How I Started A $25K/Month Video Games Development Company

$25,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
25
Employees
product
Zatun
from Ahmedabad
started July 2007
$25,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
25
Employees
478K
alexa rank
622
followers
3.59K
followers
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Start A Video Games Development Business

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hello all, my name is Abhinav Chokhavatia and I am the founder and CEO of Zatun.

I started Zatun in 2007, a company that develops videogames and does work for hire for games industry clients. We work on both products and services. On our products side, we have made 15 games for over 15+ platforms. The games that we are the proudest of are “The Legend Of Vraz”, “Sniper Rust VR” and our upcoming game “Down & Out”.

Down & Out youtube gameplay video:

On the services side, we have worked with clients like 2K, Wargaming, NetMarble - Monster, Playwing, Slitherine, Disney, Ubisoft, Leapfrog, Team 6, Pendulo Studios, among others for game art and development.

how-i-started-a-25k-month-video-games-development-company

We have collaborated on more than 200 leading game titles with over 300 clients, ranging from big AAA developers to small indie studios. Games made by Zatun have won numerous awards and rave reviews globally. They are enjoyed by millions of players worldwide.

Zatun is synonymous with quality within the games industry, and we have earned a loyal customer base.

how-i-started-a-25k-month-video-games-development-company

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Zatun started in June 2007, but the idea for it began in 2006. I was working with a friend at Ubisoft Montreal in Canada, and there was a lot of hype about India and outsourcing. I come from a business family, and my Dad has his own environment company, and they are one of the leading environmental consultants in India. The business bug was in me as well, but I wanted to do something different. I always knew that one day I would start my own.

A lot of successes in the game industry have been with the first mover’s advantage. We have missed quite a few waves and learned the hard way. So, way back in 2016, we decided that we would move into VR. We made our first move in 2017 with our VR game and released the game in 2018.

I talked about the idea with my friend, and he too wanted to join. So, we both decided to leave our jobs and come to India and start Zatun. However, my friend did not find India to his liking and moved back. I decided to stay back and started to build the company.

When I started Zatun, I had some of my savings, and my parents supported me financially. I had to borrow from them during the initial years. In the beginning, it was only me and my first employee. I then hired other team members, some of whom are still with Zatun today. When we started, we took up any jobs that came our way and later focused solely on the game industry clientele.

I started as a 3D Animator and then became a 3D Modeler/Artist and from there jumped to manage the company. I had no prior experience in managing a company or client relationships or complete game development but learned it all while running Zatun.

We began as an outsourcing company, but we always had a passion for creating our IP, a game developed in-house. We wanted to create a game that would appeal to an Indian and a global audience as well. We started working on our first game, “The Legend Of Vraz” in late 2008 and released the game in 2010. Though the game was not a huge financial success, it got us noticed and brought us recognition.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

We were always keen on developing our IP. We went through tons of concepts and played around lots of ideas with various genres of games. We were also very clear that we wanted to develop a game keeping our team size in mind to ensure that we finish the development.

I had always been fascinated by Miniatures paintings in India ever since I was a kid, and I realized it would be a great idea if we could somehow take this art form forward. That’s how the game style and game Idea were born. The game idea What If Prince of Persia meets Mario Meets India. This game was “The Legend Of Vraz” for PC.

We started working on it in late 2008 and released the game in early 2010. It was developed with Microsoft XNA and one of the first XNA games developed in India. We created hand-painted 2D Art for the game inspired by the miniature paintings.

The game production was divided into character design, game GUI, assets design, Level art, and level design. We created a detailed game design document with all elements that were necessary for development. It gave the production team a clear picture. We started initially with around 36 levels in 8 worlds and later cut it down to 15 levels in 4 worlds.

how-i-started-a-25k-month-video-games-development-company

how-i-started-a-25k-month-video-games-development-company

how-i-started-a-25k-month-video-games-development-company

For the animation, the programmers created a custom animation editor from scratch. All the characters were rendered as sprites and later brought into the animation editor. They also created the tilemap editor to accommodate various types of tiles and gave creative freedom to our artists. The programmers worked closely with the level designers (who have also created the level art and level assets) to ensure all their needs are answered. It also helped the level designers create levels rapidly that were useful for testing the gameplay.

how-i-started-a-25k-month-video-games-development-company

Since this was our first game, everything was challenging. The concept was clear in our minds, but we were not sure about its implementation. For that, the research was the best partway out. It started from finding the targeted audience, development platform, character design, etc. Our Art team put in a lot of hard work and research in finalizing the Style selection, Character design, Animation, and game-related art. On the other hand, the development team had resolved the issues related, platform selection, game design, tool selection, and development with their dedication.

