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Old 08-31-2013, 07:22 PM   #1
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My Studio is in danger of collapse, any suggestions?

I am reaching out to fellow CG artists and people experienced in the game industry in search for wisdom or aid on some issues I am facing in a game studio I started 4 years ago.

I apologize for the wall of text but here is the story:

I started the studio right after highschool with some very passionate people who wanted to learn how to make videogames. We are a 7-man team and making this business successful has always been our dream. We worked hard while in college to learn the skills necessary to make it a success when we got out of college. Here we are 4 years later approaching that exciting date when we finally get to pursue our dream full throttle; I am finishing my last class and some of the other members of the studio graduated from college in the spring. We have been extremely passionate about our team and company all throughout our college careers and have even released 3 games for Xbox 360 indie games arcade: (here is a video review of one of our games if you are curious)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3IrpQQlq18

But here is the issue; ever since this summer, the attitudes of all the members except for 3 of us (digital artist, texture artist, and music guy) one of them seems to be dragging everyone down with him with his negativity and he always complains how he feels we are failures because the games we made in college were not monetarily successful. Itís ironic because this guy used to be the most passionate of all of us and would constantly say how when we get out of college that he was prepared and excited to work from sun up to sundown in the studio. Now he is different; when he used to be a hard worker, he just screws off while we are working our asses off, and when he was positive, he now just mopes and complains about not being successful in the past. I always try to tell him that those games we made in the past were necessary because we had no prior knowledge of making videogames so we had to start small and make "crappy" games to learn how to do it. Now we are finally making our first REAL game and itís looking damn good! http://thievesplummet.com/

I donít know whatís gotten into him and because of his attitude, its spreading like wild fire in the studio. If this keeps up Iím afraid we may end up losing him and our other programmer. They are extremely vital to the team and we need them to create these games. if he leaves, we will have no programmers left as we have already lost 2 due to his attitude.

I just don't know what to do, he is the most important member right now because the fate of everything we worked so hard to accomplish rests on whether or not he stays.

Does anybody have any good advice for me? perhaps some way i can find replacements for him? I just don't know where to start...

Thank you for reading and I'm sorry about the big post. Any help would be extremely appreciated.
 
Old 08-31-2013, 07:28 PM   #2
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You start by having an open and honest (but rexpectful and non threatening) conversation with him.
Create understanding of both sides and discuss how to move forward.
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Old 08-31-2013, 08:21 PM   #3
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I would say you should be incredibly careful not to place blame. Just ask him if he would like to come out with your for a drink (or whatever it is you guys can do alone) and just have an honest chat with him. Tell him you've noticed he's been bummed out a lot lately and ask why he feels that way. Try to understand his perspective first, let him vent about anything & everything, and be sympathetic even if you disagree.

Most importantly, ask him what you can do to help make the situation better. Maybe he's burnt out and just need a vacation. Maybe he's tired of working 24x7 with little monetary compensation (I'm assuming). Whatever it is, figure out what you can do to make things better. Be sure to stress how much you value having this person on the team, but don't put the weight of the success of your company on their shoulders during this conversation (it might be true, but don't mention it) because that will only make him feel more stressed.

I'm not a manager and don't have experience with this situation, so take my advice as just how I would approach it. I think if you go into it with understanding from his perspective and make an honest effort to try and find a solution with him, it would go a long way.
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Old 08-31-2013, 08:21 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kees
You start by having an open and honest (but rexpectful and non threatening) conversation with him.
Create understanding of both sides and discuss how to move forward.

yes I have had this discussion with him at least 3 times (one including last night)
no matter how inviting i try to make the discussion for his opinion, he stays quiet with his head down and says nothing but "I don't know" over and over. Sometimes I have a feeling that he is just down right ignoring me when I try to communicate with him and when i try to ask him to say something, he just says "I don't want to talk about this right now."

I don't know what to do. He is a wall when you try to have an honest respectful discussion with him. Completely closed up unwilling to talk.

Quote:
Originally Posted by grantmoore3d
I would say you should be incredibly careful not to place blame. Just ask him if he would like to come out with your for a drink (or whatever it is you guys can do alone) and just have an honest chat with him. Tell him you've noticed he's been bummed out a lot lately and ask why he feels that way. Try to understand his perspective first, let him vent about anything & everything, and be sympathetic even if you disagree.

Most importantly, ask him what you can do to help make the situation better. Maybe he's burnt out and just need a vacation. Maybe he's tired of working 24x7 with little monetary compensation (I'm assuming). Whatever it is, figure out what you can do to make things better. Be sure to stress how much you value having this person on the team, but don't put the weight of the success of your company on their shoulders during this conversation (it might be true, but don't mention it) because that will only make him feel more stressed.

