Working with Video Game Properties
By Willy Yonkers
Lead Industrial Designer
I’ve worked with a number of video game companies in the past few years – everyone from AAA titles to brand new indie games. While the games may be different, their approach to licensing and product share several similarities. These don’t necessarily apply to every video game project, but just a few things to keep an eye out for.
1. Whatever product you create, the income from it will be a drop-in-the-bucket compared to the revenue they create with the game itself. Occasionally it’s even seen as promotional and only needs to recoup costs. This means it can be hard to get attention for a project if the game is still in development.
2. There is no clear approval chain of command. Often times there’s no structure at all for licensing products, so you have to hold their hand and guide them through the process. Make sure you have a good product development process in place and a cheat-sheet you can share with them to give them an overview of what’s involved.
3. Video game companies can be very young and have a startup mentality. They might not have the full organization you’d expect. Companies can be as small as 3 people: programmer, designer, and someone who knows business, but frequently these rolls overlap and mix with one another. You’ll usually be put in contact with the most qualified person they can find, or someone who has the free time, but they may have no experience doing what you need from them.
4. They have no experience creating physical products and don’t understand the timelines or costs involved. In the video game development world, virtually anything is possible. Developing a mechanism or electronics package that mirrors something in the game can be incredibly difficult or resource intensive. They have a typical consumer outlook on products which can make creating a small run of products difficult because they have really low expectations on retail price.
5. They can have unrealistic perceptions of their own property and who plays it / how it is perceived. You can run into issues if they have different expectations of who will be buying these products - either the wrong age group, not recognizing a regional fandom or language, or misunderstanding the power of nostalgia.
6. Game launches are much more unpredictable than movies or TV shows, so the launch of a product can be delayed by months or years. When your product has a development timeline of 6-12 months, you can’t just sit on a warehouse full of product while they wrap up the game. You need to make sure that everybody is on the same page in terms of delivery date.
7. The assets they have are typically surface models that will not convert easily into a solid modeler like SolidWorks. Most things can be converted to something that is exportable to a 3D printer, but that’s not good enough for molding plastic. You may end up doing a 3D ‘draw-over’ in a solid modeling program of an STL file or multiple view turn-around drawings.
8. Many of the assets from a game will not ‘work’ in real-life. Hinges that fold into nowhere, unrealistic ergonomic proportions, weird center of gravity, no room for mechanisms or electronics, etc. You really have to put on your inventors hat to recreate some video game objects.
9. Things change in the game up until the final hour - they even change after the game’s release with downloadable updates. Colors and UI-elements can be the bane of your existence when they keep changing up until launch.
10. Assets can disappear over time. Creating video games is an intense process and sometimes it gets messy. Archiving art and other assets at a high resolution is not a priority when you’re rushing to launch the game.