GDC Online 12: Spacetime's Gattis on why start ups needs lawyers and finance guys first

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GDC Online 12: Spacetime's Gattis on why start ups needs lawyers and finance guys first
| Spacetime Studios news

Kicking off the final day of GDC Online 2012, Gary Gattis, CEO of local studio Spacetime Studios gave a talk on 'How to Build a Company to Weather Any Storm'.

The company has had a rise, fall, rise-type history.

It started off developing a $30 million outer space third person, vehicle combat anime-styled MMOG for NCsoft, called BlackStar, which was eventually cancelled.

"It was soul crushing experience, but you have to accept it and move on," Gattis said. "We didn't do that."

Instead, Spacetime spend a year looking for another publisher, burning through $1.5 million in the process.

Strong foundation

However, because the company had been spent up properly, Spacetime was able - eventually - to transition to mobile MMOG development.

"Starting a company is very much like a marriage. You will be spending a lot of time with your partners," Gattis pointed out.

He also stressed the importance of strong foundations. Spacetime's first hire was a finance guy, and it spend money early on legal fees.

"You need to hire a lawyer in terms of founders' agreement and payback clauses when you're starting up a company," Gattis said.

"Even now we allocate $5,000 a month to miscellaneous laywer stuff."

Indeed, Spacetime has always ensured it had strong termination clauses in its contracts, including forcing the publishers to pay future milestones so the studio could sensibly downsize.

Gattis said not only has this kept the company alive through two big project cancellations, and some of its staff have come back to work with Spacetime multiple times despite being laid off because it scales down properly.

The company now has four lawyers on call.

Open to all

The big shift for the company came when it scaled right down to six people and went unpaid for six months to make its first mobile game Pocket Legends in 2010.

As one for the first mobile MMOGs, it caught the eye of Apple, who asked Spacetime to hold the release until iPad came out, which of course it did.

The next stage of the company's development was taking on financing from Insight Venture Partners so it could scale up. It's since released two more mobile MMOG with another one about to be released.

Today, Spacetime is 42 people strong and it works hard to keep everyone in the loop of what's going on.

"I encourage you to have extreme information flow. Our employees see our revenue statements," Gattis proposed.

He said the only issue he'd experienced with this was that staff might leave if they could see the company was on the slide, but that he thought the advantages far outweighed any issues.

Jon Jordan
Jon Jordan
A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon can turn his hand to anything except hand turning. He is editor-at-large at which means he can arrive anywhere in the world, acting like a slightly confused uncle looking for the way out. He likes letters, cameras, imaginary numbers and legumes.