Auran Developments went into liquidation late last year. Many of us saw it coming for at least a few months, if not years. Below are my personal thoughts on why Auran went bust. I’m writing this to try and help other struggling software or game development stduios from ending up in the same way.
To get the legal stuff out of the way. When I mention “Auran” I’m talking about Auran Developments. That is the company who hired me, and the only one I ever really had any interaction with. Auran Games et al. are still running fine and have nothing to do with the following article.
The first main problem was that Auran wouldn’t listen to anyone. This was the core problem I see as its tentacles really reached out and touched every part of the company. I don’t know how many people would talk to me about how they’d made a suggestion months or years earlier only to have it ignored and then the exact problem they foresaw coming up. While it’s important that people high up are the ones making the decisions to direct the company, they also need to know where their weaknesses are and seek advice from the best people in each field.
When I started at Auran there were a LOT of extremely talented people that had thoughts on the direction the company should take. Unfortunately, most of their requests were ignored, and the majority of people simply left the company as they could see that the wrong decision was being made. By listening to people who are skilled in their particular field, they would have been able to keep these skilled people on, further increasing the company’s chances of success. The bottom line is that good people have good advice, and not listening has a twofold problem. The company fails because they don’t do the right thing AND they lose the good people giving out this advice.
Keep Good People
This leads into the second problem, the number of great employee’s I saw leaving was astounding. This also has a snowball effect because when great, senior, people leave everyone below them wonders if there’s something they don’t know about. For me, the first sign that something wasn’t quite right was when one of the star graphics programmers informed Auran he was going to leave if he wasn’t put on something interesting. This guy (while never admitting it himself) was basically Carmack 2.0. He is the kind of person that good companies would give almost anything to have on their team. However, at Auran, they just let him slip away even after giving them a direct option to resolve the problem. The other problem was when the three leads (programming, art and QA) all resigned within a couple of weeks of each other.
The other main problem was the lack of transparency and communication. It’s vital, for any software project that crucial information flows down to “the trenches”. There’s nothing worse than reading in a magazine or website that the company is in trouble, or that it’s just received another round of funding from investors. Many companies have this problem, where you need to be on the grape vine to find out information that directly affects your job and your life. This was compounded at the end when people were literally sitting around waiting to find out if they were fired or not.
The transparency part comes from sharing the vision and direction of the company with all staff members. Most of us had to simply guess what would be happening in the coming months. Part of this problem comes from having the wrong people too high up in the chain of command. As soon as you have less qualified people above more qualified there’s going to be both conflict and misdirection with the company.
The B team
I was part of a second team at Auran (not Fury). Let’s call it the “B Team”. This team worked really well together, produced a great product in a short time and was ready to move onto producing more great products. What’s the logical step Auran should have taken? Good companies know that good people are hard to find (and even harder to replace). Good teams though, they are like the holy grail of software development. If you have a good team, you do anything you can to hold onto it, foster it and mainly, make a crap load of money from it.
Not so at Auran. We were broken up, forced to work on crappy projects that we would rather resign than work on (as was the case in my situation). A number of people pleaded with Auran to keep us together and to make money from us. That’s all we wanted to do, work together in a great team making money for Auran. It seemed this direction was not the same as Auran’s.
Don’t Keep All Your Eggs In One Basket
The next big issue was focussing on one single product. I’m not going to get into whether Fury was a good game or not. Either way, it is too much to risk an entire company on a single game. I heard this almost daily from people around the company, but no one would listen. Generally, when an age old proverb is written about something, it’s a good sign that you should heed its advice.
The games industry is a hit driven industry which means there’s a great chance you won’t succeed off a single product. Sure, there’s a chance you could make it to the big time, but there’s a far higher chance all your employees could be jobless just before Christmas.
Software Development, It’s Hard!
Finally it just comes down to software development. Software Development is really hard. Personally, I love it; I’ve found what I want to do for the rest of my life. I’ve also come to the conclusion that I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to do it perfectly, and never succeed. There’s no “silver bullet” and you certainly can’t treat it like running a regular non-tech company. While software development is relatively young, compared to the other schools of engineering, it’s also full of great techniques. Unfortunately, most of these weren’t employed at Auran. Good games development practices weren’t employed either. I’m a strong believer of making a game fun, then working out how to finish off the “extra bits”.
So that’s what I see that Auran did wrong. I don’t blame any individual people and I don’t think that anything can be gained from doing so. I loved a lot of my time working at Auran; it was the dream company I’d wanted to work at since Dark Reign came out when I was in high school. I did a lot of soul searching when I decided to resign, and it made me really depressed to think of what could have been.
If I had to put down one single moment when I knew it was over, it was a lunch time in September sitting in one of the back rooms with Shauno, the artist on my team. I was flicking through the booklets of Dark Reign with every newspaper clipping relating to it. I remembered back to when I read those very newspapers/magazines 10 years earlier and what I had dreamed working at Auran would be like. I compared it to what was happening at the time, and the decision was pretty much made for me. I’d like to thank everyone I worked with at Auran, and I hope that others can learn from the mistakes made and we can see the Australian games industry flourish in the coming years.