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I'm starting a game company and looking for a co-founder.

15 Post author: Alexei 18 March 2012 12:07AM
Summary: I am looking for co-founder(s) to start a game company with me. If you, or anyone you know, is interested, please contact me. (Alternatively, if you want to invest or provide funding, that would be very nice in its own right.)

It  recently occurred to me  that if reducing existential risk is indeed the most important goal, then I ought to actually do something about it. Turns out, for most mortals (including myself) the best option for reducing ex-risk is through donations. With that in mind, I'm going to start a game company. "Why a game company?" you might ask. Well:
* I've been making games since I was 13.
* I've hit my 10,000 hours of game programming a while ago. If I want to make a game, it will be made.
* I've studied a good amount of game design theory and have had some opportunities to put that knowledge to the test with success.
* I've worked for two different game companies. I've written games for computers, handhelds, and mobile devices.
* I've funded, designed, programmed, and published my own game.
* I am very familiar with the process of developing games. Everything from team structure to tools to game design.

I hope it's clear why starting a game company makes sense for me. Now, you might ask, "Why will you succeed?" Well, I have an answer for that too:
* Leverage all the rationality skills I've learned from LW.
* Leverage all other scientific knowledge: from psychology to statistics.
* I'm not attached to any particular game genre or game idea. Whatever gives the most ROI is good.
* There is a lot of low hanging fruit in terms of what games are easy to make and are almost guaranteed to be profitable. (Most people don't choose these ideas because they are easy, have been done before, or the people want to make other games.)
* Focus on making games as cheaply as possible. (Leverage 3rd party tools and other companies.)
* Have a structured approach to designing and developing a game, rather than an adhoc one like most companies have.
* The company will be built around scientific principle. (A/B testing is just one aspect of that.)
* The company will measure and analyze everything (or as much as possible), not only in the games it makes, but also in the company itself.
* The company will be completely transparent on the inside. If everyone knows everything about the company, it's more likely that they will find new creative ways to improve it.
Anonymous feedback for every employee (especially founders). 
* The company will hire the best people. Since it's well knows that the best people are at least 2x more productive (that number is much higher for some positions, e.g. programmer) than average, there is no reason not to let the salary (and benefits) reflect that. I think paying 10%-20% higher than competitive rates is justifiable and will help bring in the best talent.
* Every employee's goal should be to automate their position: either by replacing themselves with a program or another employee of same/lower skill. (This way each employee can focus on higher level problems.)
Some of these ideas are untested, but the point is to create a company that is open to experimenting and testing things out.

My personal goals:
* Create a highly profitable game company.
* Become more experienced in starting and running a company.
* Gather more data on how to start and manage a company.
* Create connections within the game development world.
* Sell this company as quickly as possible. (Since this will be my first startup, I anticipate a lot of mistakes. There is no reason not to start anew as soon as a good opportunity presents itself. Selling the company, or most of company's IP, would be ideal.) (Going public is possible, but very unlikely.)
* I'm thinking ideal route would be: Incubator -> Angel funding -> VC funding. Focus purely on development, while contracting out the publishing.

If you are interested in joining me on this mission, please contact me. If you know someone who might be interested in this, let them know. All points I listed above are open to negotiation.
I'm looking for:
* Someone who can contribute a lot to the company from the first day. (This will most likely be a business person or a game programmer.)
* Willing to commit to this and to work overtime.
* Able to start this year. (If we get enough runway funding, we should start in a few weeks.)
* (Bonus) Experience in game development field.
* (Bonus) Located in The Bay Area. (Though I'm potentially open to relocating.)
* (Bonus) Experience with starting and running a company.
* (Bonus) Versed in the art of rationality.
* (Bonus) Also wants to donate to SIAI or other ex-risk reduction organisation.
* (Bonus) Can contribute seed capital.

If you know anyone who is interested in funding the company, please have them contact me as well.

Comments (78)

Comment author: Dmytry 18 March 2012 04:36:22AM *  10 points [-]

Good luck, man. I already did that, and it really paid off. I did it mostly alone, with my brother as musician, with no investment. But it isn't easy. I gone for ensuring success, which meant making a complicated piece of software that is unique and for which i can be certain there is some market without having to second-guess the audience or compete with anyone.

Going the path well walked, gets you competing with all the 99.9% remakes that are entirely invisible. The most profitable game may be cow clicker, but there's thousands upon thousands of other cow clickers that are not profitable, and which you don't see. When you say you look at 'success rate' of X, don't be looking at the % of the successes which are X, that's your basic application of rationality to this decision right here. The simple toy games are not even exercises in game programming. They are exercises in marketing (and blind luck). If you had 10 000 hours of marketing experience, then you totally should go for them.

Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 07:04:45AM 0 points [-]

That's a very good strategy. If I wanted to make my own company, and keep it around for a long time, I would probably do something very similar. Start small and grow sustainably.

