@RiotPenguin, @IronStylus, any other rioter, or any fellow summoners also in the industry, I come to you seeking knowledge
A little about myself: I'm 18, a senior in HS, and about to move (permanently, not just for college) 9 hours away to Austin TX and attend UT-Austin. I want to obtain a masters in Computer Science and hopefully use that knowledge to continue developing my own game "Somnium" and start my own company I've had friends in the industry for 10 years or so, and I love talking about how it works and what not.
BUT ANYWAYS.. I just thought about this today and realized I only half-way understand: Some companies, such as the wonderful Riot Games, both 1) develop and 2) produce their game(s). However, other companies, such as Microsoft, only publish. Some like Blizzard have a couple divisions of the parent company but mostly work similar to Riot, that the company itself fully develops AND publishes.
So I'm curious: What is the common thing? Or is there one? Since I want to start my own company, how realistic is it to plan to both develop AND produce my own game, rather than developing and signing to a larger company for production (like the team for Darksiders did if I'm not mistaken)? If you have experience in the industry, are you biased to one method or another? This whole system just confuses me and I don't know benefits to one side or the other
Thanks for any insight
Hmm.. this is a wider development questions but I'll answer as best I can.
One cool thing! You're near Austin! That's a huge plus. There are a whole lot of developers there.
There are all types of companies as you'll see on that list. Developers, publishers, independent, mobile, etc. It's really your choice honestly. A developer and publisher is going to be a pretty big company, like and EA or a Blizzard. That might be a particular environment that excites you. If you're looking for smaller and possibly more hands on, you might want to seek out independent developers that do smaller titles or games for mobile. All companies have pros and cons. Size can be a "good" thing or a "bad" thing depending on your likes. One of the reasons I like Riot so much is because I worked at a lot of startups and Riot has the energy that I experienced in my startup days but has far more resources and steady release.
For your own game, that's a bit harder to answer. You might want to get some experience in a small/medium/large developer and meet people. Get to know other developers and see what you have in common. Lots of people start at larger companies and go on to make something themselves or with a smaller group of friends. It's all very wide open in the game industry, and it's only getting better as far as I'm concerned!
The full answer to your question is complicated, but I'll try to sum up the relevant parts. Basically, it's a combination of the scope of your project, and how quickly it must sell in order for you (or your company) to survive.
The easier part of your question is development. It's pretty easy to understand how the bigger the game you want to make, typically, the more developers you need. You can trade off between expensive senior developers who (hopefully) do more per person, but spend less on management and other supporting services.
Publishing is primarily about 3 things: funding, distribution and marketing.
Funding also has a relatively direct relationship. If you have a really small scope project, then funding can be living off savings. As the scope increases, funding can expand to friends and family, angel, a milestone-driven publishing deal, venture capital, or a partnership / acquisition. Usually, the more money you need, the more you have to trade off (ownership, profit sharing, etc). You're asking someone to take more risk on your behalf (you may never finish), so they get more of the potential take at the end.
Distribution must be chosen carefully depending on your intended audience. Making an indy PC game? Steam is a decent choice. They take a straight 30% per copy sold for a pretty commanding global distribution system. Making a mobile game? Apple Store also takes a 30% cut. Both cases do not guarantee that your game will even be advertised anywhere so it may stay buried unless there is some other way people become aware of your game (news, blogs, featured game lists, etc).
So, if you are making a 1-2 man project: ex: you as a programmer / designer teaming up with an artist, then you can potentially live off savings and publish through Steam / Appstore. If you want to propose the next epic FPS and need 100 artists, programmers, designers, producers, audio, and tech artists, then you're going to need to convince someone (usually a publisher) to give you money. Then you have your own independent company that develops the game. For example, Bungie @ Activision, Respawn @ EA, Insomniac @ EA, etc. Some games are internally published when the development studio is owned by the publisher, such as 343 @ Microsoft. Some games are internally published when the development studio is THE SAME company as the publisher like Riot. Some games like Darksiders is published (development funded and distributed for console) by THQ but the PC version is distributed by Steam / Valve. I believe Minecraft was initially developed alone by Notch then self-published / distributed as a download through their website (I could be wrong here), but is now distributed through many channels. There are a lot of different combinations and options inbetween that makes it seem more complicated.
I don't know how to explain that in a shorter way at the moment, but hope that helps!
It is truly a sad today with THQ. It is really painful to see fellow brothers and sisters in the game industry go through these kinds of experiences. It is truly a rough business sometimes with a lot of risks. As cheesy as it may sound, I hope this kind of event demonstrates just how much care and passion it takes to keep at it despite all the risks. The folks affected are real people, with real families, that are trying to make fun games.
I don't know too many details about THQ's specific situation, and not sure I could say anything about it even if I did. However, it seems like Vigil is completely disbanding (based on today's news). I'm not sure what Vigil's direct relationship was with THQ. It may have been owned by THQ, in which case if THQ ceases to exist, then they usually try to sell off any part of it that's valuable (ownership of the developer / team, ownership of IP rights, etc). It could also have been that Vigil was independent, in which case, you rely on your own savings as a company to bridge the gap. If you can, you would try to find another publisher to pick up the deal to finish whatever game you had mid-way, or you develop a new deal and a new game for a new publisher. If none of that pans out and the money dries up, there's not much more to it.
Consider also how awesome of a reputation that Vigil has and how awesome Darksiders 1 and 2 were. It goes to show how difficult it is nomatter what you've done to keep a studio up and running. Either way, all you can sometimes do as a developer is just control the bit you can and work hard for players.
I really like your pay it forward attitude, and that will be a very useful principal to live by as you grow as a game developer. It's a relatively small industry and it's these types of good behaviors that help to build your reputation.
About Unreal 4, I say don't wait. Use what you can now, which is Unreal 3. It's been around for a while, but that doesn't mean it's old or bad. In fact, it means that more people, more games, and more studios know how to use it and you are actually developing skills that are directly applicable. There are plenty of things you can learn now, and when Unreal 4 comes out, you can switch.
Programming is always useful because picking up those skills means you don't really need to wait on or depend on anyone else to make stuff work. Even as a designer, programming skills are a huge help since so much of AI and spawns are set up through scripting (LUA, etc). Besides programming, it's useful to know your way around a level editor. There are lots of resources online where you can learn how to build your own simple levels in Unreal. Once you get some basics down, it's much easier to grow from there and add more to what you've built.