Over the last 17 years in the game industry, I can not begin to count the times brilliant game company owners and designers have come to me in a panic, asking advice on what’s wrong with their business.

And, often, it comes down to one very basic thing – they put everyone and everything else in the industry ahead of their own needs. Fun and relationships first, business and profits second.

Now, for the record, I am not slamming philanthropy … far from it! I’m a huge believer and practitioner of generous personal giving. But you can’t hang a sign on your door saying “Super Helpful” without first having your finances in a place where you have the ability to help.

If you stop and think about it, it makes total sense. It’s the same reason why airline stewardesses tell you to put your own mask on before assisting your children.

But why is this the case?

It all comes down to one simple thing, and that’s longevity. Does your company want to be around for a year, or for decades?

Let’s look at our plane example again. If you make try to help others before putting on your own mask, you’ll just end up falling unconscious. But when you put your own mask on first, what some might call a “selfish” act, it will result in a greater positive benefit, because you will then be ready to help others in need.

Let’s take this rather morose example and apply it to our businesses, shall we?

In the game industry, we are very generous with our resources. We try to pay our employees all we can, we hire all our friends to help them out, we price our products as cheap as we can to not offend our loyal customers, and we’re constantly giving away demo copies of our product and sponsoring XYZ trade shows, all in the name of helping others and our industry. We do this to feel a sense of pride and self-worth of being a productive citizen of our industry.

Then, credit lines run out, that next Kickstarter doesn’t fund, or our suppliers cut us off, and we get into real financial trouble. And, as a result of being highly generous with our companies, we haven’t paid ourselves enough or put back money for a rainy day. Then a financial emergency appears and turns our worlds into chaos — a death spiral which many game companies never escape.

We have lost many, many great game companies over my tenure in the industry, and the stories all end up being some variation on this theme.

It’s incredibly important to pay yourself (and/or your company, by having proper profit margins) first, to allow you to get into a position where you can truly (and sustainably) help others.

It is not being selfish… it is delayed gratification.

With a solid foundation, you’ll hopefully be around for a very, very long time, sponsoring others in the industry and becoming a sorely-needed mentor to an industry that needs to understand that profit is not a bad word, and is necessary to continue having fun in the industry we all love so much.