One of the benefits of having the “non games” generating steady revenue is that when we release a new game, we don’t have to downscale after release.
Typically in the games industry (and really most any industry that has “launches”) there is the “staffing up” phase and then the “staffing down” phase. That’s because a lot of positions become semi-idle after launch.
One of the decisions we made early on here was that we didn’t want to do this. We wanted to have a stable company culture where people knew their job wasn’t going to just disappear post release. We did this by implementing the following 3 business strategies:
Multiple smaller projects
Traditionally, when a game comes close to be being released or shortly after you’ll get reports of layoffs. What they are doing is lowering “overhead” until those skills are needed for the next game when they will begin to “staff up”.
What we do instead is there’s always another project to do. That’s why Stardock, a relatively small company, has so many different products.
Let me give a few specifics. We write our own forum software here. Why? Well, for one thing, it does have some long-term benefits like being able to integrate in lots of game or software related functionality. But another reason is to ensure there’s plenty to do for the web team between major launches. There’s a lot of projects like this.
One point Five Game teams
When War of Magic was released, we knew pretty quickly that it was going to fall short financially by a good margin. At the time, we had been staffing up for two concurrent game teams. This was, it turned, out, a mistake because without the WOM revenue, the games unit wouldn’t have enough capital to tie it over until the next game release. So there was downsizing.
What we’ve employed instead is the concept of 1.5 teams (or someday 2.5 teams possibly). By doing that, the staff moves to the next project seamlessly. For most of 2012, the art team and game engine team had already moved off of Fallen Enchantress and onto Game X. With the game released, more people will move to Game X while some will work on follow-ups to FE.
R & D
This is a broad category but essentially people get assigned to various types of tasks of internal improvement. Trying out different CDNs, experimenting with different OSes, new tools, new marketing services, etc. Sometimes these don’t pan out. But quite regularly, we’ll end up with something that helps all the teams (a new source control or a new set of tools that increase productivity).
Why we do this
Having low turn-over is one of the biggest advantages Stardock has. We’re a very small company that is able to get a disproportionate amount of “stuff” out the door. Think of how much better you are at your job today than when you first started? The longer you can keep people, the better. There is a real morale cascade when people know that releasing a product doesn’t mean saying goodbye to friends.