(Welcome back to Indie Culture Through the Eyes of GameLoading. This is the second and final part of a massive UberFeature. If you haven’t already checked out Part 1, I encourage you to do so now. )
There’s always the obvious explanation of why an indie developer would support a film project like this: It’s a smart business decision. Who wouldn’t want to pay to get some guaranteed exposure for their upcoming or relatively unknown project? Or on an even more personal level, who wouldn’t want the internal satisfaction that comes with being able to say “my game was in a film!” But what sets the indie community apart from traditional businesses looking to profit in the same market is that, beyond the sense of competition, there exists a firmly rooted sense of camaraderie.
It’s something that Lester Francois and Anna Brady of Studio Bento noticed right away throughout the film‘s production, for which they are still traveling and speaking with developers from all over the globe. “There is an amazing strong sense of community at a macro and micro level,” Francois noted. “We have been to a few cities now and we have seen local communities of indie devs meeting and collaborating regularly. We first saw this when we started filming in our home town of Melbourne and this has been repeated most places we go.” It’s one thing to engage with a local support group as a means of building confidence or staying motivated, but the indie community exists in a world without borders; connecting the lives of content creators and fans alike in a way that’s truly inspiring. “On a macro level, we have seen a strong sense of community via Twitter; devs keeping in contact and super excited to see each other in person at events like PAX and GDC,” said Francois. “They may only see each other once or twice a year briefly but the bonds are very strong.”
After having spoken with so many teams in preparation for this feature, I can attest that Lester’s words ring true. With that in mind, I decided to dig a bit deeper. I wanted to understand the honest intent behind these developers, whose willingness to help others competing within the same market seemingly superseded their intent to profit off their own successes. In reading their responses, a common theme began to emerge, one that is unique to indie gaming and remiss of traditional AAA development: A mutual desire to help each other succeed out of pure love for both video games and the community at large. Many teams were willing to share personal anecdotes that exemplify a subculture that warmly welcomes any and all; just one more aspect of what makes indie gaming so appealing to both developers and gamers alike.
In addition to these tales of triumph and tragedy, it was also important to find out more about why they chose to back GameLoading in the first place. To that end, what follows is a series of interviews stylized as a roundtable discussion; with each studio or developer discussing what most appealed to them about the documentary, what their level of involvement with the film is (aside from having their game featured), and their relationship to other indie teams. Unless otherwise noted during the interview, all the participants have backed the $300 “Be in the Film!” pledge tier. According to Francois, “we will be including game footage from the devs who have contributed to these tiers. This will be in the film itself and in the end credits.”
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IGX Pro: Why did you choose to back the GameLoading Kickstarter? What about the film appealed most to you?
Ken Poh, PD Design Studio: When I first saw GameLoading I had no qualms about backing it. I ended up backing the $300 tier. The title “GameLoading: Rise of the Indies” was very catchy. I needed to see what it was all about. I am an indie myself, but I am just a very small part of the large indie community all over the world. Sure, I have my definitions about what being an “indie” means in my personal context. But I wanted to know more about what other indies have on their minds and what keeps them going.
Adam Corney, MiniMega: When Indie Game: The Movie first came out, we organized and hosted the only Brisbane screening for the event with the support of Adobe, The Edge at the State Library of Queensland, and BRIGDA. It felt so awesome to be able to bring that experience to the community. We’ve kept an eye on documentaries about game development since then, and that’s how we first found GameLoading.
Thomas Happ: Basically I’m in favor of anything that promotes the visibility of indies, because as cheesy as this sounds, they are the salvation of the games industry. Also, the only other film on indie game developers (that I know of) was Indie Game: The Movie, but that was covering only three prominent indies, each with a strong backing by a major publisher/platform maker. I believe GameLoading will feature a lot more case studies and give a broader understanding of the indie struggle.
Seon Rozenblum, 3 Sprockets: I’ve been a full time indie game developer since 2007, and back then there weren’t many of us, and the ones that were around were spread pretty thin globally. Fast forward to now and we have huge indie communities in all major cities around the world and communities are sharing, nurturing and promoting each other in ways that typical industry never could/would.