You're absolutely right about the cow clicker games. I think their business model has been validated to be used, but the overall game design needs to be refreshed.

Comment author: Dmytry 18 March 2012 11:09:13AM *  3 points [-]

Still, with that kind of games, there's extreme oversupply of all sorts of designs. Here's this issue: one needs very carefully controlled trials to select the best of the alternatives. Market does not do this. There isn't a magical mechanism that turns the best of competitors most profitable. Competition among too many products is a lottery. When you make something that everyone else can make - do research before you just conclude nobody's doing this, you'll see a lot of people are actually trying to do it. Minecraft made a lot of money, right. Was it original and unique - hell no, a lot of other voxel editors existed before Minecraft.

You can't outthink others by two steps of second guessing - "okay, everyone can do this, so everyone thinks so, so nobody will do it, so I will do it, and be the only one". Plenty of people follow that line of reasoning as well. If you want high probability of significant return i would recommend looking for something that other people can not do - find your superpower, use it. If you have people-prediction-superpower, sure, you can make the next minecraft. But rationality is probably not your unique superpower (or not the one that'd help a lot for predicting others). There's people who don't for a second have a trouble for e.g. mony hall problem, and whose Bayesian reasoning is almost inborn. They just got lucky this way (edit: and they may actually be fairly bad at predicting other people because they don't understand other people's reasoning very well). The ability to program well looks much more like your unique superpower, at one in thousands level or better.

Comment author: BrandonReinhart 18 March 2012 12:21:26AM *  6 points [-]

Your company plan sounds very much like how Valve is structured. You may find it challenging to maintain your desired organizational structure, given that you also plan to be dependent on external investment. Also, starting a company with the express goal of selling it as quickly as possible conflicts with several ways you might operate your company to achieve a high degree of success. Many of the recent small studios that have gone on to generate large amounts of revenue (relative to their size) (Terraria / Minecraft / etc) are independently owned and build 'service based' software that seeks to keep the community engaged.

Alexei, I would suggest an alternative and encourage you to apply to Valve. 1) It wouldn't take much of your time to try. 2) It may help you reach your goals more quickly. 3) You don't have to invest in building a rational organization, (which is costly and hard) since one already exists.

It would be a career oriented decision (few people leave Valve once they start there) and I know you are interested in applying yourself to existential risk as completely as you can, but you should consider the path of getting really good at satisfying the needs of customers and then through that, directing resources towards the existential risk problem. It may feel like you are less engaged, because you aren't there solving the hard problems yourself -- and if you have a high degree of confidence that you are the one to solve those problems then maybe you should pursue a direct approach -- but it is a path you should give serious thought to.

I wouldn't advise you to go work at any random company. Most game companies -- particularly large ones -- are structured in a way that doesn't mean you'd have a good chance of individual success (versus working anywhere else or doing something else).

Valve has one of the highest profits per employees in the world and is wholly owned by the employees. The company compensates very well. So my advice is specific to considering an application to Valve.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 19 March 2012 01:11:45AM 1 point [-]

I'd be very interested in a post on the corporate structure, culture, history, etc of Valve. It seems like you guys have figured out a lot of things about how to run a good software company.

Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 01:44:25AM 1 point [-]

I'm not sure I would want to keep the company as flat as Valve does, but that's something I will only be able to judge from experience.
If having the explicit goal of selling the company quickly will turn out to be harmful, then I will abandon that goal.

I don't follow your reasons for joining Valve. It won't give me the amount of money I want, and it won't give me company managing experience faster than actually starting and managing a company would. Also, I'm not trying to invest or build a rational organization.

I'm completely comfortable with not doing direct work on ex-risk reduction. The best method I could come up with in reducing ex-risk indirectly is donating money, hence the startup. I'm not interested in having a career, I'm interested in making lots of money.

Comment author: endoself 18 March 2012 12:41:40AM *  1 point [-]

I don't have enough domain knowledge to evaluate this advice that well, but couldn't a company earn much more than an employee, even after accounting for risk? See the discussion at 80 000 hours for relevant research. Statistics might be different for games than for the industry average, though. 80 000 hours is generally a good resource for evaluating altruistic career decisions. You can, and maybe, depending on your current state of knowledge, should, talk to a member before starting your company.

Comment author: Douglas_Reay 18 March 2012 03:34:04AM 4 points [-]

Two pieces of advice.

Firstly, write a formal business plan with the numbers as accurate as you can make them, not to show other people, but for your own consumption. How much equity do you want to have at the various stages? What skill sets or experience will the VCs be looking to see in your first 2 hires? What pay structure will you need to offer them to secure that? What skills don't you have, that you'll need your co-founder to have? Once you've got a few variant plans that seem plausible to you, apply your rationality training to them. (For example, have them checked over by someone with experience with business plans who you are NOT seeking funding from.) The reason for this advice? You're looking for a co-founder, one who shares your aims and values, someone who you'll enjoy working with, who might become a friend; but you're still going to be entering a hardball negotiation with them, and you need beforehand as firm an idea as you can get on what's possible financially, what you're willing to give up, and what you want to get in return.

