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Get in the Game

In the $18 billion video game industry, independent developers are teaming up with the big boys.
July 1, 2008
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/194406

Whether it's deftly targeting an opponent in combat or solving a difficult puzzle, video gamers are always looking to overcome the next challenge. In fact, total video game industry sales hit almost $18 billion in 2007, up from $12.5 billion in 2006. And software sales alone grew by 18 percent, according to the NPD Group.

To meet the explosive demand, game console manufacturers like Microsoft are contracting with independent game developers to create brilliant games. "More than 25 independent studios are the creative fuel behind the original games that represent more than a quarter of our Xbox 360 Live Arcade library today," says Jeremy Wacksman, global marketing manager of Xbox Live.

Game industry veteran Steve Taylor, 38, started Wahoo Studios Inc. in 2001, developing games under the NinjaBee brand. He eventually hooked up with Xbox Live through a combination of luck and persistence. "It's about talking to the right people," says Taylor, who co-owns the Orem, Utah-based company with Brent Fox, 37, and Lane Kiriyama, 52. "We keep trying and trying. After about 15 conversations, something works out." NinjaBee projects sales of nearly $3 million this year, due in part to popular games like Cloning Clyde.

The founders of The Behemoth in San Diego also found success working with XBLA, selling games like Alien Hominid. When they started their company in 2003, John Baez, 43, Tom Fulp, 30, and Dan Paladin, 28, would cold-call companies to try to get their games published. They showed off their games at the 2005 Independent Game Festival and won three major awards, which got their games noticed by the industry at large. Baez advises getting "as much experience as you can in the industry before starting your company." And Paladin stresses taking risks. Following their instincts has helped push company sales into the six figures.

Creativity is needed, and the market is ripe for small independent companies. "Massive consolidation within the mainstream game industry has ratcheted up the barrier to entry, yet small, nimble companies are doing better every day by exploring new audiences and channels of distribution," says Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association.

Got a great game idea for Xbox Live Arcade? Independents can work with a game publisher who will connect with XBLA decision-makers. Developers interested in creating a game for Xbox Live Arcade can send background information about their company or experience to arcade@microsoft.com. E-mails should include a detailed description of the game, screen mock-ups and preferably a gameplay video or playable prototype.