I was a big fan of Indie Game: The Movie and other documentaries about game development and indies, and felt that these movies went a long way to helping non-game devs understand what it is we do and what many of us put on the line financially and health/sacrifice-wise to ensure we get to follow our dreams. I think most of us made our wives/husbands/partners watch IG:TM just to help them understand why we were so driven.
What really drew me to GameLoading was that it was going to be a much broader look at the indie scene; more indies, more coverage & more stories, and I feel that any promotion of our industry sector is worth backing. Plus, Aussies always help out other Aussies, and it is the true indie thing to do.
Sanatana Mishra, Witch Beam: We’re all fans of what Studio Bento are doing with this documentary, but as self-funded indie developers our budget was stretched very thin, it was actually my brother Syama who helped us back the project so I’m going to let him answer this question
Syama Mishra: I backed this the moment I found out about it because A) I was a huge fan of Indie Game: The Movie and wanted to see more documentaries like it and B) It was Australian and featured Aussie developers who need highlighting. The reason I backed this tier though was because my brother is an indie and I wanted to give him a surprise early birthday present I knew he couldn’t afford. Now he gets to have his game featured which will act as a sort of digital time capsule as well.
Joshua Woods, Dancing Dinosaurs: We first learned about GameLoading at a local IGDA (International Game Developers Association) meet up here in Melbourne. It immediately appealed to us as a great promotion of the indie game dev culture in Australia, as well as around the world. We wanted to see a local project like this succeed, and we also saw it as a way to help promote our own game, Collateral.
Ciro Mondueri, Kalio: The indie games scene is clearly booming. You can see it everywhere, from the quantity of IGF entrants year after year, to the attention Apple is paying to indie games by featuring them on the App Store page. What’s going to happen is not clear for anybody, but it’s an exciting time and we’re glad to be part of it. GameLoading is in the right place at the right time to witness what the indie games subculture is going through, and preserve it for eternity.
Michael Zupecki, Sushi Lion: So I first was made aware of this documentary through my industry buddies on Facebook who are very active in both the commercial game and indie game scenes. It was all around the same time Lester launched the Kickstarter – everyone started pushing it. I checked it out and it immediately struck a chord with me. I am an avid fan of the indie game exposure of late and so I was over the moon to hear that someone from Australia was attempting a similar thing. We have some amazing talent here in Australia that goes largely unrecognized and so it’s going to be a great illumination for us. I’ve backed Kickstarter projects before (Oculus Rift) and so it was a quick, almost reflexive click of a button for me.
Alicia Malter, League of Monkeys: League of Monkeys is a Melbourne-based indie game company; hence we were more than happy to support a local production, especially as GameLoading will promote Melbourne as a creative game hub.
A great windfall of supporting GameLoading as a developer means we will get to showcase 10 seconds of our game in the movie. As League of Monkeys is a relatively young studio, we are excited to have our game promoted this way.
Andrii Vintsevych, CreaShock Studios: I do think that video games are the main defining medium of the 21st century and I find the independent side of the game industry very fascinating. That’s why I just love to hear stories of different indie developers and conversations about challenges that game developers face. Actually to say I like it is to say nothing, cause I’m basically addicted to that stuff. Almost every day I’m trying to find some interesting lectures, interviews, talks and other videos related to game development, and especially independent game development. That’s why supporting GameLoading: Rise of the Indies was simply not a question for me.
Lukas Hoenderdos, Rejected Games: Being a huge fan of Indie Game: The Movie, I was hungry for more, and the moment GameLoading: Rise of the Indies was live on Kickstarter, I backed it. These type of films are so inspirational, and at that moment you could already see some of that good stuff in their promo video. Lester and Anna did a good job on that.
Jakub Koziol, Recloak: I had a chance to see the pre-Kickstarter trailer and I instantly knew that I’d have to support the project. Everything from the video quality to the list of interviewed people made me believe in this documentary, and I hope that the broad approach will be both interesting for the community and eye-opening for those who don’t know much about that “weird group of people who often prefer to make games then have a decent job.”
David Corrigan, Digital Hero Games: I backed the GameLoading project because I want to hear what a lot of the people on the interview list have to say. I follow the industry closely online, and it is my impression nobody can put their finger on what led to a success story in this business. Having a good app is obviously a requirement, but aside from that people who have made it don’t really know what other thing it was that got them there: Getting on the App Store early? Right place at right time? Someone famous discovered their app? Correct pricing model? Free for a day? Right category of game?
