February 13, 2024

How to Balance Creativity and Business in Game Development

Game development is a very rewarding career path. Making games involves passion, creativity and technical excellence. It’s typically the product of people with different backgrounds and skills coming together to bring a vision to life and delight players. Once in it, people tend to stay and fall in love with the craft. 

What was seen as a niche just 20 years ago, it’s now a legit path with college courses and internships available, large media companies committed to gaming, and venture capital funds dedicated to investing in new independent game studios

Gaming has become one of the largest industries globally with an estimated $200 Billion in revenues, and over half of the world population playing games of all kinds.  

With hundreds of thousands of new games released every year, across mobile, PC and console, gaming is also one of the most competitive industries. A significant percentage of games are never shipped, and the ones that are, struggle to rise through the ranks in order to secure enough downloads, retain players and make enough money to pay for all the development and marketing costs. 

What Makes a Video Game Successful? 

It's the balance between a unique, creative and innovative set of ideas, with business acumen which leads to a successful video game. Engineering plays a big role as well. Successful games can generate a fortune in profits by attending to their audience needs and meeting their business requirements. 

In the video game industry, balancing creativity with business is critical, as seen in the approaches of both major game development companies and indie game developers. 

This involves not only the imaginative insights of a game designer but also the wide range of strategic decisions around which game engines to use, the marketing strategy, and audience engagement, which are important for a game's success. 

Why Game Concepts Fail Without Market Visibility and Distinction 

A beautiful and fun game that nobody knows about, will underperform; similarly a game with strong technical backbone, big budgets and a marketing machine behind, can still fail because of a lack of interest from gamers due to lack of innovation, creativity and differentiators – it’s just another one of those, trying to copy the competition, or creating something the developers personally liked but without broader appeal. 

Strategy 1: Align the Game Development Vision with Player Feedback 

One good strategy to overcome this challenge is to play tests with the target audience and obsess over the feedback received. Remember, you’re not developing the game that you want to make, you’re making the game that your audience wants, and those two things can get in conflict with each other. 

For example, creative folks that are caught up into too much detail about character backstories, world building and storytelling, might find themselves delaying a project and running out of budget while what players really wanted was a set of features around combat or social aspects like guilds and team play. 

Knowing where to spend resources that align with players expectations can really increase the odds of success. 

Strategy 2: Encourage a Culture of Meritocracy for Game Developers

Finding the balance is key. I met many engineers that also like to express themselves creatively, through game design or by giving opinions on art style. Sometimes the best ideas come from anyone in the studio, thus keeping an approachable culture of meritocracy where the best ideas win no matter who came up with them, is a great way to develop teamwork, innovation, and inclusivity. 

Enjoy the creative process by setting time aside for reflection and allowing ideas to emerge. Play other games and take screenshots and share with team members. Brainstorm together as a team. But before moving forward, take into consideration the impact on timelines, budgets and player needs. 

Importance of Creativity and Business in Game Development Companies

The balance of creativity and business in game development is what sets apart successful titles in mobile games, console games, and desktop-based online games. 

A great example is the popular Genshin Impact developed by miHoYo. miHoYo has mastered the blend of creativity (constant new gameplay mechanics) with business (marketing through a diverse amount of characters, a variety of youtube video series, and a successful monetary system based on gacha) creating a popular game that has generated revenue exceeding $3.5 billion globally

Some franchises fail to innovate or take in player feedback and are swept away in the history of gaming. There are many that have had their golden ages and are forgotten soon afterwards. Game design cannot simply be business focused or even internal company focused. Game developers can balance creativity and business by incorporating the thoughts of each other and external gaming communities. When a game is developed that we all (game developers and the community) are satisfied with, then the studio’s success will flow throughout the industry. 

To thrive in the video game industry, both creativity and strategic business insight are cornerstones to success. If you're eager to explore the forefront of gaming industry strategies, company developments, and the latest game releases, I invite you to connect with me. 

I’m Bruno Schirch, Founder and CEO of Playgig, dedicated to sharing pivotal gaming industry insights, updates, and my journey as an entrepreneur. Visit my contact page for a direct connection or join our gaming communities on Discord, Instagram, and X to continue this enriching conversation.