Grand Theft Auto Syndrome

Grand Theft Auto Syndome is a disorder which afflicts small start-up developers and causes them to believe that their small team is actually five or six times its actual size. As a result they decide that their first project will be a Grand Theft Auto beater, requiring three years development and a $15 million development budget. This is fine if the founders happen to by Microsoft Millionaires in their own right and they can afford to go out an hire the staff necessary. However for a small developer this is a very dangerous route to take.

Firstly, creating a demo of such a title is a massive job in itself. Publishers will expect the developer to show something pretty impressive to clinch a deal. It is likely that this will burn up all of a small start-ups resources so they will, in effect, be risking everything on one roll of the dice.

Secondly, most publishers that can afford to fund this type of project won’t work with a small start-up on such a project. They don’t view it as sensible to sign a deal of that size with a team that doesn’t have enough staff to do the project. They also don’t see any reason why they should be funding someone to build a company that they (the publisher) don’t own.

Thirdly, if a publisher does agree to fund such a project the developer is automatically at a massive disadvantage when it comes time to negotiate the deal. With such a large investment and the additional risk that the publisher it taking, they will certainly want to own the intellectual property, probably prevent the developer from working on competing projects in future and possible even have the option to buy the developer. – In short, in order to get funding to make their dream project, the developer will have to give up all rights to it.

It’s strange because none of the super-studios that these start-ups are seeking to emulate started out in this way. id, Bioware, Blizzard and DMA (now Rockstar North) didn’t start out doing massive games. They all started out doing small games and built their companies up over time. In doing so they maintained control for longer – until the companies were worth selling or had the financial clout to do their own thing. Starting small and growing slowly may not be as glamorous as bursting out of the traps at full $15 million speed but it is far more likely to be succesful and by growing more slowly a developer has more chance of controlling their own destiny (and benefiting from it in the long run).

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