Nobody knows really, and those that claim to know really don’t. Obviously I don’t know the secret either. I thought I had a winner with Cowbell Hero, but I didn’t. I think I have a winner with my next game, but time will tell. Regardless it is an interesting conversation to have. It is the million dollar riddle everybody is trying to solve, and I figured another documentary about it sounds like a good idea.
Henry Kuo, Blitzonic: My particular motivation to back the GameLoading film was mostly to get more motivation and insight. I loved Indie Game: The Movie, but I felt it covered the movement of indie games at its most major breakthrough, and I’m not sure developers now have the same unique opportunities that Edmund, Jonathan or Phil had. It now feels more legitimate as a genre, and I want to see a wider net cast on what indie game developers are doing and thinking right now, which is what I believe Rise of the Indies has to offer.
Jason Cirillo, Robotube Games: I backed the project because I was motivated by the indie nature of the film itself. I love indie games, but I am also a big fan of indie films, indie animation, indie music and all sorts of forms of expression where the artist’s hand is clearly evident. I think independent art is fascinating and reveals a sort of soul that larger scale, over-polished-and-packaged commercial work can’t achieve.
Steve Koutsouliotas, Paranormal Games: We chose to back the project because we want to see the Australian game dev industry flourish. In recent years, I have witnessed the downfall of the industry here and it’s been pretty saddening, but with the advent of digital distribution it has been fantastic to see the fallen devs rise from their ashes to form small studios all over the place. And I have a passion for retro gaming and the indie dev scene. I was even offered a job at EA to which I declined to continue on this crazy venture that is indie development.
Shane Trewartha, Level Machine: When I first heard about the GameLoading Kickstarter, it just clicked with me, and after learning of the “Be in the Film!” tier, I discussed it with Adam, suggesting it was a great opportunity to get some exposure, and he agreed, so we threw in for it.
Watching all the trailers and stuff for the film up to that point, it just really seemed in line with our values. Level Machine is emblematic to us of taking a stand against the forces that be in the industry that we think could stand to take a long hard look at themselves and maybe do things a bit differently. We are clearly not alone in this goal, as the current trend towards this kind of indie development suggests. This film really embodies that, and I personally felt that it was really important for the world to see it.
Javier Vega, Vega Bros. Studios: We loved that this is a film centered on developing games, which for us is a dream job! For years, it has been really hard for independent developers to be successful in the game industry. But as the film depicts, the game industry has seen a massive change and now indie games are rising. Now just about anyone with the right passion can create their very own game and share it with the world. We honestly believe that creating games is the ultimate form of art. It combines illustration, music, storytelling and cinema. But what makes it truly special is that it’s interactive; so players are not limited to just being a viewer of art but they can now become part of it.
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IGX: Can you talk a bit about your level of involvement with the project?
Ken Poh: Much has been talked, documented and mentioned about the very well known indies. What about the many other lesser known indies? Involvement in this campaign as a backer at the very least allows the entire community to participate. It is a very cool thing in my opinion.
Adam Corney: We started off backing small, but as time went on we realized how important this project could be, and backed it big to support the developing indie scene. We’re part of the Developer [Workshop] tier.
Thomas Happ: I would have backed GameLoading even if I were not a developer, but I’m hoping that by choosing the “Be in the Film!” tier, more people will be exposed to Axiom Verge and check it out. Maybe some key person at a big publisher will watch and decide to pick it up, and that would make a world of difference to me.
Seon Rozenblum: We backed the project at the $300 “Be in the Film!” level and we also did a quick interview at the start of GDC 2013, but I am not sure if that will make it.
Sanatana Mishra: We’ve pledged for the “Be in the Film!” tier but we’ve also contributed to the free game bundle with our PC/Android game Antibody. Based on our pledge tier, you will see 5 seconds of Cactus as part of a montage in the film and 10 seconds of Cactus during the credits, but we’re not one of the featured developers.
Joshua Woods: We backed the project at the “Be in the Film!” level, so we will be contributing footage from our game, Collateral, to be included in montages in the film.