Secondly, there's a lot of advice out there on how to write and present a good elevator pitch. Look for the advice written not by professional advisers, but by the people you want to emulate (successful software startup founders) and the people you want to impress (venture capitalists who have funded successful software startups). Then practice, practice, practice. Because the text in the article above is probably not giving the impression of yourself and your company that you want it to give, even bearing in mind the audience you've pitched it to.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 March 2012 01:16:53PM 5 points [-]
Comment author: Viliam_Bur 19 March 2012 10:28:56AM 1 point [-]

Good article, but it must be modified for the audience. An equivalent "How to Explain Your Business to a Venture Capitalist" would probably contain "Explaining your game" as one of the mistakes.

Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 06:53:40AM 2 points [-]

Thank you for actually giving useful advice, rather than just raw criticism. :)

Because the text in the article above is probably not giving the impression of yourself and your company that you want it to give, even bearing in mind the audience you've pitched it to.

Can you expand on that?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 March 2012 12:42:48AM 3 points [-]

Is anything known about the success rate of people who mostly design games which fascinate them vs. the success rate of people who mostly follow what's known about the gaming market? How about success magnitude?

Comment author: gwern 18 March 2012 01:04:22AM 5 points [-]

I'd personally like to know more about the reasoning behind

  • There is a lot of low hanging fruit in terms of what games are easy to make and are almost guaranteed to be profitable. (Most people don't choose these ideas because they are easy, have been done before, or the people want to make other games.)
Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 01:32:36AM 1 point [-]

If you look at the top iOS games, there are many remakes of the same ideas, that nevertheless continue to be very profitable. This shows that the business part of those ideas is solid. I think tweaking those games slightly, going outside of the saturated themes (city/farm games), while adding core elements from other popular games is guaranteed to result in success.

Comment author: CronoDAS 18 March 2012 03:09:20AM 2 points [-]

You're not going to be building a cow clicker, are you? :(

Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 03:13:20AM 1 point [-]

My stance is: "If a slot machine game gives the most ROI, then I'll make slot machine games."
So, if a cow clicker gives the most ROI, then I'll build a cow clicker. :)

Comment author: cousin_it 18 March 2012 11:14:27AM *  4 points [-]

Given how little money the average gamer spends, it seems to me that earning N dollars from FarmVille might even create more disutility overall (in the form of wasted time) than obtaining the same N dollars by robbing somebody. If that's true, then LW readers who adopt your strategy but start with a different background (e.g. combat instead of game-making) should start robbing people and donating the proceeds to SingInst.

ETA: on further thought, disregard this comment, it's wrong. If you completely ignore the cost to society, then saving the world by robbery still requires an opportunity to make lots of money from robbery. Otherwise getting a high-paying job seems more cost-effective, and starting a startup even better than that. I'm sorry. Continue doing what you're doing :-)

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 19 March 2012 10:43:07AM *  3 points [-]

If that's true, then LW readers who adopt your strategy but start with a different background (...) should start robbing people and donating the proceeds to SingInst.

So this is why Eliezer is always priming his readers with "rationality as martial arts"! :D

Beware the X-Rational Ninja -- he will extrapolate your volition and steal your money! Then he will give you two boxes and you can choose to take one or two of them. If you choose one box, it contains all your stolen money and an authographed edition of HP:MoR; but if you choose two boxes, the first one is empty. (The second box always contains a yearly free subscription to a Rationalist Cow Clicker, where you can click on cows representing your cognitive biases.)

Comment author: wedrifid 18 March 2012 03:35:04AM 3 points [-]

My stance is: "If a slot machine game gives the most ROI, then I'll make slot machine games." So, if a cow clicker gives the most ROI, then I'll build a cow clicker. :)

Is making games the right industry for you?

Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 06:38:04AM 1 point [-]

I don't know for certain, but this is where my strengths lie, and this is where I have experience and connections. If the right opportunity presented itself, I would gladly start another company that promised to be as profitable.

However, this will not be the only company I start, and starting a company in the same field (i.e. games) will increase my chances of success. If I start a company in another field, I'd have to stick to that field to keep this kind of advantage.

Comment author: adamzerner 05 December 2013 06:17:52AM *  0 points [-]

It sounds that your goal is to make money to donate to efficient causes, like existential risk prevention. If that is so, I suspect that you aren't being strategic about it, because it doesn't seem like you explored enough other startup options aside from games.

What is the expected value of you exploring other options? I suspect that it's greater than you working on games now, but that the returns diminish somewhat quickly. Here are some ideas that I thought of if you're interested: https://medium.com/on-startups/6ecc143afe65.

