Last week, I started to ponder what could put Spiderweb Software (and, by extension, any small Indie like us) out of business. Pretty fun recession chit-chat, huh? This week, I continue my litany of pessimism.
What could grievously wound, or even kill, our business?
The Rise of the Netbook - Netbooks, those cheapo little laptops for web browsing and other undemanding activities, are taking off like crazy. Every one of those that sells removes a possible customer, who likely would have otherwise bought a more expensive (but not actually expensive) machine that could run my games. This wouldn't be fatal, but it is a constant shrinking of the possible customer base.
And that's not even addressing the fact that many of those machines run Linux. Supporting three platforms would overtax my feeble brain.
Likelihood - It's already happened. When I released Geneforge 5: Overthrow for Windows, I received constant cries of woe from Netbook owners who couldn't handle its extremely low system requirements.
But I'll swallow it. People who like games generally still buy machines that can play games, and there are no Netbooks on the Mac side. Also, a lot of Netbooks can run my games. So I doubt it'll be a real problem, but only because my hardware needs are still very low.
It is still frustrating to get chewed out by someone who is ticked because his $250 machine can't run games. Well, yeah!
Piracy Becomes So Trivially Easy and the Recession Becomes So Intense That Hardly Anybody Buys Games Anymore - Pretty self-explanatory.
Likelihood - Again, this has already happened. Recent estimates put the PC piracy rate at around 80-90%. Even I am not cynical enough to believe that the percentage of honest people around here will drop below ten percent. And yet, that tiny minority of virtuous people is enough to keep me in business.
Once, I actually worried about something like this would happen. And then it did. And yet, business is strong. I think this shows that even nightmare scenarios can be surprisingly survivable. In other words, predict and prepare, but don't panic.
I Go Insane Or Burn Out - When you work alone creating for a very long time, you can get awfully eccentric. Or even crazy. Or you can just burn out or get terminal writer's block. It happens all the time. I have dreaded it every day that I've run this business.
Likelihood - Sadly, high. It's only a matter of time. The Internet is robust. The software industry is robust. That couple pounds of fat and electrical impulses I carry around in my skull? Sometimes, it feels very fragile indeed. I never know when I'm going to come downstairs, sit down, stare at the blank screen, and go, "I got nothin'." And that is the end.
But that's not the thing that really keeps me awake at night. This is ...
I Write a Bad Game - Next year, I'm going to make a whole new series, with a new game engine and IP. This is always risky. I might sink a bunch of money and time in it, and it will fail. Remember, anything new will make you lose a chunk of that reliable customer base that keeps you alive. If I don't replace what we lose? We have a pretty good cash and sales cushion here, but it will never be enough to survive one big flop.
Likelihood - Inevitable.
I've had a pretty good record with my games. None of them have set the world on fire, but they have almost always at least broke even. I've only ever written one game that didn't sell enough to make it worth the time. And, when I followed it with a game with mediocre sales, we almost went under. It happened once, and it will happen again, and worse. Everybody produces a real stinker eventually. And, when that happens, it will very likely be the end. It's something that every small developer has to face. Either get absorbed by someone bigger, a company that can survive some shocks, or face the fact that the wolves will catch you eventually.
Everyone and everything ends. Might as well make your peace with it now.
And that is the litany of doom, from paranoid delusions to an honest assessment of my own mortality. I hope this has been a vaguely interesting peek into small-business world.
Oh, and I just finished Plants vs. Zombies. I have a lot to say about that, next week.