Last week one of my clients with whom I worked over the summer call me to see how I was doing. I told him that my contract business at Electric Sheep Consulting was in a bit of a lull, but I was keeping busy doing pro bono work, serving on some advisory boards and helping out with student projects at the USC GamePipe Lab.

“That’s the sort of thing we do at this stage in our careers,” he observed. “But as long as you’re giving out free advice, you might as well give it out on a blog. Why don’t you start one on WordPress, and that way you can promote yourself through blog announcements through Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn?”

Now, my wife has been trying to convince me to start writing a blog for some time, but what finally convinced me to give it a try was the mention of WordPress. Earlier in the week I was talking to another potential client about doing some web development work, and while we were discussing content management systems, I told him that I really ought to learn how to more about WordPress because it’s used by many people but I’m a noob to it.

After the call, I decided to finally learn how to put together a WordPress blog so that I can write about… what?  Well, I’ve been giving away a lot of advice about game development, so I’ll start writing about that.

After going through the WordPress tutorial and trying out a couple of themes, I took a break and starting going through my email.  I receive a number of daily digests from various topic groups I subscribe to on LinkedIn, a business-oriented social network, and in one of the game development digests was a new discussion topic that read, “I am a writer who is looking for a team to make one of my novels into a videogame.  If you are interested in the details, please send me a personal message.”

Well, I was interested in the details, because years ago, I worked with the famed writer Harlan Ellison on adapting one his classic short story “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” into a videogame.  So, the first thing I did was — no, not send a personal message — instead, I looked Googled the writer’s name and his novel to find out if he was a successful author.  I assumed he wasn’t successful, or he’d be having his agent try to license the videogame rights to his work.  But, then again, Roger Zelazny once wrote me a letter himself, expressing concern that a character in one of my early games, The Lord of Light, had the same name as the title of one of his books.  It was a coincidence, I swear!

Anyway, I Googled the writer, and I turned up nothing.  The guy was a complete noob.  But, hey, I’m now in the free advice business, so I pinged him and we set up a Skype call.  Here is an (edited) transcript:

Writer: I’ve been at trying to get a video game made from my stories since I was a teen and 26 now. I’ve had offers but all of them fall through because the agents were so hard to contact and follow up
Me: When you say that you’ve had offers, what do you mean?
Writer: They told me to send them my game proposal and make a desicion on advanced payment but they became unreachable once it came to that point
Me: It sounds like you haven’t received any offers. An offer is when someone else proposes what they will pay you. Has anyone ever come to you saying they wanted to make a game out of one of your stories.
Writer: They have but every last one of them, like the one I just told you about earlier, became unreachable. Your the first to move beyond all of them.
Me: Who came to you?
Writer: It was random people. People i’ve never heard before. I usually get that
Me: That’s what you get when you post requests like yours. Lots of replies from nobodies.
Writer: Ya. i see that now.

Me: Very few books get made into games… I can only think of about half a dozen off the top of my head. The ones that do are famous books from famous authors. That’s because there are no shortage of game ideas out there.
Writer: I have a popular Sci-Fi Series on YouTube. It has reached over 100,000 people. Every time i post an episode, I at least get around 2k views. Now its to the point that my viewers WANT to see a video game made cuz some of the elements within this universe is video game anime-ish.
Me: Not popular enough. Look at the books that have been made into videogames: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dune, Lord of the the Rings, Red Storm Rising. Those are works whose readership number in the millions. Neither you nor your work even has a Wikipedia entry. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s how game publishers think.

Writer: Well, I need someone to help me get there. And my series does have a wikia page, Still under construction
Me: Anyone can create a wikia page. The point is that you and your work aren’t famous. You have a following, but it is a small one.
Writer: I see what your saying but I see that some times people with a small following have a game publisher that likes their idea good enough to say, “So what if they aren’t popular enough. This idea with enough promotion after the game’s creation will make it famous!”
Me: In 30 years, I’ve never known a publisher to say that.
Writer: I know but I KNOW there are publishers that don’t care about the popularity of the game. If they see it has potential, they’ll invest in the games making. Maybe these games I’ve been seeing on the market lately use the funding themselves. I got 2 video games using that method.

Me: Are you saying that you got funding for two video games?
Writer: Yes
Me: Who did you get funding from, and how much did you receive?
Writer: I fund the games myself out of my own pocket
Me: Oh, so when you said that you got funding using “that method”, you meant self-funding.