Comment author: Unnamed 05 December 2013 06:41:41AM 0 points [-]

Note that Alexei (the author of this post) later wrote this post.

Comment author: adamzerner 05 December 2013 06:31:24PM *  0 points [-]

I just read it, and I think my point still stands. To be more concrete, here's what I would, and did, do: spend some time coming up with startup ideas (following Paul Graham's advice), after some time, look through them all, come up with their expected values, and choose.

I think that there are a lot of ideas that Alexei has the technical skills to build, and the insightfulness to discover. And I think that a lot of these ideas are orders of magnitude more profitable than the game startup. At the very least, I think that the chances of these two above statements being true are high enough where it's worth thinking hard about, instead of saying "I'm good at game development.... I'll do game development."

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 18 March 2012 06:03:15AM 1 point [-]

Then shouldn't you look for a co-founder who salivates at the idea of luring a massive population of weak-willed casual gamers into Skinner boxes that make them send a constant cash stream at your company, not people who like playing games and want to make games they themselves find compelling?

An ex-drug-dealer (now a video game industry powerbrain) once told me that he doesn’t understand why people buy heroin. The heroin peddler isn’t even doing heroin. Like him or not, when you hear Cliff Bleszinski talk about Gears of War, he sounds — in a good way — like a weed dealer. He sounds like he endorses what he is selling. When you’re in a room with social games guys, the “I never touch the stuff” attitude is so thick you’ll need a box cutter to breathe properly.

-- Tim Rogers, Who Killed Videogames

Comment author: moridinamael 18 March 2012 09:12:09PM 3 points [-]

I would pay one hundred dollars a month for a game that "compulsion traps" me into doing what I'm supposed to be doing in the manner described in that article.

Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 06:35:25AM *  0 points [-]

people who like playing games and want to make games they themselves find compelling?

Who said I was looking for those types of people?

*Edit: thanks for the link. I've seen and read that page multiple times, but I only now realized it's actually a multi-page story. And it's good. And Tim Rogers' other writings are good. It's certainly showing things in a new light. Very thought provoking...

Comment author: Dmytry 18 March 2012 02:59:52PM *  0 points [-]

ha, my users demand that sorta features from me (achievements). You can crowdsource that kind of stuff if you have good filter.

Comment author: CronoDAS 18 March 2012 03:18:24AM *  1 point [-]

Heh. As long as you know you're being evil by doing it, I won't mind. ;)

Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 06:38:14AM 0 points [-]

It's for a good cause, so it's okay, right?

Comment author: gwern 18 March 2012 04:25:09PM 0 points [-]

There are remakes, yes, but how do you generalize from that to 'very profitable'? If remakes are cheap to make, then any obviousness of success would incentivize still more clones and cannibalize profits. If remakes are makable even by the less-competent, doubly so.

Comment author: Alexei 19 March 2012 03:44:59AM 1 point [-]

Google top 10 PC games. It's almost all lists like this. Now look at how many sequels there are.

Here is a list of best-selling PC games. Notice that almost half of the top 10 are sequels.

Note that I'm not saying making a sequel is very profitable. I'm saying if you have a very profitable game, then making a sequel of it is very profitable and safe.

Comment author: gwern 19 March 2012 03:50:52AM 0 points [-]

Note that I'm not saying making a sequel is very profitable. I'm saying if you have a very profitable game, then making a sequel of it is very profitable and safe.

Oh. OK, that makes sense.

Comment author: CronoDAS 19 March 2012 04:46:56AM *  3 points [-]

Incidentally, video games usually manage to avoid the problems that movie sequels have; movie sequels are usually not as good as the original, but video game sequels usually manage to improve on their predecessors.

Comment author: falenas108 18 March 2012 05:44:17AM -1 points [-]

But there are also a lot of games that are very similar to the top selling games, but never become famous precisely because they are too similar to previously existing games.

Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 06:17:20AM 0 points [-]

Right. What I'm saying is: keep the business part (for example the way the game monetizes the players), but change the theme and improve the gameplay. I would have to go into specific examples of how that could be done, but that's not really what this post is for.

Comment author: snarles 18 March 2012 12:57:59AM *  1 point [-]

Anecdotal evidence: Sirlin seems to have 'made it' recently.

Comment author: katydee 18 March 2012 05:59:29AM 1 point [-]

To be fair, Sirlin had already been both a competitive gamer and a competitive game balancer/designer, as well as a prominent blogger, prior to selling his own games. Many consider him one of the best game designers in the world.

Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 01:27:46AM 0 points [-]

I don't have the numbers, but I'd tend to roughly classify people who "design games which fascinate them" as indie, and people "who mostly follow what's known about the gaming market" as savvy business people. If you look at the success rate of the companies and games, most fall within the latter category. People who focus too much on the game often forget that making the game is only half the work in actually getting it out to the players. However, savvy business people often forget how to take risks, and end up creating sequels and clones, which is not optimal in its own right.

