Change Your Mindset

Thomas Warfield reposted a 2004 article called Why Pyrogon Failed. You can read the original postmortem by Brian Hook as well.

Warfield boiled it down to failures in marketing and long-term planning. It is interesting that the About Us page makes it sound like the company is supposed to be independent, but the postmortem makes it sound like it was really supposed be a way to procure funding for a more mainstream company. In any case, it sounded like the mindset of the main people didn’t make the needed change to go from mainstream game developers to independent game developers and publishers.

When you work for a company, you have one job, and you do that job. You don’t need to worry about accounting, marketing, sales, distribution, or legal. You do your job, you get paid, and you do it again. “Safety” and “security” are the most important things to you.

When you run a company, you now have to worry about such details. Cashflow, marketing, and sales are not just meta-work. They ARE the work of the business. Product development is still important, but it is only a portion of what is needed.

Being an employee requires a certain mindset, but running a business requires another. You can hire help, but you can’t outsource marketing and sales and still expect to become successful.

If you want someone else to control your company’s destiny, you might as well be an employee. If you’re running your own business, you should want to control as much of its motion as you can. That isn’t to say that you should personally do everything, of course. It just means that you shouldn’t make business decisions that gives responsibility for your success to someone else.

Some time ago, $100 for membership in the IGDA seemed costly. I opted for the student membership at the time since it was so much cheaper. The Association of Shareware Professionals is another organization I have since joined, and at $100, it also seemed intimidating. On top of it all, there were magazine subscriptions and books to buy. I didn’t want to spend so much money that I could put towards a good couple of books!

Then I realized that I needed to change my mindset. Until then, I was looking at $100 and thinking, “That’s a lot of money.” I don’t spend $100 all at once very often. I had vague thoughts about how it could be a bad investment or that I might be throwing away $100. I realized, however, that I wanted to take my business seriously. I shouldn’t be so concerned about $100 because I should intend to make more than that easily. Heck, I made over $100 easily within a week during my regular job, so I would only be out a few hours of my time. The potential benefits sounded amazing, though. I could meet with other people doing the same thing I am doing, learn from them, and actually help dictate how the industry moves. $100 for all of that? It then sounded like a great deal.

If you aren’t satisfied with how your indie game business, or any business for that matter, is working out, you might want to double-check the mindset you’re in. Does it match your expectations? Do you have clear expectations to begin with?

5 replies on “Change Your Mindset”

I respect both Brian Hook and Thomas Warfield’s opinions, and I’ve only read the postmortem and the analysis, so I can’t consider myself an expert on what happened at Pyrogon.

That said, just based on what I’ve been able to read, how accurate would you say my analysis is? Was Pyrogon supposed to be an indie company or just a new game developer that planned to rely on publishers? Looking at the postmortem, there didn’t seem to be a big emphasis on marketing. It seemed that outside of going to multiple shareware sites, Pyrogon was hoping the portals would handle the work of the business end. Did the postmortem gloss over these important aspects?

The postmortem is a useful tool because it allows all of us to learn from someone else’s experience. The analysis provided a different interpretation of the report of that experience, and I think that by doing so it helped further the discussion. I think it would be quite useful to have a second or third opinion on other postmortems.

No one is getting personal, although it is easy to feel that you are personally being attacked when not only your experience but your interpretation of the lessons learned from that experience is being criticized. Hook does defend against Warfield’s analysis here, however:

I know first hand the effect of not feeling like marketing your own title. However, at the time at least, using portals as your only revenue stream made a lot of sense. It just was not worth the effort selling a ‘puzzle game’ on your own site. That effort was better spend building a new title.

It really depends on what your goal is. Is your goal to make games or spend all your time marketing?

btw. I say this only for ‘puzzle games’. A niche game is a completely different matter.

I understand. Pyrogon wasn’t supposed to be making casual puzzle games, but it was a way of earning some money to help with cashflow at the time.

But basically, if you aren’t going to deal with marketing, someone else should. Everything in business boils down to sales, and marketing is what gets you more eyeballs to get sales from. Having the product is important, but it is only one part of the equation.

Many people, not just Warfield, would argue that marketing is not an afterthought. You should be thinking about it from product conception. Marketing is part of the “real” work of the business. In mainstream games, there are publishers and developers, and the real work of the developer is to make a game. Marketing and sales are handled by the publisher.

Pyrogon was trying to be indie, which is fine, but then it relied on portals for the marketing and sales. Could it have worked? Perhaps this postmortem shows us an example of how it can’t. Maybe other postmortems out there have people selling games on portals and making a mint. Maybe Hook is right about the burn rate being too high. I would have liked to know what he would have done differently to help mitigate that problem. It seemed like the burn rate was considered a constant rather than a variable.

In any case, what I take away from this postmortem is that marketing and sales can’t be underestimated and shouldn’t be outsourced without a lot of thought. If I wanted to focus on making games entirely, I would probably have to question how indie I could be without trying to build up my own sales. I also know to question my burn rate. Am I refusing to lower it because I don’t want to drop my standard of living below a certain point –which is a perfectly fine reason to give — , or am I failing to make a sacrifice for the good of the business? It can be a tough call. Market changes should be followed. My business plan will be flexible, and while it might be tough if things changed drastically in six months like it did for Pyrogon, I would need to make the effort if I wanted to survive.

I think their failure can be chalked up to one thing: Crappy games. And I can see why everybody’s glossed over that aspect. Despite all this talk about burn rates, there seems to have been an awful lot of development time poured into meaningless technical feats. (Available for 12 different platforms?! I haven’t seen the need for this kind of cross-platform wizardry since the early 80’s!) While they’re busy carefully versioning the software (version 1.17.B02?!), they’re left selling “More Candies!” and “Choose your starting level!” It’s no wonder they tanked.

Lesson learned: Spend less time fiddling with bits and spend more time constructing a saleable game. ‘Cuz the customer sure as hell doesn’t care that he’s using version B-12!

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