Why I quit working for my own company.

March 8, 2024

In my travels and adventures in the game industry over the last decade, I’ve been met with all manner of challenges and roadblocks, and I feel like I am in a unique position to impart some of that knowledge to all of you. Running a game company is not a simple endeavor, and along the way I’ve made countless mistakes, learned invaluable lessons as a result, and grown to adopt measures to prevent those mistakes in the future. 

Starting Out

The inception of Deep Water Games marks a pivotal chapter in my life. Back in 2017, I decided to transition from freelancing to establishing my own publishing company, and so I reached out to industry friends for advice.  It was during this process that I first connected with my future business partners. I had asked them about the expenses associated with printing and shipping. Their response was a call that would permanently alter my trajectory:  they revealed their plans to start a game company and wanted me as the creative powerhouse behind it. This was a fantastic opportunity, considering they had a wealth of experience running businesses and I could learn all the things I didn’t know from them. With Deep Water Games I plunged head-first into game creation while we also focused on padding our catalog with localized foreign games.

We had a lot of growing pains, but we were consistently making and selling new games. As it would turn out, however,  a lot of them weren’t just growing pains and in fact continued to cause us more and more grief as time went on.

What Happened Next

In 2019 we were coming off the success of our biggest game Welcome To,  and I was ready to scale that success. We rolled Deep Water Games into Ox Eye Media, under our CEO’s ambitious vision to forge a media conglomerate alongside N3 and Source Point Press. 

"So, you were the majority owner of Deep Water Games and N3 art but you just handed it over?"

Yes, but it’s complicated. At that juncture, I believed I was making the best decision. My drive was creativity, and with someone else at the helm of operations, I could channel my focus towards intellectual property and game development. I’ll also note that in early 2019 my best friend took his life. I don’t know how that affected my decision making, but it almost certainly did. I’m in a good place with it now but it’s a topic that may come up from time to time in my musings in these articles

Reflecting on those times, it seems surreal that I was steering Deep Water Games and nurturing N3 while someone else controlled all my resources.

After the roll-up,  it wasn't long before I realized that the vessel I had built was on fire. I found myself diverting from my creative path to douse the flames and mend holes, and I was so busy with Deep Water and company-wide operations that we essentially abandoned N3 art. It had been my baby, and I was stretched too thin to grow that as well. 

It became evident that we were in dire need of a structured approach to hiring and managing. We recognized the need for a salesperson, but lacked a concrete sales process to impart. The same applied to marketing - a field alien to us, with the sole exception being my limited experience as an artist. Something needed to change, and soon. 

Learning and Growing

At our peak We had 24 talented employees. Our revenue grew as the team did so, why was everyone still so stressed with unmanageable workloads? I have half a dozen answers to this but the one that sticks out the most was it was our leadership's(myself included) understanding of how to best leverage everyone's potential. We lacked clarity on how to manage and integrate employees effectively.

Acknowledging our shortcomings was our first step toward building a more structured and supportive business and this marked a turning point for us. If our impulsive hiring was to continue, someone needed to grasp these roles to provide guidance. I started dedicating my free time to educating myself on various business operations: e-commerce, marketing, system administration, and accounting.  As I got more and more invested in business operations, my role as a creator faded away. At the time, however, I still felt fulfilled because I was building new skills and creating business applications.

A New Direction

You can sweep bad operations under the rug for a long time, but there was no way to hide the fact that we simply weren’t making enough money to support 24 full-time employees. 

If I had to sum it up, I’d say Ox Eye was a textbook case of death by a thousand cuts. Nothing ever came out on time, and nothing made quite the splash we thought it would. We never really set good standards as a company. Every day was either putting out internal fires or trying to come up with payroll.

Eventually, we sold Deep Water to buy out a partner and we were left with the embers of a dying publishing company. So, I spent a lot of 2022 building a 3PL warehouse.  Then half of 2023 managing it and building its systems.

Believe it or not, it was seeing Across the Spiderverse that made me realize I wasn’t done with creative work and that I had to quit Whalebacker. Across the Spiderverse was the first major movie where I felt like I could see my art on the big screen. Every frame of that movie felt like something I would love to paint. That moment I knew I had to strike out on my own to build a new creative powerhouse. 

It would also be a crime to not mention that in 2022 Christopher Badell convinced me to do 1 more art for Spirit Island. That piece (Wounded Waters Bleeding) would be the catalyst for a lot of change.

Introducing N3 Studios

N3 Studios is more than just a new chapter; it's a distillation of everything I've learned, messed up, and dreamed about over the years. It isn't just about creating, it's about sharing the wealth of knowledge that comes from those experiences -  the good, the bad, and the downright bizarre.

Our mission is to become the go-to creative hub that not only designs stunning visuals but also strategizes your success in the gaming world. From concept art to marketing, we're here to put our experience to work ensuring your product not only launches, but soars.

We also want to arm fellow creators with the tools, insights, and a few cautionary tales, so they can navigate their creative journeys with a bit more confidence and a lot less stumbling. It's about turning the 'what ifs' into 'what's next' and making sure that every creator who crosses paths with N3 Studios leaves with something valuable - be it a piece of advice, a new skill, or just the reassurance that they're not alone in this chaos.

In essence, N3 Studios is my way of paying it forward, using my journey to light the way for others. It's about community, growth, and the relentless pursuit of creativity. 

To everyone who's been here, and supported this journey, thank you immensely. To the new folks, I hope we can inspire you in anyway.

Stay tuned for more, including a detailed write-up of my lessons learned!

If you’d like to support N3 Studios you can shop some of our excellent products here

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