What you haven't considered about games start up risk…

By heydanthomas on 22/10/2023

KC Green
KC Green

We hear a lot about "risk management" and "risk mitigation" in games projects and business. Whilst these are very important topics, I want to talk about something even more impactful, risk acceptance.

There aren't many significant undertakings in our life journeys that don't involve some element of risk. Though we tend not to acknowledge the risks of walking the well-trodden path. This has been aggressively evidenced in the games industry these past few months as thousands of peers have dealt with unprecedented layoffs, challenging recruitment experiences and job insecurity. As an offshoot of this, plus my self-appointed mission (to help 100 entrepreneurs build the games business they always wanted to work for), I've been speaking to a lot of people who are exploring the idea of starting their own venture, which I whole heartedly support.

One of the consistently recurring themes in these discussions, is an understandable aversion to the risks involved, manifesting as paralysing fear or ignorance. This can lead to non-starting, an unrealistic expectation of funding or even more dangerously, naive expectations of guaranteed success.

Starting a business is absolutely laden with risk. There are no guarantees and no one is going to fund your adventures without you having some amount of your own skin in the game. However, that risk is absolutely normal and it's ok. You just need to be aware of it, do what you can, where you can to mitigate but most crucially, make your peace with it.

I'm not championing being reckless or taking any uncalculated risks. If you already have large debt, zero savings and others to support, you might not be in the best position to quit your day job and go all-in. But in pretty much any other scenario, I encourage playing through the “failed” state in your minds eye to a logical, long-term conclusion. You've undoubtedly heard many successful people touting the great lessons and benefits of failure and whilst trite, it’s absolutely true. I don't know anyone running a business that hasn't experienced significant failings on their road to success. I'm definitely no exception. But at the same rate, those entrepreneurs rarely look back on those experiences with regret. Even those who started their own businesses and retreated back to employment, bring with them a massive amount of diverse experience they’d never have otherwise had. They become more valuable, more empathetic to a wider array of responsibilities in the workplace and ultimately better leaders. Failure in business is nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of.

There is of course, a financial risk. When starting out, you are likely eating away at your own savings whilst bootstrapping until you’re able to secure funding or start generating income. That money may well run out. This is your worse case scenario but again, that’s okay and should be somewhat expected. How you handle that is up to you. The common route is you close (or temporarily pause) your business and go find a job or contract and carry on living your life with your new found skills, experiences, connections and expertise. Almost like you invested in yourself, eh? That also might not happen. You might land some funding or investment, release your game and make some sales, secure some work for hire or any manner of opportunities to extend your runway. Either way, you're better off. You know the answer to the "what if..." you've been ruminating over for weeks, months or years. You've had the very hard but extremely valuable lessons of what its like to build and run a business. And you've given yourself the best possible chance of realising your full potential. Potential that might be otherwise be being wasted or worse, contributing it to someone far less deserving (looking at you Silicon Valley billionaires).

It’s less typical than employment and maybe a bit out of your comfort zone, but all of the above scenarios are pretty normal. We just don’t read about the positives of failing in business much, so we picture it as far more catastrophic than it actually is. Getting comfortable with risk is a superpower to be learned and honed. No one has built an amazing business without some degree of risk they had to make their peace with along the way.

What's your worse case scenario and is it really that bad?