Comment author: paper-machine 18 March 2012 12:31:02AM 3 points [-]

Given the high failure rate of video game start-ups, you'd probably be better off going to work for a company.

Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 01:23:33AM 13 points [-]

The amount of money I can make working for a company isn't even close to how much money I want to donate. There are multiple reasons to believe I will succeed, some of which I've listed above. Another reason for doing a game startup comes from Michael Vassar's advice: "Find something that inside view says you'll definitely succeed at, and outside view says you'll definitely fail it. Do it and see what caused the discrepancy." This is the fastest way to fix your perception of the world.

Starting a successful company is not magic. There is a set of skills, and I'm planning to learn and master them. Will my first startup be successful? May be not, but there is no reason to stop after the first failure, especially since I'll have so much more experience after it.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 18 March 2012 06:41:18PM 3 points [-]

Michael Vassar's advice: "Find something that inside view says you'll definitely succeed at, and outside view says you'll definitely fail it. Do it and see what caused the discrepancy."

Please could you link to this? I want to read the background to it but can't find anything like it via google.

Comment author: Alexei 19 March 2012 03:45:17AM 2 points [-]

It was said in a personal conversation.

Comment author: Gabriel 18 March 2012 12:58:56AM 4 points [-]

This kind of reasoning is worrying. On one hand, based on the high failure rates, it can be argued that start-up founders are insane. On the other hand, rationality shouldn't automatically preclude you from taking high-risk, high-payoff bets. Another rational way to approach this would be to actually figure out what separates successful start-ups from the failures and then just do that.

Comment author: paper-machine 18 March 2012 02:59:25AM *  9 points [-]

Start-up founders are hardly insane. From my perspective, it's the intersection between video games and start-ups that is the problem.

The things that make video games good (good writing, good graphics, good sound effects, good gameplay, etc.) are easier to accomplish when you have a decent amount of staff and enough money to throw at the problem. The video game market is horrendously saturated, with a large segment of the population not even finishing games once. (I don't have any hard statistics for this, but it's a trope that is well-attested on r/gaming and the game blogosphere, e.g. "You Gonna Finish That?").

To make matters worse, the market is also infamously critical of everything -- fail in one category, and you basically get panned. For example, Mass Effect 3 is getting a lot of flack for having a "bad" ending, despite being otherwise a well-polished game with a budget the size of Missouri.

One could subvert some of this by developing for phones, but the iOS market has notoriously finicky gatekeepers. Android, perhaps -- I don't know much about them.

Comment author: Micaiah_Chang 18 March 2012 04:59:18AM 3 points [-]

I don't see why Alexei should be concerned about most of your points, because they're based off of several unexamined conditions.

Not finishing the game only matters if he plans to implement DLC or microtransactions, the customer has already paid for the game, why should the seller worry then? Of course, the main point is that if the customer hasn't finished the games he has, why should he pay for more games? While this seems like a reasonable assumption, I don't quite think it's quite clear cut. Anecdotally, I've seen people with 50+ game backlogs continue to purchase new games. On top of that, I don't think it's clear to think a backlog of any amount game precludes or even dissuades a consumer from all games; just because I have a 80 hour long jRPG unfinished on my PS3 doesn't mean I won't purchase a cheap iPhone game like Angry birds. So we need to look at rapidly growing sections of the industry where relatively few startups have been formed.

I don't view criticism as a major problem. You can't criticize a game until you've purchased it for one, and considering that most video game sales take place within a narrow timeframe of release (two weeks I believe), large amounts of criticism on forums appears to be a mark of successful video games! Of course, this isn't including hits that become successful after a long period of time due to word of mouth--Disgaea coming to mind, but Alexei is aiming for a more short term strategy rather than a long term series so word of mouth is not a strategy he would want to employ.

Mass Effect 3 in particular is a bad example, because Bioware is likely going to profit off of the complaints (Read: We made a mistake, now you're going to give us money, I'll admit I'm simplifying this because I'm ignoring opportunity costs incurred for working on other products.) This isn't including other cases like the outcry against Left4Dead2, where most of the complainers signed a boycott petition and brought the game anyway! In light of this information, I see no reason to suppose complaints have a strong correlation with reduced consumer spending.

The videogame industry still remains resilient and profitable despite hits to other entertainment industries, indicating that if saturation is a problem it hasn't been enough of one to stop the industry's growth. Of course, you can claim that it's a few large companies such as Nintendo, Blizzard and Valve expanding the industry (and they have been aggressively expanding) but in the end we still need to look at how well VG startups do.

Just to mention, tc would need to look for distribution channels other than the traditional 'send it to a brick and mortar store and hope it sells'. That would be the place where first movers have the greatest advantage relative to him and where the profit margins all lie within a exceedingly short timeframe. Microtransactions for a free or nearly free game, a la Riotgames, would be a good distribution model to investigate (I confess to availability bias on this one; I haven't looked at other companies who have tried the model and failed).