I'm not a manager and don't have experience with this situation, so take my advice as just how I would approach it. I think if you go into it with understanding from his perspective and make an honest effort to try and find a solution with him, it would go a long way.


Yes this is EXACTLY what i did yesterday. took him out for a drink and asked him how he felt and what i could do to make things better for him in the company, i was asking nothing but questions about him and how he feels so i could learn how to assess the situation, but this is the 3rd time I've done this this summer, he doesn't give me anything to work with. it almost seems hopeless like he is broken somehow...

Last edited by galacticmuffin : 08-31-2013 at 08:25 PM.
 
Old 08-31-2013, 08:22 PM   #5
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Ah, posted at the same time as you responded... if he's stone-walling and refusing to discuss that's a much more difficult situation. Let me think on that one for a bit.

edit: Is this a paid gig? Or are you all working under a revenue-sharing scenario?
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Old 08-31-2013, 08:31 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by grantmoore3d
Ah, posted at the same time as you responded... if he's stone-walling and refusing to discuss that's a much more difficult situation. Let me think on that one for a bit.

edit: Is this a paid gig? Or are you all working under a revenue-sharing scenario?

Yea, it is very hard to talk to him about personal issues despite how much i consider his feelings in the conversation. sometimes i feel like i serve him so much just to make him happy that he has become spoiled.
The only thing he said last night was how he thought it was funny how big his ego was (almost like in such a way that he loved his ego and how awesome he was). His big ego may be my fault to a degree because of how much I try to positively reinforce him so that he is willing to stay.

Well we could get funding but he and other members don't want to because they don't want to give away studio equity to investors. so we are trying to support each other through our personal funds and eventually try to earn money through our latest project. (which wont happen at this rate) i'd like to pay him, but he would get pissed if we got investors involved.
 
Old 08-31-2013, 08:47 PM   #7
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I'm going to assume that you are the one who owns the business and are sharing equity with these other people, or at the very least you are the designated project lead. As such, it's your primary responsibility to keep the project on target.

If this individual is dragging the team down and you've had several conversations with him and he's un-willing to make an effort to change, the result is the same whether you have him or not; the project will fail. He's a key member, without him you can't get it done (not true, but that's how you see it right now). But with him, he's ruining team morale and not being productive anyways. You see my point here?

So you're going to have to make the tough call and have a frank conversation with him. Tell him how his behavior is affecting the team, that his actions are jeopardizing the success of the project and that you need him to pull up his socks and get things done. You also have to tell him that if you don't see improvements he's going to be cut from the team. There's no nice way to say it, he has to understand you're willing to do that.

Now, how exactly to say this, I'm not sure myself. And how do you handle equity for a half-finished project if you do cut him loose? I'm not sure, maybe 1/4 of what he would have gotten already? You'll need to discuss the rest this with the remainder of your partners.

The one thing I'd stress is that the project is NOT doomed without him. You have all that work and any decent programmer should be able to pick up where he left off. Sure, it will delay the project schedule and be a huge pain in the ass to find a replacement, you might even have to find financing to pay someone to fill in his role... but you can't simply accept this behaviour.
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Old 08-31-2013, 08:55 PM   #8
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Also, just as a personal advice to anyone out there looking to build a team where all members are sharing equity: one person absolutely has to be the authority and business owner.

I've seen way too many people register a business as equal partners and then have a single member go sour, ruining the entire business goals. The benefit of having one person own the business is that someone is there to make the tough calls. Everyone might not agree with the decisions made, but at least someone is there making them and is accountable. An added bonus is that if anyone wants out, it's significantly easier from a legal perspective. You simply "fire" them or they "quit" and you shift equity as it had been discussed.

Also, in terms of equity sharing, a model a friend of mine uses that seems to work very well for them is getting everyone to track their hours. This way anyone can jump no the project, do a period of work, and then leave and still get their "fair share" of the profit-sharing on release. Equal divides among team members always ends up in a scenario of "well, I'm doing more work then this other person, why do they have the same share".

For anyone building a new team, give a lot of consideration towards how you're going to structure your business. It can save you a lot of headaches (learned from personal experience on that one).
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Old 08-31-2013, 09:06 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by grantmoore3d
I'm going to assume that you are the one who owns the business and are sharing equity with these other people, or at the very least you are the designated project lead. As such, it's your primary responsibility to keep the project on target.

If this individual is dragging the team down and you've had several conversations with him and he's un-willing to make an effort to change, the result is the same whether you have him or not; the project will fail. He's a key member, without him you can't get it done (not true, but that's how you see it right now). But with him, he's ruining team morale and not being productive anyways. You see my point here?

So you're going to have to make the tough call and have a frank conversation with him. Tell him how his behavior is affecting the team, that his actions are jeopardizing the success of the project and that you need him to pull up his socks and get things done. You also have to tell him that if you don't see improvements he's going to be cut from the team. There's no nice way to say it, he has to understand you're willing to do that.

