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Casual Games and thinking Small, with a capital S.

I was up late last night reading a book someone recommended while I was at the Colorado Game Developer meeting just earlier in the evening.  The book, called REWORK was put out by this company, www.37signals.com, I purchased the book through Amazon’s App on my iPad conveniently.  Here is a quote from the book that I love.

“Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination in itself.  Have you ever noticed that while small businesses wish they were bigger, big businesses dream about being more agile and flexible? And remember, once you get big, it’s really hard to shrink without firing people, damaging morale, and changing the entire way you do business.”

In today’s world there is definitely a lot of opportunity for people to start their own businesses. Even in the world of computer animation, the cost of computers and software have become affordable compared to the prices put out by SGI when the market was beginning.  Back in the early 90’s it wasn’t uncommon to spend $60k to $100k for one computer, without software.  For that matter it was a unix operating system which is the equivalent of a swift kick in the nether-region for small businesses.     I find that I can be very flexible in my own studio, adding new software as I need and learning quickly what I need to.

I used to ask this while at Rhythm and Hues in Los Angeles; why do we need  to keep growing?  What is this drive to go from 200 to 400 to 800 and then 2000?  Why does more growth, more overhead equate success and better?

Working from my own home studio on my own projects I had to think about whether I would take out loans to ‘startup’ a business and decided that I’d rather create content, and grow my little business naturally, and that in fact if I made enough to make a living and not have to expand I would just do that as well. When you take out a loan or get investors you suddenly have the responsibility of more overhead, more equipment, staff etc, not to mention as REWORK points out that you are not your own boss when you have investors, you’ve suddenly changed directions and are answerable to others.

Let’s put it this way, if you were a writer of sci-fi novels would you take out a business loan? What about musicians, should they look for investors and try to get corporate sponsors?

REWORK, underscores that there is too much focus on businesses growing and points out that when people ask how big your company is there is an unconscious judgement made instantly.

“People ask, “How big is your company?” It’s small talk, but they’re not looking for a small answer.  The bigger the number, the more impressive, professional, and powerful you sound.  “Wow, nice!” they’ll say if you have a hundred-plus employees.  If you’re small, you’ll get an “Oh… that’s nice.”  The former is meant as a compliment; the latter is said just to be polite.”

I guess for me personally, in todays world people may characterize me as a “video game developer”.   I think of myself more of as an artist, and my goal in setting up my own studio was to get free of the massive overhead of big studios where you are doing one small task.  I enjoy painting, modeling, making games, illustrating and designing.    I feel that I have a blank canvas to create what I want, from visual effects to illustrations as well as games, educational games and more.

We live in a time that makes the vision of creating games by yourself or with a small team very feasible.  In my mind it’s somewhat like starting a rock band in your garage.  Computers are now ridiculously inexpensive, even buying a Mac is not the expense it once was.   I have a couple of game engines that I purchased, and I can touch upon each part of the game process from design, to modeling and animating, as well as programming myself.   In effect I can be like the musician who toils at their work, or the writer who writes novels.

There is an entire industry now of “Casual” game makers.  The casual doesn’t refer to how hard you work but rather the game people who purchase them while waiting for their airplane to get to the gate at the airport or surfing the web for a game to play.  This is a huge industry that even Disney and other big corporations are buying into.  Apple sells all casual games on their site and even the XBOX lets casual gamer makers sell their games online.  It’s an exciting time for people who want to get in there and just create something, giving artists an opportunity to do something outside of going to the major studios if they choose.

I think the casual game makers already know how to think Small with a capital S.  I’m in touch with an entire community of excited developers who are working on their own visions of what a game can be and it’s encouraging.  I have a lot of respect for their work ethics, for their intelligence and creativity.

I think that in effect the pendulum has swung away from the need to be a huge corporation with massive multi-million dollar office space to something smaller and meaningful to individuals.   I also think that the bigger companies can learn from the smaller more nimble companies as well, and instead of expanding their business and adding more overhead maybe soon we’ll see companies that allow ten percent of their staff to work from… where-ever.   Where-ever can be anyplace you can get your computer started up and that is virtually anywhere in todays world.

Some companies do this already, Autodesk that big company of computer software products is a good example and I’m sure there are many others.  I’m hoping that many more will see the advantages economically and environmentally in the future and stop putting the stress on expansion rather than connection, because lets face it, because you work in a big corporate office space does not mean you are more connected to people because you’re on the twentieth floor instead of down here on the ground.

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Daev Finn is an artist, illustrator, writer, visual effects artist, and video game developer, whose work can best be seen as Aslan in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Visual Effects.

Daev lives in Colorado with his two sons Everest and Asher, and his wife Sheryl Paul, author of The Conscious Bride, and The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner.

http://www.daevfinnstudio.com http://www.sherylpaul.wordpress.com

1 comment to Casual Games and thinking Small, with a capital S.

  • Hello. I just stumbled across this blog, and I thought I’d say that I really enjoy your perspective and I look forward to reading more posts. I graduated from AIC shortly before you started teaching there, did some time as an L.A. VFX studio artist and am now happily back in Colorado working on casual games (and I am a lifelong member of the Cubicle Farm Resistance Movement)…so all of these topics are near and dear. Anyway, thanks, looking forward to reading more.

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