Comment author: paper-machine 18 March 2012 05:32:17AM *  3 points [-]

Granted, he's only considering a short term strategy.

As far as I can tell from the Unofficial YComb list, there have only been three video game startups through them: MinoMonsters, Koduco Games, and OMGPop.

MinoMonsters runs a pokemon clone with four stars on the App Store. Koduco Games made two clones and an iPad port in two years. OMGPop seems to be a reasonably successful arcade portal. Of the three, none have very high PageRank. None of the three have exited. Now it's true, none of them have completely failed either. But I would be very surprised if any of them except possibly OMGPop has really made it. They also have been around for six years and have a comparatively large staff.

Of course, this is a really small sample.

The most charitable way I can interpret this is that if the OP wants a startup incubator and a short-term exit strategy, they shouldn't try Y Combinator. The most charitable explanation for the dearth of YComb video game startups is some internal bias in their screening process.

Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 06:57:46AM 1 point [-]

I agree. While I have all respect in the world for YC, it's just not the place for game startups. I was thinking more along the lines of Joystick Labs.

Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 07:00:00AM *  0 points [-]

You're correct.
Doing the 'send it to a brick and mortar store and hope it sells' stategy doesn't work. You need a lot of developing and publishing muscle to pull it off. Not to say you don't need the publishing muscle even if you go with free-to-play, but it's certainly a lot easier to develop, and a lot easier to publish. It's certainly a nice entry point for a startup, and one I'll be taking a close look at.

By the way, using my name in your comment makes it feel very nice and personal. Well done. :)

Comment author: Dmytry 18 March 2012 08:53:48PM *  1 point [-]

The few sane people that make startups usually succeed, the less sane people make startups and usually fail, that's my theory.

Basically, there are the sane people who have a good reason to think they succeed, and they make startups, and they succeed (usually), and there's also much larger number of people who don't have any good reason they'd succeed, and out of those people, those who are less sane, try to make startups, and fail.

You can't generalize the sanity of two vastly different populations (those who fail and those who succeed) from average.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 20 March 2012 07:23:41PM 0 points [-]

What would you say are good reasons to think you'll succeed?

Comment author: Dmytry 20 March 2012 07:26:36PM *  0 points [-]

Reading reasons off a list may not help the less sane (or simply a small fraction of decision mistakes in a large population) from proceeding anyway, and i'm very biased towards my approach.

Basically, technical excellence, having previously created a profitable product as spin off from a hobby, having positive feedback on products of the hobby, if that is present, the success is much more likely than average, especially if you stick to the customers whom you understand.

I'd be very skeptical about practical ways to apply explicit rationality to anything but ordering of the todo list, sorry. There isn't a lot of data, and even though Bayesian statistics looks like garbage-in-best-conclusions-out process, it is still a garbage-in-garbage-out process.

Comment author: listic 19 March 2012 10:14:05PM *  1 point [-]

Please re-read Purchase Fuzzies and Utilons Separately.

If you want to reduce X-Risk, go for it.

If you want to make games, go for it.

If you want to make lots of money, great! Go for it, it's great doing what you love and you can always buy some of the other two later.

Choose what's most important for you, because I fail to see how these three goals converge. Game development has awful ROI. Look at venture capitalists: who is backing game startups? Noone. Game development, like show business, is very hit-or miss and the fact that many successful studios have trouble finding the funding for their next title should tell you how bad of a business it is. Majority of game developers are unprofitable, programmers are paid ones of the lowest rates in their profession and are expected to work crazy hours. Many programming practices used in game development are nothing to be proud of outside of game development.

Why do so many people want to make games then? Because they crave making games. Because they feel that more is possible, that they caught a glimpse of some future potential that might just show itself. Maybe they are delusional. There's no rational reason to believe otherwise.

One renowned game designer wrote in his profile: "Making games. Since way back. Doesn't let go." At least, he's honest with himself.

Comment author: Alexei 20 March 2012 02:37:52AM 4 points [-]

Okay, first of all let me say that I agree with your argument, but I think you misunderstand a couple of things. The only goal I have is to reduce x-risk. Now, it seems that the best way to do that is to make money, and it seems that, given my skill set, the best way to make money is to start a game company. I've carefully thought about this, and this is the decision I've reached not because I want to make games (in fact, the games I would be making for money are not at all the ones I would want to make for any other reason), but because that's what I do best.

Outside of the gaming world it might seem like it's a tiny niche, but, trust me, on the inside there is a lot of funding to go around, and the field is much bigger and wider than you think. Anyway, I don't want to tear apart every point you made. Just know that I appreciate your concern, and I've thought these things through.

Comment author: CronoDAS 19 March 2012 04:31:43AM 1 point [-]

Need anyone to write, edit, or proofread?

