Brian Hook, founder of the independent game company Pyrogon, posted A Pyrogon Postmortem, an article of the reasons he believed his company failed. Read the article, it is a very interesting read.
Here are some highlights that I’ve experienced myself over the years in one way or another and echo so true with my own productions, attempts, and otherwise crap that I call software.
Publishers Never Say No, They Just Stop Answering E-Mails
Publishers will always act interested and will never say “No, we’re gonna pass”. Disinterest pulls a publisher out of the loop, which could put them at a competitive disadvantage, and saying “No” is a bridge that few publishers want to burn even with relative nobodies.
A Good Demo Is Not Enough — It Must Be Jaw Dropping
You need a killer demo, not just a good one. Talk is cheap, and a 300 page design doc, presentation, and even a team “on paper” won’t get you a deal. You have to spend time and effort putting together something that is so mind blowing the execs are flat out scared you might sign with someone else. It’s the difference between a pretty girl smiling at you and a naked pretty girl straddling your lap and licking her phone number onto your face. Publishers need to feel like the latter if you want to get a deal.
Bottom line, think small and grow. Baby steps. Don’t try building the next killer Doom 3 because you’ll still be sitting there years from now trying to catch up with hardware. There’s a reason why Valve, iD Software and other companies make the games they do. They throw millions of dollars of research into building a robust engine they can market. Doom 3. Half-Life 2. Unreal Tournament. They’re just window dressing for the real kill. The marketing and sale of the engine (and the royalties through licensing that come with them).
The guys over at GarageGames have it right. They took a AAA engine and sell it for $99. Yup, for less than a C-Note you can get a full featured engine, source code, tools, and support and build yourself a professional quality game like Tribes and Tribes 2 (which was built using the Torque engine). Will it compete with Doom 3, HL2 and others? In certain areas yes, in others no, still others it will kick ass (like the terrain engine which lets you build almost limitless sized worlds with no degradation on performance).
Grant you, combine some of the features of all of these and you would have a beast not to be reckoned with. The vast terrain engine of Torque, the seamless integration of worlds from Dungeon Siege, the dynamic physics of Half-Life 2 and the on-the-fly level compiling power of Doom 3 and you can write your own cheques.