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Good games make good investments at Good Shepherd

Game development is a risky business — in the literal sense, that is. Hoping a title becomes a million-seller and justifies its staff and years of gestation often leads to the ruin of game studios and publishers. And that’s if the game ever even releases. But Good Shepherd has found that careful curation, help with pain points like localization, and other avenues of stewardship can make games as reliable an investment as a mutual fund, but considerably more profitable.

The company, founded in 2011 as Gambitious but eventually (and I’d say wisely) rebranding under the current name, basically finds promising games and makes sure they get the best chance at success possible. And it works: they’ve helped usher 15 games into the world, 12 of which have been out for at least a year and 9 of which are already profitable. The portfolio as a whole is turning a 30 percent profit.

More easily said than done. Independent game developers aren’t exactly widget makers; even promising titles can and do end up in development hell as the narrative is reworked, scope is adjusted, art styles are redone, and so on. A good publisher or backer will make sure these don’t torpedo the whole project.

Three games currently on the roster at Good Shepherd.

The idea isn’t particularly original — it’s the kind of work that many venture funds and incubators do with young, inexperienced companies — but it hasn’t really been applied to games. Part of that is the perception that games are either hits or whiffs, making it a risky area for investment — although the same could, of course, be said of startups.

But the strategy of a huge release hopefully recouping all costs in a month or two is peculiar to AAA development; the latest Call of Duty costs a hundred million to make, so needs to sell 2 million copies before mainstream gamers move on to the next big franchise release.

An indie game doesn’t have the benefit of an Activision-size marketing team or simultaneous release in 36 countries and languages. But its budget is smaller, and people will continue buying it for years — because often the point of indie games is that they are original creations not bound to any particular console or sales cycle. Cave Story, for instance, is just as awesome today as it was in 2004 — and it still sells.