Everyone's favorite pirate gamer, Three Rings' Daniel James, moderated one of the most enlightening panels at this year's AGDC, "Startup Lessons from Recent Online Games," featuring four startup entrepreneurs of various standing in the industry. What they had to say about their successes and failures shed an interesting light on The Dream of making it big in games.
Joe Ybarra - Employee No. 5 at Electronic Arts, Joe helped Trip Hawkins turn his fledgling game company into the largest game company in the world. Joe is now on his third startup, Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment, making an MMOG based on the Stargate franchise.
Raph Koster - Formerly with Sony Online Entertainment, Raph is now bringing his own bedroom game project to the MMOG space with his first startup, Areae.
Anthony Castoro - A 13-year industry veteran and founder of Heatwave Interactive.
Nabeel Hyatt - Surviovor of four tech industry startups, and founder and CEO of Conduit Labs, his first game industry company.
On Founding Teams
"Find your opposite," said Koster. "For me a really key factor was finding a co-founder who was relentlessly practical. ... You will not be successful without being honest with yourself about what you suck at."
"People think starting startup will give them more control," said Hyatt, "but the reality is it gives you less control. Instead of being beholden to one boss, you're now beholden to everyone; every employee, every client."
"Finding people with the same vision is critical," said Castoro. "Everyone gets titles, but none of that means shit."
"Leadership is key," said Ybarra. "The folks that start your company are your leaders for the company. ... The first person I hired was someone who manages money."
On The State of the Industry
"Right now there's tons of people interested in web-centric things," said Koster.
"I don't think it's a good time to start a company," said Hyatt, suggesting the industry is currently in a bubble. "Most big companies start in the troughs." He suggested that most people want to start a company because their current job sucks, or they hate their boss. Those are not good reasons to start a company, he says. "A good reason to start a company is because you have such a good idea that you can't see doing anything else."
"Because someone else did something and made lots of money," said James, "is not the right way to go about this."
"If I really felt I didn't have to give up a chunk of the company in order to be successful, I wouldn't have," said Hyatt. "But for this idea it was the right decision."
"It makes it really easy to turn around and ask people for money when they already think you're an expert," said Koster. "I had a verbal offer of funding the same day I quit Sony."
"Work out how much money you need, and then halve that," said James. "There is a big difference in the impact on your life depending on where the money comes from."