Jaspal Sohal, head of games at Creative England and founder of Multidmedia Limited, discusses why creatives should be striving to create their own content and then retain the rights over it.
There’s never been a better time to make games. But while jobs boards might be full of developers looking for freelancers and small studios to help them make the next Fruit Ninja, don’t get stuck making other people rich.
Put short: if you’re not creating IP then you’re a service company, developing other people’s property. While that’s a fine business model that has produced many successful companies, I personally think that creating something which is worth far more than its cost – and then not owning the rights to it – isn’t ideal.
When you’re service-based you tend to trade off your reputation. There is of course value in that, but it only takes one bad project for your reputation to take a hit and your value to decrease. The difference if you have successful IP is that people are more likely to overlook one unsuccessful project – and that all your income isn’t based on what they think of you anyway.
In that respect, having IP gives you a fall back. You’ll have an existing audience who are constantly interacting with your product, and be more forgiving if your most recent was a flop. They’ll just go back to the one they love.
As well as being financially comforting, that fall back can also allow creative companies to be more daring. You think your audience would like samurai frogs but your last client didn’t? Well you can take a chance anyway and if it doesn’t work, at least your existing IP is still earning. And who knows which risk will produce that one stand out hit anyway? It certainly won’t come from playing it safe and copying what’s already popular.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you can walk into your studio one day and start working on a Grand Theft Auto. Like with anything, you’ve got to start small. A lot of creatives fall in love with their first IP and want to keep perfecting it before anybody ever sees it. That might be admirable but it’s also a quick way to burn through any capital you have in store. My suggestion is always the opposite: to create and release a minimum viable product.
Basically that just means getting a good idea, developing its core functionality as best you can within a time frame that doesn’t leave you destitute and then releasing the damn thing. You’ll soon get a load of feedback on what works and what doesn’t; so it can inform all your future work while at the same time making you money. Putting it out there doesn’t mean it’s done with either, you can continue to grow and develop the product into what you always wanted it to be. It’s just this way you won’t go bankrupt in the process!
It may sound like I’m completely against work for hire, but it certainly has its place. While most of us get into the creative industries to make our passion project, it doesn’t mean you can’t take on service work to keep a roof over your head. It’s really just a case of project management; working for other people to ensure your studio exists while blocking out enough time to develop your own IP.
Jaspal Sohal is head of games at Creative England, which this week announced the first successful applicants to its Games Lab funding and business support scheme.
Illustrated by Jayde Perkin
- One Thing I Know