It was hard to find the right person for the game music, but we finally met a local music director, and he upped the music quality and ambiance of the game. It took a lot of hard work, sleepless nights, and a strong focus to overcome these challenges. One thing was for sure we didn’t want to quit, no matter what.

how-i-started-a-25k-month-video-games-development-company

One of our developers quit right before the Alpha stage, and we had to take help from a Developer in Italy to finish the game. In 2010, there were very few online platforms for release, and also it was hard for an indie studio to get a distributor/publisher in India.

how-i-started-a-25k-month-video-games-development-company

Describe the process of launching the business.

When we started, we took up any design jobs to get us going. After the initial years, we focused solely on game industry clients and game art. Within the first 3 years, we were fortunate enough to work with NewToy, Ngmoco, Ubisoft, Disney Santa Cruz Games, and Gearbox Software.

Starting from offering game art for a single platform, we quickly moved to create game art for all platforms along with game development.

We knew that having a good website would be the key to get leads globally. We made sure our website was precise, SEO Friendly and had great graphics to reach the right audience. Our website was our first impression, and we wanted to make this first impression last.

Being bootstrapped, we put whatever money we made back into the business. We have had some good years and some bad ones, but we went through it and are now going strong.

For our first game, we had exhausted all the game funds for development and had minimal funds left for marketing. Still, we went ahead on our own with the marketing and distribution for the game.

The Legend of Vraz got featured in Game Resolution Magazine reviewer, and reviewer quoted “Coming from a country not known for its videogames, The Legend of Vraz looks to lead an era of Indian gaming.” We also got featured on various game sites and got rave reviews. We won the Best PC Game Award at FICCI Frames BAF Awards in 2010. Our demo downloads for the game were around 80,000 within the first 2-3 months.

For the later games, we self-published them as they were on the Apple, Android store. We also self-published our first VR game in 2018. We are thinking of tying up with a publisher for our upcoming VR game to help us reach a wider audience.

how-i-started-a-25k-month-video-games-development-company Zatun site in 2009

how-i-started-a-25k-month-video-games-development-company Zatun site in 2011

how-i-started-a-25k-month-video-games-development-company Zatun site in 2014

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I can only talk about videogames as that’s the industry I am in. Being an entrepreneur every day brings new challenges, and there’s always something new to learn. You are multitasking and simultaneously fighting off fires while trying to reach your goals.

The best part about challenges is that it forces you to look for ideas and options that you didn’t think of before. The video game industry is very dynamic, and we have to innovate or will be redundant.

First movers advantage

We keep a keen eye on new emerging technologies and game platforms. We also look at verticals where we can gamify experiences and share them with the users.

A lot of successes in the game industry have been with the first mover’s advantage. We have missed quite a few waves and learned the hard way. We missed the App Store boom, Facebook games, Android games, and free to play. So, way back in 2016, we decided that we would move into VR. We made our first move in 2017 with our VR game and released the game in 2018.

This year we will have our first console/VR launch. We also worked on VR training and simulations for the defense, and healthcare industries. We identified that VR would be one of the big waves, and while we would have to be patient enough to surf on this wave, and as this wave gets huge, we knew we would like to be on top of it rather than just looking at it it from the beach.

We ensure our team is proficient with the latest tools and can work on different projects. We try to keep finding processes that make our work easier and faster. We are always on the lookout for talented team members to join and help in our growth. Our embracement of new technologies combined with our years of development and marketing experience helps us stand out in the crowd. The fact that we can focus on both services and products gives us a fine balance to sustain and move ahead.

Experience

Our experience on other platforms has made us adaptive to newer platforms, and we can get a head start. Also, making games for all these years, we have a library of games that we can port to upcoming platforms.

