Even as an industry with such a foundation on agility, there's little room in games for those without a long term plan, so when ex-footballer, journalist and publisher Alberto Belli founded Gamera Interactive in May, he knew that establishing a sustainable company had to come before anything else. Six months down the line, with the company's first game now announced as Xbox One exclusive Unit 4, Belli feels like his company is on the right route, and he's confident that he knows where the pitfalls lie for a young company.
"Game development is all about reliability," he tells me. "We have a few projects in mind that aren't dream projects, but things that could work, based on the strong market analysis we made in advance. Indie developers suffer from an enthusiastic way of approaching development that usually comes from a total lack of experience in how the industry really works when it comes to bringing a product to shelves (digital or not).
"The mission of an indie team should be survive to its first game and make a sustainable business in the long term to improve quality of the products step-by-step, putting a creative factory in place to stay in the long term. There is no one in Italy with our skills and expertise and it's not because we're pitching the idea of a new studio. Making a start-up, it's easy stuff. Making a game development studio is not for everyone and we've a personal track record that allow us to be among the few able to do this in the right way."
"Coming up with a good idea is not a problem. Making games is not a problem. Building-up a production-wise pipeline is the thing that comes first. A company has to pay bills at the end of the month"
Unit 4 isn't a throwaway game for Gamera, but Belli says it's not the sort of scale of project he wants to be working on eventually. Instead, it's a stepping stone to building a reputation and establishing proper practice, fuelling the growth of creative ambition.
"The idea for the long term is to work on games with dev cycles of 18-24 months, working on smaller side projects like this one. Unit 4 was just one of the few pitches we had and we decided to go on with this to start the positioning of the studio. The long term plan is to build up a top level game development studio, working on original intellectual properties in order to create PC and console games for top tier partners such as the platform holders.
"This vision is strictly connected to the positioning of the studio itself. As I said, it's all about reliability: If you want to build up a long term plan you have to be reliable and you need a masterplan, including forecasts, economics and so on. Usually small teams/new teams simply start without the long term in mind but focus on 'the game they want to play.' I think that a better starting point is 'what players would like to play'. Players are not designers or artists but people that don't care about a lot of things that are often given a lot of time during the dev cycle without real need.
"For example: I'm convinced that a development studio is a place where everyone has to be creative. But creativity has to be 'guided' to be useful. Coming up with a good idea is not a problem. Making games is not a problem. Building-up a production-wise pipeline is the thing that comes first. A company has to pay bills at the end of the month, the payroll exists and creating sustainable business is the key to staying viable and having the chance to risk more with the next project, ideally arriving one day at being able to do 'the game we want to play' without thinking about numbers, market analysis and so on. The point is that we're a company first of all, not a group of guys in a garage with unlimited time, coming back to their parents for the night. That's the positioning I would like to have, staying humble and following a step-by-step plan to expand the company and the business."
"People without any expertise still go around saying 'if you have a good idea, go on with your passion', which is the most dangerous thing you can say to a young person approaching the game industry"
Knowing your limits might seem like relatively obvious advice, but Belli says that they're words of wisdom he's encountered all too rarely in his native country of Italy, where he feels the relatively nascent industry lacks enough voices of authority. That's an issue he wants to address with another arm of the company, Gamera Consulting, where he hopes to be able to bring some of his experience to bear and help Italian indies establish the foundations of a healthier industry.
"I'm fighting for this in Italy, because we are still missing a real dev industry here," he says. "We just have a few events where people without any expertise still go around saying 'if you have a good idea, go on with your passion', which is the most dangerous thing you can say to a young person approaching the game industry. My point is: if you want to get advice on how to move on, check 'who did what' first. And study. And move abroad to understand how it works for real. This is just part of the problem, of course. We put in place Gamera Consulting for exactly this reason: Indies have no idea of how a contract works. For example they don't know the difference between advances or minimum guaranteed, they don't know about ROI, they don't understand that 'my IP' means nothing if you are not on the market with a game that sold a lot of copies."