Now, how exactly to say this, I'm not sure myself. And how do you handle equity for a half-finished project if you do cut him loose? I'm not sure, maybe 1/4 of what he would have gotten already? You'll need to discuss the rest this with the remainder of your partners.

The one thing I'd stress is that the project is NOT doomed without him. You have all that work and any decent programmer should be able to pick up where he left off. Sure, it will delay the project schedule and be a huge pain in the ass to find a replacement, you might even have to find financing to pay someone to fill in his role... but you can't simply accept this behaviour.

The rest of the members all work for sweat equity right now but whenever this programmer actually does tell me anything he always complains about how our previous games were not financial successes that that deems our team and the rest of the games we may make int he future as failures. he has convinced himself that we are already failures and because of that when i try to use equity as an incentive for him to keep working, he just tells me he doesn't care about equity because it means nothing.

He doesn't understand that when it comes to equity, it is more valuable the harder you work because the probability of success for a project increases as people put more work into it. his logic is completely backwards and I'm tired if sucking his **** and giving him 600$ a month just to keep him on.

Another reason I don't want to give him up is because he is int he middle of some things we need from him, he holds a very important and specialized role int he studio considering he is both a digital artist and programmer. His talents will be very hard to find in anybody else. he was able to create for us animation tools that make our 3d animations so much better with real time gameplay. just a traditional animator or programmer probably wouldn't be able to create something like that.

But you are probably right, I just need to set down the rules here and give it out straight.

Is there any way I can start searching for replacements? Like some kind of service or ways to get contacts that you know of?
 
Old 08-31-2013, 09:10 PM   #10
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I like the dynamic equity split business model: Slicing Pie

I don't have any idea how your business is structured, but you sound as though you are assuming a position of ownership. What makes you any more entitled to the business than your friend who is distraught and feeling down and out?

Have you thought about the fact that maybe he feels like you all have taken over and his input has become less important? Have you considered that he may have thought he was going to have more responsibility and is now bummed out because he doesn't?

Personal conflicts among partners lead to business failure. I've been involved with several start-ups, even one while I was in high school that was successful, and I have to say that the biggest problem is people don't really talk to each other. They hold back and resent one another and eventually just disband.

Without knowing the specifics, I am making assumptions based on what you've said. I get the feeling I am more right than wrong in my assumptions though. You should consider having a meeting where everyone who is involved in the ownership of the company sits down together.

In that meeting you can each share: personal goals, your role in the company, and how you feel about everyone else in the room. Make the meeting open and encourage criticism. If you don't do it now you'll fall apart at some point down the road for other reasons anyways.
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Old 08-31-2013, 09:20 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by galacticmuffin
The rest of the members all work for sweat equity right now but whenever this programmer actually does tell me anything he always complains about how our previous games were not financial successes that that deems our team and the rest of the games we may make int he future as failures. he has convinced himself that we are already failures and because of that when i try to use equity as an incentive for him to keep working, he just tells me he doesn't care about equity because it means nothing.


You wrote this while I was typing up my other post...

You own the business outright and you are giving others equity? Have you signed any agreements? Have you determined what amount of equity they are earning and how much you'll give away?

If people don't want equity they probably want a paycheck. If you believe in the company and believe this guy is so very talented, go out and get a loan or spend your own money and pay him. Don't let him earn any further equity, and instead pay him what his time is worth.

If you have a problem paying someone for their time and expect them to work for equity only, then you are not the owner of a business, you are the negotiator of potential, and potential is worthless in this world.

So what if the equity is worth millions later? If all someone wants is a paycheck today, they aren't going to care about your potential, and if all you have to offer in return is equity then your company is worthless to them because on paper it has ZERO value.

If someone doesn't believe in potential value vs. actual value then you are not in any position to negotiate from.

See my point?
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Old 08-31-2013, 10:12 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by -dc-
So what if the equity is worth millions later? If all someone wants is a paycheck today, they aren't going to care about your potential, and if all you have to offer in return is equity then your company is worthless to them because on paper it has ZERO value.

If someone doesn't believe in potential value vs. actual value then you are not in any position to negotiate from.

See my point?


Ah, thank you for pointing that out. That's also a very valuable part of this equation, as the guy you're complaining about is probably sitting there working his ass off and not seeing the financial gain coming and is about to split. His risk tolerance is lower than yours, maybe he's running out money, who the hell knows... but if he doesn't share your vision and believe in the potential, then as point out in the quote, what he's doing is worth zero. You might have to just cut him loose of sweat equity and find a way to pay him, whether you like it or not.

edit: Found a video by that Slicing Pie author, watching it now...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwz3pcE7s5M
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Last edited by grantmoore3d : 08-31-2013 at 10:23 PM.
 
