by Christine Rom
Fueled by the acceleration in global game production as well as by an ever-increasing need for companies to scale and stay competitive, game development outsourcing has grown in leaps and bounds. Even as Eastern Europe, India, Korea, and China lead the industry, game development outsourcing nonetheless has massively expanded in the Philippines over the past three years. Entire game development processes, including audio/music production, art production, porting, localization, and testing, are increasingly being outsourced to Filipino game development companies by top publishers such as EA, Activision, Sony, THQ, and many more.
Encouraged by this success, more and more Filipinos are now setting up shop (and it seems even more are interested in starting up). Over the past months, I’ve been asked several times to share insights on how best to start up in this business. While everyone agrees that growth prospects are encouraging, and that the country could be the next game development frontier, there are unspoken truths that one should consider and prepare for before starting up—sales, production, operational management, business survival and others. In this article I have outlined best practices and insights on securing leads, closing engagements, dealing with clients, handling game production and many more. For startups and individuals interested in starting up, this might help get you off on the right foot.
The most valued clients are usually those that come through referrals from friends or other clients. Others you might meet during trade shows and conferences, industry meet ups and events such as the GDC, Casual Connect, Game Connection, and others. Updated websites, LinkedIn and Facebook pages come in handy too. Over time you’d build up a database of prospective customers with whom you’ll hopefully have good long-term business relationships with.
First impressions are crucial in getting the attention of a prospective client. Make sure your demo reel is updated and you have a ready portfolio of your best work in Adobe pdf file or PowerPoint. Consider the file size of your portfolio. The lighter the file size, the easier it is for you to share them to prospects.
When responding to Requests for Proposals (RFPs), assume that you may be competing with 3 to 10 other bidders, maybe more. Some clients will share their guidelines in evaluating bids. Read through the guidelines and follow them. Make sure your proposal demonstrates a thorough and clear understanding of the project and scope of work. Lastly, be organized and confident in responding to questions. This will make a positive impression on your clients.
Most publishers like proposals that are creative. For this reason, some game studios invest on original artwork samples and layout to make their proposals look sleeker.
Contracts and project costs
Closing contracts and getting the budget you desire can sometimes be a balancing act. After all, you and your client walk opposite lines in this matter. Everyone (including you and your client) aims to get the most profit out of the deal—the clients by reducing production cost, you by setting a higher price tag to the effort. Both of you must find a middle ground.
Clients always aim for the lowest possible cost. But even they understand that there is a price for quality. Studios that have more experience could actually command a higher budget. Their clients won’t mind paying premium in exchange for top-quality work.
On the other hand, new studios who are still trying to build their portfolio may be willing to absorb risks and settle for much lower profits—even just to break-even. This is not really such a bad idea when you’re starting. But make sure the sacrifice is worth it. Make sure that the output is really excellent. You’re already sacrificing anyway, so why not make it worth your while? If your goal is to secure another deal with the same client, or to use the project as proof of your capabilities, then a stellar output is in order.
With this you still have a chance at beating more experienced developers.
As with contracts, there are industry templates that you can look at as your starting point. You can talk with your lawyer and make sure all the terms are covered, and you have protective clauses secured. Among the items you must nail down in your contract are the following:
- Scope of work
- Payment terms
- Milestones and schedule
- Deliveries and review schedule
- Change requests
- Nondisclosure terms
Processes and communications
Prior to starting work and after signing of contracts, schedule kickoff meetings via web conferencing. It is preferable that all parties can see each other face to face; but if it’s not doable, a web conference will do.
Write a kickoff guide and have the producer walk the client through your development process. Make sure everyone is aligned on the project schedule, points of contact, escalation procedures, meeting times, deliverables, asset reviews, and so on.
Make sure you have project management tools in place and that the client knows how to use them. Most studios need a combination of collaboration, bug tracking, file sharing, asset management, and resource management tools in order to operate. I have not seen any single off-the-shelf system that integrates all these into one, so you might have to make do with a combination of products.
Be clear with the client on who handles the asset and build reviews from their end. Time is of the essence in all projects, and the ability for the client to send in their feedbaregularly and on time is a key factor in meeting project deadlines.
Time zone differences can be beneficial if handled well. While time gaps can make real-time interfacing difficult with clients, they can also provide buffers to review assets and correct them before submission to clients.
Issues on quality are typically the main concern of studios when doing outsourced game projects. Quality issues often lead to endless iterations, overtime, schedule slippage, reduced productivity, excessive overhead, and worst of all, client dissatisfaction.
Believe it or not, 60% of most production is due to rework, though according to some experts, this figure can be reduced to 20% if processes are optimized and managed well. To overcome this, establish clear definitions of deliverables beforehand. The more detailed the specifications, the lesser the need for guesswork, and the easier it is for you to implement requirements.
Seek feedback early on, and be clear on your understanding of the feedback. Establish a system for managing iterations so you can set limits with the client. Some clients change their minds in the middle of projects and conveniently call these change requests at your expense. Be mindful of these situations.
Perseverance and motivation
With perseverance, game development outsourcing can be a fulfilling experience. It’s a mix of the technical and creative, which sets it apart in the realm of business endeavors.
Starting up should be fairly easy too considering that there’s an abundance of emerging talents from local universities to add to the growing pool of competent IT professionals already in the industry.
With a clear vision and the right people, there’s really no shortage of opportunities for everyone. In fact, it now looks like there’s only one way for the Filipino game development industry to go, and that is up!
About the Author
Christine Rom is the President/CEO of PODD, a game development studio in Cebu City, Philippines and a Board Member of the Game Developers Association of the Philippines (GDAP). She’s been in the game development industry for 7 years now. Her firm, PODD, is developing casual games and educational games for both mobile and desktop platforms. For questions about this article, you may email her at christine.r[at]poddcorp.com.