Jeff Hangartner – Revealing the Path Less Travelled in Video Game Industry

Jeff HangartnerJeff Hangartner, the founder of the gaming start-up, Bulletproof Outlaws has been a professional developer of games over the last half a decade. Creator of Pixelation, the 1st Pixel Art Forum and also originator of the Pixel tutorials which have been published in the form of a book. Jeff has always been a pioneer of the gaming industry.

CG Today is proud to present Jeff’s exploration as he shares the whole process of creating a start-up right from day 1. With the belief that gaming development is coming back to its original “one programmer in the basement roots” idea, Bulletproof Outlaws is chronicling every step of its start-up process from strategies, to marketing, setting goals and outsourcing, successes and failures. The aim is to help other developers who have ideas but are intimidated by the whole start-up process and are not sure how to go about it.

You can visit his website Bulletproof Outlaws to know more about him or send an email to get connected.

Still feeling sick, but better than yesterday at least!  I can sit at the computer screen without wanting to barf haha Since I’m not much good for art still, I figured I’d answer some reader E-Mail.  Of course I only have a few of them, so this should be easy haha  If anyone reading has questions, feel free to send them my way and you TOO could be immortalized in an obscure niche game development blog on the Internet.  Incidentally the Favorite Dinosaur question is awesome… I got a serious business E-Mail from an advertising company and nothing lightens up a serious business E-Mail than seeing at the top of the E-Mail: “Favorite Dinosaur: Stegosaurus”  Anyway, onto the E-Mails:

David, who digs the horny Triceratops asks:

Are you writing the music yourself, contracting or will you use royalty free stuff?

I’m going to start with all royalty-free music. There’s plenty out there, and I’ve already got a song I was using in my Flash prototype version that fits decent so I’ll probably search out another couple songs for the title screen and game over screen, but otherwise I should be good. I’m going to do the sound effects as a combo of royalty-free stuff from around the net and me making various noises into a microphone haha

Down the road I’m going to be looking at using Soundrangers because they have a ton of quality stuff and they’re pretty cheap. As I meet other developers, I’m running into people who have offered to do music for me as well, which I’m sure I’ll tap into not just for awesome custom music but for the sake of working with other developers and cross-promoting our stuff… My game would say “Want to hear more awesome music? Check out this artist’s site!” and link to them, and their website would say “Check out my song in this game!” and link to my game. Win/win for all involved!

Joe, also a Triceratops fan writes:

“You should consider inverting your recent posts list, or make a new one that goes chronologically. I came by and wanted to read from the beginning and had a hell of a time doing so.”

Done and done! I thought it’d be a pain but it turns out there’s a WordPress plug-in for it called Smart Category Ordering that makes it nice and simple, yay! If you click the “Game1 [Development Blog]“ category at the top of the page it starts from Day1 in ascending order for ease of reading.

Damien, who’s a fan of the mighty Tyrannosaurus says:

As you know, game dev is very time consuming (especially as a one-man team). So what are your thoughts on team forming and expansion as a start-up studio. Its been something that has been on my mind recently, and frankly its a tough choice. Gaining team members definitely will speed up the dev process, and infuse new ideas and visions, but without enough funds to salary the potential members with what they really deserve (or anything at all), will it be the right choice. Its one of those choices that could make or break a studio. If a game makes it big (or even just modest sales), the studio continues … but if it flops, then the studio has a chance to go belly up. Then again, if dev time is extended to longer periods than initially expected as a one-man team, and no game gets completed in a timely fashion … the studio goes belly up. Its one of those catch-22’s.”

An epic question, Damien! I’m learning first-hand just how many hats you have to wear when you’re working solo. I think a lot of indie devs don’t market their games just because it adds so much extra work that isn’t directly related to the end product’s quality… I mean, we want to make GAMES, not Tweet and upload trailers and post on message boards right?

I think with expansion you have to get everyone to wear as many hats as possible in the beginning, and plan for smaller projects so the risk is lower if the game doesn’t sell. It’s a much slower pace, we all want to make our epic 80 hour Final Fantasy killer as our first game… but realistically now you’ve brought on 2 artists, 2 programmers, a musician, etc. and they all have to pay their bills. If the game sells jillions, awesome, but if it doesn’t, you’re all belly-up.

Now if you plan to make a game in a week, or even a weekend… sure, it might not sell, but if it doesn’t, you’re only out a bit of dev time/money. If it DOES sell, then you’re breaking even quickly and making profits fast. “But I still want to make my epic 80 hour RPG!!!” you say…and I agree, it’s a good thing to shoot for… down the road. Once you’re financially stable as a studio, THEN focus on a larger project like that.

I’ve got a “treasure trove” of ideas I keep adding to, where it’s like 80 game ideas just sitting there in various stages of detail. Some are simple one-liners like “something with a dinosaur in a top hat and monacle” that I have to flesh out, and some are paragraphs of details and mock-up images. They’re divided up by how long the projects will take… some of them are games I could do in a few weeks, and some are games that would need a few months. For now I’m pulling from the short pile, and down the road when I’ve done enough short games that I have the finances to risk a longer game, I’ll pull from the longer pile.

Personally I’m a fan of contract-based work for the first year or so. Hire people based on the project. If you’ve been reading, you’ll notice I haven’t actually hired a programmer yet. In my mind, if I hire one now, and the resources aren’t done, there could be extra days where he’s stuck sitting around waiting for my art/sfx or using temporary art and having to replace/fix it down the road, and I’ll end up having to pay for extra programming time. If I be patient and wait till the resources are done, then I can hire a programmer for as short a time as possible. The more money I save there, the more I have for my next game. I’m not stiffing the programmer any money, I’m just making sure I only hire him for the most efficient amount of time.

Part of why I called my studio Bulletproof Outlaws is I have a mental image of “Outlaws” coming and going…wandering through town for a project or two, and then wandering off to wherever, possibly to make an appearance again someday. Down the road I think it’d be cool to have a bunch of Wanted posters for the people I work with and each project would show which Outlaws are on it.

If you bring people on as full-time employees right off the bat, and say you had 2 programmers and 2 artists for your first game… then you design your second game and realize you really only need 1 artist for it, well, what do you do with the other other guy? Keep paying him to surf YouTube all day? Give him mundane tasks that you really don’t need him to do but you’re giving him them just to justify paying him a salary? Fire him out of a full-time salary job and then try to re-hire him full-time when on the 3rd game you realize you DO need another artist for it? That’s all tricky stuff. If you had just contracted him for Game1, he’d be free to line up other projects for himself while you worked on Game2, and you could let him know you’ve got more work for him a few weeks before Game3 starts.

I definately have expansion plans for BPO down the road, but I know the first like 6 – 8 months will be like they are right now… me working primarily solo and contracting out help as I need it. I’m cool with that though, because I know that this is going to set the groundwork for a couple years down the road when I can have actual employees and office space haha

Thanks for writing in, all! Watch out for those Triceratops!

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