Scottish Games promo

So I had a brief moment trying to be telegenic yesterday, being in front of the camera to do a bit for a promotional video being done for the EIF next week. I’m sure I will be edited to some extra small section as we don’t have much interesting stuff to say, but we shall have to see. Anyway, amongst the topics covered was “Why do you think VIS Entertainment went under” – which is sort of a tricky question to answer.

Sure, in the many times in Milnes after work at VIS we laboured long and loud over what we (the grunts) thought the problems were, and anyone for several tables around would be able to repeat them, but I think in the end it wasn’t as bad as it seemed then. Of course, we don’t have any insight into the real goings on, either financial or managerial, so it’s all supposition. However, from where we were sitting it seemed to boil down to one thing: cashflow.

VIS was pretty big at the end – probably still over 100 employees. That makes for a lot of salary going out the door each month. We had two big and one small project on the go (State of Emergency 2, Brave, and NTRA: Breeders Cup), and those had been going for a while, so there was probably little sales revenue from previous titles, only publisher milestone payments. Then of course Brave completed, with nothing to take its place – suddenly more than a third of those payments are gone, with potential sales revenue from it not likely to appear for many months. That’s going to hurt any company’s books, and if the balance is already tight…

That’s not really a ‘why’ so much as a ‘how’ though. The ‘why’ is even more supposition, but I think is reflected in much of what I’ve said here before. Publishers were being hit by tighter margins due to increasing costs, and were responding by tightening down on the developers. Slice the margins thinner and thinner, and the developer becomes so fragile that they cannot long survive if a project finishes with no follow-on, or worse, is cancelled early. In that sense, VIS were just another amongst many studios which died – Visual Science, DC Studios, and so many more across the UK and beyond.

Arguably had projects been cancelled or different decisions been taken things would have played out differently, maybe better, maybe worse. But it seems to me that even if a studio played a perfect game and made no wrong moves, they would still be only a small amount of bad luck away from failure. That for me is a symptom of a troubled industry, and is something I hope will improve. Certainly we all need to work smarter, not harder, to keep costs low enough that making games is profitable.

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Last modified: May 28 2017.