What’s Involved In Starting Your Own Game Studio?

Burning Money

Some people can’t shake the idea of starting their own company. For instance, many a game developer has contemplated opening his or her own studio. But how much would doing something like that actually cost?

In an op-ed on Polygon, Nine Dots Studio founder Guillaume Boucher-Vidal suggested that the costs—in terms of money, lost opportunities, and emotion—are enormous. “In three years, I personally went from having $20,000 in savings to $35,000 in debt,” he wrote. “After two unsuccessful Kickstarter campaigns, I was on the verge of bankruptcy before signing a deal with Bandai Namco.”

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From initial incorporation ($500, excluding lawyer costs) to equipment ($3,120 per person, including $800 per PC) and salaries (roughly $3,250 per person), running a relatively small studio is a cash-drain, even before you throw in legal and accounting fees, advertising, and the cost of attending conferences. Boucher-Vidal managed to minimize some of these costs by hosting his employees at his home for the studio’s first year of existence. Despite that, however, he ended up burning through $80,000 in three years before his business saw its first significant profits—a number that would have exploded to $700,000 had he paid employees more in salary.

“Having your life in a purgatory state for three years is a very long time, especially considering all the hours put into such a project,” he wrote. “I’ve been told that any entrepreneur should expect to spend anywhere between two and five years before knowing if your business will really take off and I do believe it’s true.” (In the meantime, Boucher-Vidal calculated, he could have earned a comfortable salary and benefits working his old job at Activision.)

If you’re willing to put up with the stress and isolation that comes with working ultra-long hours, if you can stomach the enormous risk of starting something from scratch in a cutthroat industry, if you think you can keep an enterprise funded long enough to actually see some profit, then creating a gaming startup might be for you. It takes a certain kind of entrepreneurial mindset to embrace that sort of lifestyle. But often people with that mindset can’t see themselves doing anything else.

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