Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Octopus 8's thoughts on funding

So we're out there: Octopus 8 Studios has been launched in the press and we got quite a lot of publicity in the gaming press, for example on Games here.  We were extremely pleased with that and excited at the coverage.  I am working with Justin Parsler and Rich Barham.  We're funding everything out of our own pockets for now and Rich writes about that decision on our website here.  For those of you who aren't into trawling to somewhere else then  you can read it below where I've re-posted the text!


It’s interesting. Most entrepreneurs will do whatever is necessary, fighting tooth and nail to get funding in order to help their business get going. I respect that, particularly given how challenging it can be.

Let’s face it, wouldn’t it be good for Octopus 8 Studios to have some money behind us to pay salaries, both our own and to colleagues, and so we can open an office and get marketing spend amongst many other things?

Sure, that would be absolutely delightful, but, after a lot of discussion we elected not to try for funding. Here’s why.

Octopus 8 Studios is built on a few key foundations; they were thrashed out as the product of forming a company where we would like to work and one we would work with. They were formulated out of the observations of where we had experienced some of the less pleasant side of business, and where we felt we could draw the line between being awesome to one another, to partners and colleagues without being naïve.

I’d like to share some of them with you. I’m going to assume you haven’t seen them on our website, (yes, that’s a reasonably shameless plug) and there’s a few more added so here goes:

“An Octopus has three hearts. We would like to reflect that in the way we do business. Integrity, care and respect of those with whom we work are of prime importance to us…:”

“We have many strings to our bow or arms to our…well, you know.”

“Octopus 8 Studios is based on the premise that creativity should be nurtured, shaped and supported, and by that process mutual gain enjoyed. Exploitation of young talent is our antithesis.”

“Nice doesn’t mean naïve, we’re a business and we aim to succeed. Success and the good treatment of others isn’t an either/or situation and that’s something we will always be careful to prevent going astray.”

“Gamers are still gamers regardless of color, sex, nationality, age or creed. So are game developers. We want to make sure we’re championing that in everything we do. We want to make the best games, with the best people anywhere. That’s regardless of whether they’re from next door or the other side of the world.”

Now, I’m not going to tell you that any of these are completely new but I am going to insist that I have seen many of them fall by the wayside in Games Studios from time to time. Ask yourself:

How big do you get before you stop answering applicant emails?

How long before the CEO blocks their external facing inbox?

What do you do about it when you make these changes?

These are all real problems, but you know what? There’s a lack of transparency about why these things are done as well as the fact that they are done which hurts people.

Talking to your applicants or fans (most often they are the same people), or writing an open letter to post on your job boards about why you do things that appear to value process over people, even why you simply had to hide your email because yesterday you got xxx mails asking for ???.

All this helps people understand your constraints, and gives people the communication they need to get a fair chance. Social media now makes things easier, but it’s important to remember that you need to be multi faceted in your approach to communicating with talent, or you are letting people slip through your fingers.

Our beloved Games Industry.

It’s pretty awesome, right? Great place to be – you wear weird clothes (maybe) your work environment is pretty relaxed and if you’re doing things right, its kinda fun. No, not you…put down the nerf gun please.

Don’t we have a responsibility to help people who want to have the opportunity to share in that? It doesn’t matter if no one gave it to us. This isn’t about us (and frankly that’s part of the problem). Consider: when was the last time you wrote back giving actual viable advice to someone who wasn’t successful in joining your organization?

If the industry is to be healthy, we need to take a step back and look at what we have become.

Right now, there are some huge leviathans that are great at looking after people but sometimes that becomes inconvenient (there are exceptions) and many mid sized studios who are falling down one after another because they’re trying and failing to be the next leviathan.

Lots of people are self-publishing, it’s easy to get content out there, but no one is working with those people to give them the support and guidance that a studio traditionally would have, nor are they getting a structure to make a career move into a leviathan in many cases. Great talent in so many cases is giving up on a 40% formed idea because they can’t get the help on the other 60%, or the support to get them all the way through process to the finish line. Where is some of that great talent now? Which amazing potential games are going to fall through the gaps?

It would be easy to take this talent and squeeze it until it was dry then cast it away, or to exploit it for everything possible till the next potential great came along. We were determined that we would nurture and grow people, and not just once but over and over again. We are in a great position to partner with people to help them learn, grow and evolve while making amazing games. Making sure that we are treating all of those people; whether we work with them or not is a baseline expectation.

So, with that little speech out of the way – it may start to become clear as to why we did not seek to obtain external funding before making a start. Most of those with capital that we have personally experienced are looking at the bottom line and for them – quite rightly so, they want to make money out of their investment. More power to them right?

Yes and no. That’s not really what we’re about. We believe that the right approach will make money, can make a whole lot of it – but it’s going to happen gradually over a longer period and it will have ups and downs. We didn’t want to compromise on our belief to grow and nurture in order to force things into the milestones of investor profit expectations. Will we succeed because of this? Does it make us bad businessmen or ‘blue sky’ idealists? Perhaps.

Octopus 8 Studios to me, represents an evolution of how the games industry can work and as a studio I believe represents the opportunity for a new style of mid sized studio, hell maybe even a leviathan with three hearts (get it?). We would certainly like to be in a static location where we can also provide people and standard way of living with salaries and benefits that everyone deserves, but with more on top besides. Perhaps we will find the investors who share and understand our goals, if not – we will continue as we are, with very long boots and a whole lot of straps.

We have a dream that the industry way of doing business will evolve to where mutual benefit trumps the power of the few. Is this evolution or revolution? I think that much is still a little unsure, perhaps it’s both,

We shall see.

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