With ever-growing competition in both the services and games space, we had to make ourselves Stand out. That meant not only having deep relationships with clients with whom we have been working for years but also getting newer and bigger brands on board.

Follow up

From being exceptionally busy till September 2019 and even refusing work due to our hectic workload, the tables turned in October 2019 till December 2019, but we managed to keep moving forward.

We touched base with our older clients and were able to keep the ball rolling. We found alternate ways to connect with newer companies whom we had never contacted before. Some of the projects worked out and are different from the work we used to do, and it's an exciting place to be.

We had issues with client payments, which made us add termination and legal payment clauses into all our contracts. It has helped reduce client payment issues.

Too many ideas

There is a constant bombardment of ideas, and we have close to 50+ game design documents ready.

With so many ideas on paper, the hardest part is to decide which game to make. Developing this game could take a year, so we have to make sure it is exciting enough to have the teamwork on it for that time. We also have to ensure the platform is growing and there is a strong userbase for the game we are developing. At times, we have picked ideas based on the latest game trends or hot selling genres, and they didn’t do well.

How we stay relevant

We do Facebook Ads, Google Adwords, YouTube Ads, etc. We send out newsletters 4-6 times a year. We also tied up with an agency to represent us globally for projects. It pushed us into the bigger league with global studios who would not have approached us directly. While it was expensive, it paid for itself.

We are committed to client satisfaction, and we deliver on time. We have had clients with whom we have worked for the last 8 years on repeat projects. Around 80% of our previous clients come back to us for repeat projects.

We ensure that we keep our customer database updated and inform all our previous customers of our new games. We ask people to sign up on our games page to receive the latest game updates. When we launch a game, we start the marketing for it six months before launch to engage the audience.

For game developers, do not plan on your biggest idea first. Test the waters first and then once you learn the skills, go and develop your biggest and brightest idea.

We have also worked with different PR companies over the years. We spent $10,000 on a PR Company for our earlier game, but the result was OK. So now we do our marketing for our games.

We have tried Amazon for selling our PC game CDs, but the response was OK.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We are at a growth stage, and our company is profitable. We have a strong team, support from our partners and customers.

The highest cost for us is overhead (employees) followed by IT costs (software and hardware). These are monthly costs, and there are limited options to bring them down.

You can’t replace good employees or a software/tool that makes your work easier.

When we launch a game, we start its marketing process sooner. These are associated costs and could run up to $10,000+ if we are working with a PR company.

We spend anywhere from $100 to $800+ monthly on Ads depending on the project and game status.

Short Term Goals:

  • Release our game “Down & Out” on PSVR and Oculus this year
  • Reach a yearly turnover that is 30% more than last year
  • To have some bigger global brands on board.

Long Term Goals:

  • Have global offices
  • Have Zatun develop games on all consoles and newer VR platforms
  • Have multiple games in development
  • Balance Services vs Product turnover

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I use the following tools.

  • HootSuite for Online Marketing/Social Media
  • Notablity on my iPad for keeping tab of my daily tasks, to jab down points, TO DO stuff
  • Tasks – to keep a tab of my daily/weekly/monthly tasks
  • Dropbox – Cloud storage
  • Liquid Text – again for note-making
  • Excel – everything I do, I excel in it (sorry for the bad pun)
  • Mailchimp – Newsletters

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I don’t get time to read much nowadays as family/Netflix takes up my free time.

Books I would recommend are:

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

Keep on going and innovating. No two days are the same and when you are down, look back at some of the glorious days/years or realize that the best is yet to come.

Each day is different and each day brings something. Get through that day, and be ready to face the new one.

Accept that it will not be easy and there will be issues that throw your best plans awry. Learn to keep calm and move on.

For game developers, do not plan on your biggest idea first. Test the waters first and then once you learn the skills, go and develop your biggest and brightest idea.

Don’t look at what others are doing. They might get funded or sell their company or have recently made tons of money or are hot PR property right now. Focus on what your path is and where you want to go.

It’s not easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Yes, we are looking for 3D character modelers who can work on characters and clothing for VR and console games. This is a full-time position.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Abhinav Chokhavatia,   Founder of Zatun

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