Industry Insights – 10 Biggest F-ups from Drinkbox Studios [GDC 2016]

Intro

In this article of my Industry Insights series I will be looking at a 2016 talk from Drinkbox Studios best known for standout luchador platformer Guacamelee and it’s recently released sequel (both games that I highly recommend!). Keeping with the spirit of this series, I will do my best to be as brief and concise as possible, hard as that may be for me.

As a disclaimer –  I will inject some of my own interpretation and expansion of the ideas, as this is unavoidable. For the full picture, always refer to the sources, listed at the end.

Summary

This talk focuses on their experience as a longtime indie developer. These tips might not necessarily apply to large studios or solo projects but there is a lot to learn here, so without further adieu:

1) Be careful with referrals – make sure you can trust the people you hire, especially “experts”. Be mindful of taxes and bureaucratic overhead.
2) Ensure comfort and Quality of Life in studio – Lack of comfort means notable drop in quality of work done. Studio tried to cheap out on this early on and it had catastrophic consequences.
3) Be careful with launch date announcements – hold back as long as you can to guarantee flexibility. Getting locked into a set date can be extremely tough to get out of, especially for a small team that doesn’t have the marketing budget to afford spreading news of changes.
4) Use a PR company – saves a lot of money in the long run, especially if you are small and/or not well established. They displayed stats that it very quickly pays off and you shouldn’t be scared of the initial cost.
5) Choose your ports wisely – Make sure that the adaptation to a different platform doesn’t ruin the experience. Making a quick extra buck is nice but often times consumer good will and studio reputation is more important.
6) Use at least a day of buffer before events – accounts for emergencies that might come up & feeling fresh is crucial for important events and public appearances. Very important for showing off at expos – a crucial chance for exposure when a small studio.
7) Handle side projects with tact – employees having their own projects on the side can be great for creativity & productivity but keep it open and transparent to avoid them interfering with studio performance.
8) Beware of hidden costs (mostly for smaller devs) – for expos it might end up being cheaper to just outright buy equipment instead of hiring from the event host or third party providers. They showed that after doing the math it ended up being cheaper for them to buy their own TVs and setup for expos than to hire.
9) QA patches thoroughly – even a seemingly small patch can have a huge impact so never skip on QA time, particularly with regards to save data testing. Be mindful of certifications and other headroom for fixes/reverts. In their case, a seemingly small change to chicken mode meant that player saves could be corrupted and the game unbeatable. Pushing a fix through console certs took ages.
10) Stay cool – even with leaks/reviews keep in mind that everyone is just doing their job. Business relationships are very important and as good as it might feel in the moment – anger and outbursts are never the way to go and will just hurt you and your studio long term. Important for when a journalist slips up.

Sources

YouTube

GDC Vault

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