvious, but it's also something that is really easy to lose sight of and become too focused on other aspects of the business that are more "fun." No one wants to spend their day hounding down clients for overdue invoices, but if you don't make sure to prioritize that things can very quickly get out of hand. I've found that over time though I've come to enjoy some of these aspects of the business more. I've found that mentally framing them as essential services to a game development business that allows for a talented team of people to work on games, helps me feel better about focusing on these parts of the business. 

    Unless you're starting out with heaps of cash, you'll most likely not be able to afford to hand off all these roles to other people early on. You may choose to prioritize a lawyer first, and handle your own bookkeeping and taxes while you bootstrap. Over time, as money starts to come in, you can (and should) start to hand these roles over to trusted professionals that can help you with all these activities. Before you can get there though, It's best to assume that you'll be doing this yourself.

    #5 Look Local

    This is something that I don't see mentioned as much, but I've found to be really helpful for us getting started. Look at your local community and see what is available there for help/services, and what you can do for them. We're located in Worcester, Massachusetts, which is actually the second largest city in New England but often lives in the shadow of Boston. 

    I had moved here for college and at first hated it. Overtime living here though, and as I started to explore and learn more about the city - I fell in love. When we graduated, and had decided to do Petricore full time we decided to stick around in Worcester rather than try and move to a larger gaming hub like Boston. A big part of this decision was financial given that Worcester is much more affordable than Boston.

    There was something beneficial that came out of being the only game in town though, we were novel and fit really well into what our alma mater, Becker College, and the city both wanted. The city supported us through a start-up program they offered which provided free membership to the local Chamber of Commerce and other local networking events, and Becker College provided us with subsidized space to work out of. Just about every local news outlet covered us over time, and as non-local press came by we also got showcased as one of the new things happening in the city. 

    Is this the same as being globally recognized for a smash hit game? Of course not, but this gave us a small boost locally that helped us succeed in early days where every small thing mattered.

    Depending on where you're located and your network there may be programs and services that could help you get started as well. Many cities offer microloans to jumpstart businesses, some have leadership programs that bring you in contact with local businesses and government, and joining your local Chamber of Commerce can help with networking to establish connections with local services such as accountants and lawyers that you will need. Spending some of your time to become more engaged locally can be of help to your business no matter what it does, including games.

    In the end we are also a part of this community, as are you, wherever you're located. It's important to understand what your community offers for services, but also to understand what you can do for your community. We try and give back by attending local events like STEM fairs and Career Days, and personally I'm a huge proponent of supporting local small businesses, especially now. Your local community wants to see your business grow and succeed, and leaning on them for help early on might surprise you with what it can offer, just don't forget to return the favor.


    It's helpful, especially now as we celebrate 5 years as a studio, to look back and reflect on the journey and what I've learned. I could have gone on with hundreds more topics of things I've found useful and important, and this is in no way a complete list of steps to start a successful business. However, I hope that in here you found an idea or two that helps you on your journey towards a successful business. I know that I'm very much still on my way there too, with much more of the journey to go.

    If you'd like to stay up to date with everything happening at Petricore, I invite you to follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Additionally, if an over-the-top air combat game featuring humankind's best friends battling against the evil cat empire sounds right up your alley, consider adding our upcoming game, DogFight, to your Steam wishlist! 

    Remember to always be kind, and thank you for reading,

    - Ryan Canuel

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