Why We Need to Talk about Failure in the Game Industry

The Game Industry is one of the most popular markets in the world and has attracted people from all over. The allure of being able to play games professionally or be able to make them is a powerful motivator. However, the industry and the media as a whole is not doing a complete job, and are presenting a very dangerous viewpoint of an industry without failure.

game industry

The Success Stories:

The Game Industry is full of success stories from the Indie to the AAA. We’ve seen the likes of Minecraft, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Mass Effect and Call of Duty.  These games are now massive parts of pop culture.

The passion seen in the Game Industry is a constant attraction of people from all walks to make games for a living. Reading stories on game sites about the success of these games, why wouldn’t you want to make games for a living?

One big success can easily carry a studio from one game to the next, or earn enough money to then work on whatever you want. Throw in the accessibility of game engines today, and you have a market just waiting for the next big hit.

Unfortunately, for every success story reported, there are countless examples of studios failing.

What’s Success?

Success is very hard to see from the outside looking in. Some measure success in terms of copies sold, or winning awards. The truth of the matter is that success is based on one important fact: Did this game earn enough money to keep the lights on?

Accolades and critical reception don’t always equal a best seller. The more time and money put into a game, the harder it is to earn a profit.

game industry

It’s impossible to predict what games will see success in the Indie space

Designers will say that just getting a game finished is moving forward, but that sets a dangerous precedent.

The Truth of the Market:

It’s time to piss off a lot of people. If you ask a game developer for advice on how to make games for a living, they will usually answer with the following: “Just make video games.” At this point, that statement is so wrong that it’s criminally negligent to say in my opinion.

The following needs to be turned into a sign, because it’s something every student or would be designer needs to know — Making a Good Video Game is Not Enough.

There is a very big difference between making video games and living off of your games. It is very rare to find an indie studio like Introversion, Grey Alien Games or Positech Games that can say they are still going after a decade plus in the market.

Very little has to go wrong for your studio to be in trouble, and having a great game doesn’t magically erase the risks.

  • What happens when you release your game, but due to mismanagement you had to spend an extra year or two in development and can’t recoup the cost?
  • What happens if your game is done, but no one did any PR and no one is buying it?

And we’re not even going to talk about all the ways you can doom your game during the development and planning process. Understanding how to succeed in the game industry is just as, if not more so, important than being able to program or do art.

The only times we actually do hear about failure in the mainstream is when it’s too big to ignore. Titles like No Man’s Sky or Mass Effect Andromeda, but due to NDAs, it’s still hard to get a complete enough picture to learn from it.

Learning From Our Mistakes:

Being able to learn from our mistakes is a vital part of life beyond just making games. A very important motto that I hear developers say these days is, “Fail Small.” It’s very easy to be driven by passion to go all in on an experimental game concept, but is it good enough to bet your future on?

I feel we need more post mortems on games so that we can learn about the do’s and don’ts. It’s better to figure out you’re doing something wrong during the prototype stage than three months away from release.

While we can’t prevent failures from happening, we can at least make the greater part of the industry and consumer base educated about the risks of game development.