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FIND YOUR FOCUS

19 Feb 2014

Your focus is the heart and soul of your business.

It sets you apart, establishes your identity, and forms the foundation of your brand. It's also the framework within which you'll make every decision affecting your company and your games. It says what you will do, but more importantly it says what you will not do.

Consider well-known studios like Bioware, PopCap, or the recently-shuttered Irrational. Think about each company's catalog of games and how those catalogs are distinct from each other, and the ideas and reactions a phrase like "it's a Bioware game" evokes. These are studios with a clear focus: Bioware's deep, character-driven storytelling; PopCap's fun, over-the-top presentation and clever game mechanics; Irrational's sandbox gameplay and high-minded sociological themes.

Does your indie venture have a strong focus? Can you articulate it clearly and concisely, with confidence and without a second thought?

When I went indie I had extensive game designs, a well-researched business plan, a sizable nest egg to live off of, and a whole bunch of industry experience backing me up. I felt like I was well-positioned to succeed, but I spent the next six months flitting from project to project with increasing disinterest and burning an enormous amount of cash in the process. Somehow, all that preparation had led to... failure?

It took me too long to figure out what had gone wrong, but I eventually did: I'd gone indie before finding my focus. I was working on a tactical strategy game and struggling to figure out why it was so joyless when I had the realization that I'm just not as interested in numbers and puzzles as I am in kinesthetics and game feel. I tried on the identity of "kinesthetic designer", and suddenly my focus began to appear.

I said before that your focus establishes what you will do, but also what you will not do. As creative people, we all have many more ideas than we could conceivably execute in a lifetime, so having a reliable filter is crucial. Focusing on kinesthetic design allows me to reject with confidence entire classes of my own ideas: I'll probably never make a turn-based strategy game or a collectible card game, but that frees up time and resources to work on more-kinesthetic games. I'm developing a bullet-hell shooter now, and my work feels more rewarding than it has in years!

"Satisfying, best-in-class game feel" is now a key, driving principle of my own studio, Third Helix. And this is exactly what you need: a clear, concise statement of what you stand for that will guide your business for (hopefully) many years to come.

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business freelancing indie