Old 08-31-2013, 10:39 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by -dc-
You wrote this while I was typing up my other post...

You own the business outright and you are giving others equity? Have you signed any agreements? Have you determined what amount of equity they are earning and how much you'll give away?

If people don't want equity they probably want a paycheck. If you believe in the company and believe this guy is so very talented, go out and get a loan or spend your own money and pay him. Don't let him earn any further equity, and instead pay him what his time is worth.

If you have a problem paying someone for their time and expect them to work for equity only, then you are not the owner of a business, you are the negotiator of potential, and potential is worthless in this world.

So what if the equity is worth millions later? If all someone wants is a paycheck today, they aren't going to care about your potential, and if all you have to offer in return is equity then your company is worthless to them because on paper it has ZERO value.

If someone doesn't believe in potential value vs. actual value then you are not in any position to negotiate from.

See my point?
I see you are trying to help me consider that the problem may be, infact myself; and though I have been asking this question every day I speak with him, he assures me that that is not the case.

It seems that all I do is look at things from the perspectives of my co-workers, they are what is so valuable about this company. But I cant get some members like this programmer to tell me anything so I cant help them. I feel like I sacrifice everything for this programmer just to keep him happy.

Other members and I all pay him to stay and we do so out of our own pockets. just last month we payed him $600 to stay and work and now I'm broke. So when I want to get a loan out to pay everyone and myself, I can't because he is also on the board of directors and he always votes against getting payed except through the profits of our own projects.

I do hold the title of president of the board as I purchased the rights to the company 4 years ago but in our company, I like to give everyone equal opportunity to be leaders because I don't believe that only 1 person as myself has all the answers. to give everyone equal say on how things are ran, we have a board of directors where the core members (including the programmer) can vote equal on issues in the studio, elements in our projects and what to work on next. And just as proof of this; our previous game was completely designed and directed by him;

So considering this, there is NO reason he should feel like he doesn't have enough say or that I'm being oppressive. Even when I ask him if he feels he doesn't have enough ownership in the company he tells me "no that's not it, its just a lot of other things" yet he refuses to tell me what those things are.

It makes these issues very hard to solve if I cannot get the go-ahead to obtain funds through investors or loans because other members of the board just want to gain money the "safe way". It's tearing the studio apart and I feel like I cant do anything to save the company and the team I served my life for.

When the company started, we all agreed to work our hardest to achieve our goals and to be payed through sweat equity until our games made the appropriate financial success. (it is in writing.) it was a mutual agreement and we all agreed to help each other out when they are in need. even though i have a title of president i don't view myself that way, I view myself as the one who keeps the team together. I am on an equal plane as everyone else in this studio, I'm broke, I'm working hard, and I'm trying my best to provide the environment and resources people need to keep going just as they are for me. Except this one member is the only member we are paying has a lot more money than any of us because we just keep giving our money to him. I just hope he isn't using us because he knows he is the most valuable member and can manipulate us.
 
Old 08-31-2013, 10:44 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by grantmoore3d
Ah, thank you for pointing that out. That's also a very valuable part of this equation, as the guy you're complaining about is probably sitting there working his ass off and not seeing the financial gain coming and is about to split. His risk tolerance is lower than yours, maybe he's running out money, who the hell knows... but if he doesn't share your vision and believe in the potential, then as point out in the quote, what he's doing is worth zero. You might have to just cut him loose of sweat equity and find a way to pay him, whether you like it or not.

edit: Found a video by that Slicing Pie author, watching it now...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwz3pcE7s5M

he actually has more money than all of us. one other studio member and I gave him a collective $600 out of our own pockets. i barely have enough money to afford ramen yet he is going out to eat at Bobevens every day.

I really hate to consider the possibility that he is just doing this to get more money from us since I had always viewed him as a friend who would sacrifice for us just as we sacrifice for him. I would really hate to think he is that kind of person.
 
Old 09-01-2013, 02:02 AM   #15
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Well, if I was on the team, I would be asking if Thieves' Plummet has a distributor.
If you do... that can be touted as indisputable proof of progress.

Since you mention high School and college.... It helps to note maybe the age groups involved?

I'm guessing all your team members are very young people. You read the history of places like Apple, Hewlett Packard, etc. And in one page it seems like they went from Garage to IPO.

But that's just simply not true!

Even Rovio, I think there was a discussion of them some time back... there's this illusion that Angry Birds was their first game and bang they made it.

That's not true. If Thieves' Plummet becomes a hit there will be this illusion that Thieves was your first game, too.

I have a feeling it's something like that.

It's also important to re-align what the Vision is... the Vision is NEVER "Let's make money!"
You have to remember what it is in games you guys are introducing.
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