Writer: and i already have a comic book deal. Which the publisher told me “it has potential”. This was back when MDR had just reached the 80k mark. So I know popularity of a book isn’t an issue. That’s just a copout in my opinion.
Me: You have a comic book deal? Did you sign a contract?
Writer: He told me once I finish the first issue, he’ll send me the contract
Me: “having a deal” means that you have a signed contract. You didn’t have a deal.
Writer: Not from his standpoint
Me: Not from anyone’s standpoint. Unless… did he pay you any money up front?
Writer: Nope. Once the project is done. The artist I had wanted money up front (in which the comic book publisher said he’d handle).
Me: No money, no contract, no deal. You just had a discussion.

Me: So here’s your situation… and I don’t mean to be discouraging, just setting realistic expectations. You’ve written stories and created videos that have a small following, but you haven’t done’t anything that would make you or your work a household name. Until that happens, no game publisher is going to offer you money to buy the videogame rights to your story. You’ve only self-funded games so far. And you never had a contract nor been paid for your comic book work.
Writer: That’s people people procrastinate
Me: People aren’t following through because you’re not important enough to them. Not yet. You need to focus on improving your work.
Writer: I don’t beleive that. You’ve followed through. Asking me all these questions.
Me: I like helping people.
Writer: You had interest in my work. Sounded like you wanted to see my game come alive
Me: But I wouldn’t invest money in your work. You’re not ready yet.

Writer: Others would say different. Musically, they already promote my music on the radio and I have artist representation. In my music, I mention my stories. So what you’re saying is not correct.
Me: What do you want to do with your life? Write stories? Create comic books? Make music? Make video games? Create videos?
Writer: All of the above and i’ve done all of the above.
Me: You can do all that, for fun. But if you want to make a living at it, I’d focus on one of those and get really, really good at it.
Writer: Honestly, i didn’t think I could make a living off it and just did it for fun. That was until I got artist representation. Yes, I have a music manager now, but he only does promotion for my music but Sci-Fi is what I’m known for. That’s why I’m looking on the video game side of things.My music is already where it’s supposed to be
Me: And where is it supposed to be?
Writer: Viewed by several thousands. In time, millions.
Me: Thousands is a hobby; millions is a career.

Writer: It would’ve never gotten there had they not seen “potential” in me. From “Hobby” is “potential” to make a “Career” out of that “Hobby”.
Me: True. But before you can transform a hobby to career, you need to hone your business skills: like knowing what an “offer” and “deal” is.
Writer: I know how games get out there. I learn little by little from people like you. Thanks for that. And small fries like me, from your standpoint, don’t stand a chance. But to people who are optimistic about small fries, they don’t see in one direction. They see the idea and don’t discriminate on the basis of how popular it is. Angry Birds I see was nothing to me until it got popular enough to be featured on TV and some other free android games people liked playing till it reached the point of millions.
Me: Your chances about having one of your stories purchased so that it can be turned into a videogame is virtually nil because that almost never happens.

Me: But you stand as good a chance as anyone to become a musician, or a videographer, or an author, or a comic book writer, or a videogame maker, so some combination of the above. You certainly can find ways to get people to help you make your game.
Writer: Yeah, I was hoping you would be one of those ones
Me: Here’s a place you can go:
Writer: Ha! i use to go to that site all the time when i was teen!
Me: It’s still a good place to go.

Writer: All we need is a promoter that would see the potential in our games. That’s why I asked for a Producer or someone to turn my stories into games.
Me: That’s what I do for a living, but I charge by hour.
Writer: k. I’ll get back to you on that. Right now, I’m out of cash.
Me: Nothing is impossible. But many things are difficult. It helps to know what you are doing, or want to do. I suggest you read all the articles about how games are really developed. You need to be smart about how you sell your work, so educate yourself. Especially on the business side.
Writer: Yea. I see that. Once I get this flash game done, things will look different.
Me: The best advice I can give you right now is to read all the articles on game production.
Writer: So your not a publisher yourself?
Me: No. I’ve worked for publishers, but right now I’m a consultant.
Writer: I’ll talk to you later. Thanks for your advice.

I like people who believe in their talents, and aren’t daunted by the odds. That’s why I like to help. But if you want to make it in this or any other creative business, you have to understand the business as well as the creative. And you have to understand people. You can have optimistic expectations about yourself, but you need to have realistic expectations about other people. I hope this writer learns to listen to the people he needs to deal with, and not just hears what he wants to hear.



About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, The 3DO Company and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, a game design instructor at ArtCenter College of Design, and co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on November 7, 2011, in Career Advice, Site News and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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