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Observations from GDC Online’s Game Dev Start-Up Summit

October 11, 2012

by Andrew Haak

GDC Online 10 Years

Max Photography for GDC Online

Game Developers Conference (GDC) Online, the self-proclaimed premier professionals-only event for online, social and cloud gaming, wraps up today in Austin, Texas. ROBLOX CEO and Founder David Baszucki was there on Tuesday to take part in the event’s day-long Game Dev Start-Up Summit, which featured panelists from around the industry and covered topics ranging from how to start a game company to how to exit the business. Here’s a short report from the event.

Starting a company is a big topic — hence the all-day event — but, according to David, a few themes permeated each of the summit’s six sessions:

  • Having a core team of great people with a common vision and values (read about ROBLOX’s here) is of utmost importance to any video game start-up
  • Video game start-ups today choose mobile devices and browsers (including Flash and HTML5) as their platform, whereas 15 years ago the same panel would have been focused on opening a triple-A, console studio
  • Less attention was paid to starting up a game company on Facebook – to the point that it almost feels “2008” – or other third-party social network

GDC Online LogoThe final point is not surprising, considering recent news that this year the social games market will not come close to repeating its record $2 billion in investments in 2011. Mobile platforms, on the other hand, have a low barrier to entry and are ripe for the types of contained, low-overhead experiences many small, start-up companies seek to produce.

The Game Dev Start-Up Summit featured game-industry veterans and newcomers, all of whom see the industry from a different viewpoint.

  • Illyriad LogoIllyriad Games, represented by CEO James Niesewand, had the interesting perspective of a company whose people are distributed around the world, completely enabled by technology.
  • Similarly, Rob Shillingsburg, the founder of indie developer Jetbolt Games, spoke of his experience building a company (which is now making a Flash-based MMO) without face-to-face interactions. Everything – servers, marketing, distribution – needed to build out a business can be managed online.
  • Spacetime Studios LogoGary Gattis shared a great story about founding Spacetime Studios, where he acts as CEO. Two separate development deals fell through, so the company decided to self-publish their mobile MMO, Pocket Legends, and it’s now doing well on iOS, Android and in the Chrome Store.
  • Bill Graner (Co-Founder, Crater House) had the unique viewpoint of starting up a game company with fellow students (which he did at University of Southern California), and paid particular attention to making sure you own your intellectual property.
  • Stormfront StudiosDon Daglow was an early employee of Electronic Arts, founded Stormfront Studios (credited with the first graphical MMORPG, Neverwinter Nights), and is now getting the social gaming-focused Daglow Entertainment off the ground.
  • As an investor, Jeffery Lapin (Manager, WWTX) talked a lot about what kinds of companies he’ll provide angel funding. He shared stories about persistence among entrepreneurs who came to him two, three and four times, and finally got their product ready for funding.

David had the opportunity to speak about ROBLOX’s core values, with self-organization as a centerpiece, and proven history of being fast and nimble, two qualities that drive success for video game start-ups.

About GDC Online
GDC Online focuses on connected games including casual, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games. This community-oriented conference attracts more than 3,350 attendees worldwide and provides game development professionals educational, networking, and business opportunities that help drive industry forward. GDC Online is the essential platform where programmers, designers, producers, writers and others involved in the development of interactive games, gather to exchange ideas, and ultimately shape the future of a thriving industry.