Comment author: Alexei 20 March 2012 02:28:48AM 0 points [-]

Not right now, but thanks!

Comment author: curiousepic 18 March 2012 03:59:51AM 1 point [-]

Do you plan to make it known either to investors or to customers your intent to donate to X-risk reduction?

Comment author: Alexei 18 March 2012 06:51:59AM 5 points [-]

Only if I think it benefits x-risk reduction. Which is to say: I'll let investors know only if it might be more beneficial for both of us for them to donate. As long as money gets to the organization of my choice, I don't really care who gives it. As for customers, I doubt it. It'll probably just confuse them, and make the company seem weird. We wouldn't want that. :)

Comment author: Computerman 03 February 2013 10:11:51PM 0 points [-]

I WILL HELP!!! Send me an email.

Comment author: listic 19 March 2012 10:45:36PM 0 points [-]

I've had an idea that tried to tie together game development and X-Risk reduction.

  1. Earn some money
  2. Hire Eliezer to write an online Singularity-themed Visual Novel that will draw more attention to the activities of Singularity Institute.

Alas, I stumbled on stage 1. But I think it could work. Eliezer is known to love writing, anime and I think visual novels too; and I think money plus the chance of advancing the cause could have seduced him into this project.

This was before Eliezer started Methods of Rationality. It turned out to be more successful that I could have hoped for a game, and it's just text! SIAI funding is on the rise too, I think. Just online visual novels are non-existent to this day (for reasons incomprehensible to me).

P.S. But I didn't try to mix in the third goal, earning lots of money as well as making games and reducing X-Risk!

Comment author: Alexei 20 March 2012 02:32:20AM 2 points [-]

Hire Eliezer?!?! One doesn't simply hire Eliezer! :O He has better things to be doing.

Realize that the problem of mixing goals is you have to compromise a lot, and that sacrifices a lot of edge you could have if you focused on just one goal.

Comment author: Thomas 18 March 2012 09:55:38AM *  0 points [-]

I have a company, I even have the product and customers. What I need are more of the latter, worldwide.

It is a geek business, contact me if you feel to.

EDIT: former-->later (thanks to CronoDAS)

EDIT: later-->latter (thanks to CronoDAS)

Comment author: CronoDAS 19 March 2012 05:40:02AM *  0 points [-]

Microeconomics 101: If you have not enough product and too many customers, raise prices. ;)

Comment author: Thomas 19 March 2012 05:46:23AM 0 points [-]

Not enough customers.

Comment author: CronoDAS 19 March 2012 06:10:36AM 2 points [-]

That makes more sense.

(Nitpick: "Later" vs "latter")

Comment author: wedrifid 18 March 2012 12:01:49PM 0 points [-]

I have a company, I even have the product and customers. What I need are more of the former, worldwide.

Latter? More of the former I imagine you can produce through existing methods.

Comment author: Thomas 18 March 2012 02:53:52PM 0 points [-]

Not in this case. I am reluctant to discuss it here more, you (or anyone) can ask me privately - whatever you'd like.

Comment author: Alex_Altair 18 March 2012 01:41:29AM 0 points [-]

I'm not attached to any particular game genre or game idea. Whatever gives the most ROI is good.

To take a line from Avenue Q, "the only stable investment is porn." Just sayin'.

Comment author: CronoDAS 18 March 2012 03:13:47AM *  8 points [-]

Actually, porn has gotten a lot less profitable recently. There are lots of sites on which you can see lots of different clips without paying anything. It's also dirt cheap to make; all you need is a camera, someone to hold the camera, and a woman who's willing to do sex acts on camera. All the competition makes it very hard to make a living in the porn business these days; demand hasn't fallen, but supply is way up, pushing the price down.

Comment author: Alex_Altair 18 March 2012 02:16:06PM 1 point [-]

I was implying he should make porn video games. Since rendering people is relatively recent, I don't think that market is saturated yet.

Comment author: CronoDAS 19 March 2012 12:34:32AM *  1 point [-]

We've been able to have games that include drawings of people for a long time. There are plenty of H-games made in Japan; most are Visual Novels. You can get English versions of some of them, but they aren't exactly flying off the shelves, as far as I know.

Part of the problem is that video games tend to be included in the Animation Age Ghetto and are also subject to censorship. Apple won't approve porn apps for the App Store, and good luck getting Nintendo or Sony to allow you to make a porn game for one of their platforms. Governments, too, get into the act.

And if you're making a porn game, you're still competing with all those other people making very cheap video porn, as well as those sites giving it away for free with wanton disregard of copyright laws.

Comment author: Friendly_Smurf 21 March 2012 03:35:45AM 3 points [-]

Here's some more data on the eroge situation in Japan:

History of Visual Novels

Summary:

Written from the perspective of an industry insider.

