GDC 2011: 10 Lessons from 20 Years as an Entrepreneur

Don Daglow – Daglow Entertainment

-          Background:
o   Playwriting major in college
o   1971-80 wrote mainframe games
o   1983 worked on first EA Sports games
o   Last summer started social/mobile studios, Daglow Entertainment (announced 10 days before GDC)
o   Came up with idea for talk because had been thinking a lot while starting new studio
-          Item One: Money
o   It’s important that people take you seriously, but don’t waste your money on granite countertops
o   From the beginning, you should act as though you are about to run out of money
o   No personal guarantees or 2nd mortgages
§  You hear the success stories, but you don’t hear about all of the failures! There is always another way (consider your lifepartners, don’t lose your marriage over it)
o   “Even If it seems like everyone else is spending that much…it may still be stupid”
§  Example, a studio started in the area overpaying everyone by 20%. Dom’s studio decided to not respond, and wait and see what happened – the new studio only lasted 13 months
§  Example: Bought Silicon Graphics hardware for $175k (one machine), never shipped one pixel created on it
o   Publishing = financing + development + testing + distributing + marketing
§  There used to be a sense that there was this mountain that you had to climb, and at the top in a temple sat the publishers and you knelt before them. But really, publishing is just these 5 things!
§  All of those things used to happen “in the temple” but now things are much more flexible
-          Item Two: Get Your Game Out There
o   It’s better to have 10% of something than 100% of nothing.
o   More practical: A partner at 10% is better than a whole seller at 20%
§  There are lots of cases where people hold out for a deal because they have to sell 90% of their idea – but in the end they get a deal with more ownership but far less distribution.
§  In the end, think about the best way to get your game out there, even if it means you may own less of it
-          Item Three: Decide, Don’t Accept
o   When you’re starting a company, you need to think through the big decisions
§  Who’s in charge? Cubes or doors? What is the exit strategy? Who owns how much? Salary or equity (can’t be both)?
o   It’s critical to make a decision and stick to it – don’t get swept along by circumstance
o   What’s the victory condition? Need to figure it out with your partners, because you might find that you actually want different things out of it
-          Item Four: Culture Matters
o   The first 10 people you hire will define the first 100, then 1000.
o   Who you hire first is the single biggest factor in determining your company culture
o   Don’t be tempted into hiring warm bodies! Warm bodies only help a failing project fail faster, and will destroy your company culture
-          Item Five: Dealing with Change
o   If you think you need to change course with your company within a year, do it within 6 months
o   Change hurts, but radical change hurts more (and if you wait, you’ll often find this is the case)
§  Example: While running Stormfront Games, Don recognized that the industry was changing and the company would need to change, but he hesitated because he thought his studio would be resistant. After a while, they started doing more (working on the Wii, for example). Unfortunately, in the course of 10 days they lost both of their projects because both of their clients changed dramatically. They also lost $20M.
·         Waited too long to change, cost them a lot of opportunities that may have worked out differently
·         Another lesson: made a big mistake in the assumption that his studio wouldn’t want to change (when in fact they were very open to it). He tried to protect them, and it cost them
o   Sometimes there aren’t good choices
-          Item Six: Different Strategies
o   Options:
§  You can build something you’ll love and treasure as a player. This is a pretty good strategy, although there is the chance that maybe there aren’t a lot of people like you
§  You can build something someone else will love. This doesn’t usually work as a good strategy. (Going where the gold is)
o   Think about if you’re in Philadelphia 20 years later and someone says “I played your game 20 years ago and I loved it.”
§  This is satisfying! It’s what drives Don. You affected them in a way that mattered.
§  Try and maximize the likelihood for this conversation
-          Item Seven: (Same thing as Item Six)
o   Sometimes you get the directive to “Show off the technology!”
o   This can work, you are pursuing an audience
§  Example of THQ – offered to pick up a lot of games that publishers thought wouldn’t sell, appealed to an audience that wasn’t getting the games they wanted
o   But really, it sounds pretty empty to choose to chase opportunities in comparison to trying to touch someone’s heart
-          Item Eight: Excuses
o   You hear a lot of excuses:
§  “My friend was going to leave such and such game company to come help but…” – this translates to: “I’m afraid of failing, so I didn’t start and I blame it on my friend”
§  “I couldn’t get funding” = “I’m afraid to ask for money”
§  “No one will want to hear my pitch” = “I’m afraid I’ll be humiliated by publishers, so I didn’t pitch”
o   Important: It’s not cowardice or weakness, this is just people being people – it makes you normal!
o   When you have these fears, you need to realize that you’re not alone in having them, and then you need to get past them
-          Item Nine: Think Before You Commit 
o   Example: Think of the legend of the dog that chased the car and caught it, and then didn’t know what to do.
o   Be careful of what you’re doing before you fully and totally commit
o   Try to have one, main thing which you are committed to
o   If you asked your team right now what your goal was, what would they say?
-          Item Ten: Do What You Love
o   Always ask yourself what you can do to move towards what you love
o   Maybe sometimes you aren’t in a situation where you can do it every single day, but you can be moving towards it – have a single-mindedness in pursuing your goals
o   We can change people’s lives - Don’t waste this opportunity!

1 comment:

Ben Throop said...

Thanks for the writeup Cat... I missed this one!