Era 1:The PC-98XX series of computer's success, despite its inadequacies in processing power and special features had erotic games (Eroge) on floppy disks contributing to its success. (Note: He may be overstating its influence, but the (super?)majority of PC games sold in Japan are eroge, the PC game market is so abysmal that Fallout 3 had to get a fantranslation). For the most part, the eroge just consisted of go to girl -> pick up line -> sex, but this quickly got old. This persisted utnil a company relased Dokyusei (同級生 - Classmate) in 1992 which was the first to implement 'routes' and stop being a simple porn game. The sex was delayed until you had sufficiently wooed a single girl by picking enough correct choices. Each individual girl had a story associated with them and you couldn't just have sex with anyone you met.

Era 2: Hard drives are invented, Eroge acquire more of a story focus, with the release of Denpa game Kizuato in 1996 and ToHeart a year later. ToHeart is mostly notable for being the FIRST instance of a relatively story focused eroge becoming successful, so much it's considered a classic to this day. This paved the way for the modern Visual Novel: Greater focus on story and emotional involvement by the consumer.

Era 3: 'Crying games' are invented. Members of 'Tactics' stumbled on a formula, where a comedic and romantic first half is contrasted by a dramatic, depressing second half. They thought they had something, so they spun off into a studio named Key and made Kanon, a game famously well known for making people cry. it's in this era when the porn becomes less and less of a relevant element.

Era 4 and Era 5 mostly talk about how successful eroge have become, including exploitative examples of console ports (if you think DLC is bad now, try buying Baldr Force four times for about 100 dollars each. One of the releases contained what amounted to bug fixes only and survival mode) and increasing rates of adaption into anime.

The notable thing about this history is that the major players were usually the first movers to break the eroge = porn only stereotype. Of course, this took place in a much different market environment than the American video game industry. So at the very least we can conclude if you want to make a porn game, put no porn into it and make it story focused and emotional. Of course this would entirely depend on good writers and directing ability for a visual novel, which of course rules it out entirely as a viable option for Mr Founder here unless he plans to start another 10000 hours learning how to emulate obscure pornographic video games from Japan.

Production costs and break even points

Break even point usually occurs at less than 5000 (!) copies sold, with about 90 dollars per copy sold and 60~80% of that cost not taken by the distributor. Note that there is an entrenched section of the marketbase who will snatch up any new titles. Liarsoft In particular has somewhere around ten thousand diehard fans that will purchase anything they make (this is true because I saw it on a memo!) even if it's unfinished or a weird sumo wrestler fetish game. Survival rates don't look good though with only 20% of brands making it to the 8 year mark. Eroge studios tend to be a lot more fluid though, with many people hired on for just one or two projects and there are a lot of brands who reform under another name or are absorbed into a sister brand.

So yes, it's a bad option.

Although...

You can get English versions of some of them, but they aren't exactly flying off the shelves, as far as I know.

[JASTUSA][www.jastusa.com] has made a profit on (close to? ) every single one of its games, despite licensing costs, general headaches dealing with Japanese company redtape and risk aversion by buying up cheaply licensed masturbation only games translating them for cheap and releasing them uncensored. Recently they've been buying up fantranslators to do the work at an even cheaper price for the more story centric and text heavy games.

But yes, visual novels don't sell much, and even download stats for pirated fantranslation patches still only peaks around 20000.

Comment author: Alex_Altair 19 March 2012 12:41:13AM 1 point [-]

Very good points. You've changed my mind on the profitability of such a thing.

Comment author: CronoDAS 19 March 2012 04:28:34AM 0 points [-]

Some of this might not apply if you're Japanese, because such games do get developed commercially there. It's the "mainstream" English-speaking market that's hard to sell to.

Comment author: listic 20 March 2012 09:47:08AM 0 points [-]

I would like to understand what's the reason behind this.

Japan has tradition of manga, USA has tradition of comics. But visual novels get developed commercially in Japan, but not in the USA.

Comment author: Dmytry 18 March 2012 09:02:14PM *  1 point [-]

Reminds me of something that a sunk startup i worked at 7 years ago tried (not my startup, not managed by me). Adding the support for 'poser 3d' content into package. The poser 3d basically is a porn renderer. It's creepy as hell for some reason, but some people like it. Too bad it didn't work out (that being said, touchscreen realtime porn... that just might work.

Comment author: Alex_Altair 18 March 2012 11:36:18PM 0 points [-]

It's creepy as hell for some reason

Well researched; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley

Comment author: Dmytry 18 March 2012 11:52:07PM *  0 points [-]

I don't think its so much uncanny valley as plain bad art though. Crappy subsurface scattering = creepy skin, theres something wrong inside, and it shows through too much. No subsurface scattering = a lot of makeup. And there's an odd convergence, now that everything is photoshopped more than ever before.

edit: Also i recall nvidia demo that was in realtime, and wasn't this creepy.