Ciro Mondueri: Looking at the lineup of interviews and what we said in ours, I’m sure it’s going to have a very wide range of opinions and experiences about the indie games subculture today, all over the world. There is a lot of work behind making a game, especially when the game is made by small teams. These small teams of diverse people coming from different backgrounds working towards a common goal make for some great material for some interesting stories. This is a unique opportunity for GameLoading to tell some of these stories.
Michael Zupecki: I sort of skim-read the reward tiers of the film and looked at my bank account almost simultaneously. I don’t have much money, as a University student, and the dream of making games independently is still a somewhat lofty ideal and so when I saw that there was a tier that allowed indie developers to show some of their game in the documentary… well needless to say I staved the quality of my dinner menu for a couple of weeks to make it happen! I’m now glad that I did because that tier filled up very quickly and I’m really happy to be a part of that. I actually signed on the night before PAX Australia and the girls from my team actually briefly met Lester and got talking, and I’ve spoken to him a few times via email. I’m just infinitely happy that they made bank and can fulfill a dream that will allow others to maybe fulfill theirs!
Alicia Malter: We have backed GameLoading in the game developer tier and have offered to open our doors to the creators if they need help, collaboration or support.
Andrii Vintsevych: If you look at developers tiers, showing the game footage is basically the only involvement that they imply. It’s a good tier, but what is more awesome is that Lester and Studio Bento are already supporting devs that supported them by sharing their stories on the Kickstarter page and by connecting developers to the press.
Lukas Hoenderdos: This might come as a surprise, but it was a bit of a business decision. By backing the $300 tier, one of my games would get around 15 seconds of fame in the movie. Not only is that a great honor, but also great for visibility. I am convinced that Gameloading: Rise of the Indies will attract a lot of viewers, and they also get to see some in-game footage of An Alien with a Magnet. How awesome is that?
I believe I was like the sixth $300 backer. Immediately after the pledge [Lester] contacted me to thank me. After that he kept me up to date and occasionally sent me some YouTube videos that weren’t live yet. Those kind of gestures are great. In return, I pointed him to Rami Ismail (from Vlambeer), THE best known indie studio from The Netherlands. If Lester was making a video about indie game development, Rami just couldn’t be left out, in my opinion. Not sure if it was because of me, but some days later Lester did announce a few new people to be in the movie, one of which was Rami.
Jakub Koziol: Recloak pledged in the $1000 [Test Screening] tier. – (Editor’s note: This means they have access to a special test screening of GameLoading online before the film is finished, allowing them the opportunity to offer last-minute feedback as well as special accreditation in the film.)
David Corrigan: I picked the pledge level that allows me some time in the film to show off game play footage of Cowbell Hero. Depending on how things turn out, Cowbell Hero may be gone and I will be putting footage of my new game in there instead.
Henry Kuo: Seeing the unique reward of having a few seconds of my game footage baked into montages of the film, I mean, I know it was quite a bit of money, but that’s just too good to pass up when one imagines watching a film and being able to point and say, “Hey, there’s my game!” On top of that, it adds extra motivation for me to keep pushing. I need any I can get.
Jason Cirillo: So, actually I backed the film representing Gaijin Games’ in-house experimental brand, Robotube Games, which I founded back in 2002. Gaijin Games acquired this brand a couple of years back, and I head this department at Gaijin.
Steve Koutsouliotas: I am merely a backer of the film and have no involvement with the production apart from the reward which was to have our little studio be named and some footage of our game shown in the film; it was obviously one of the main factors for backing the project alongside supporting [an] indie dev in Australia.
Shane Trewartha: We backed the project at the $300 “Be in the Film!” tier. We figured for a tiny $0 budget studio like we currently are, that was $300 marketing dollars very well spent. This film will allow footage of our game to be put in front of the eyeballs of thousands of people that might not have otherwise seen us.
A couple of days out from the Kickstarter wrapping up, someone who is apparently a serial trouble maker on Kickstarter pulled out a huge pledge, and it was actually pretty inspiring to see the community rally together to right that wrong. At the time, it looked like it may have been enough to sink them, so I upped our pledge from $300 to $350, because I really believe in this project, and it would have been an enormous shame to see it fail because of something like that. Fortunately people got behind them in a big way, and they easily cleared their target.
Javier Vega: We believe that the indie scene is leading the forefront in terms of creativity. We can all create what we wish. No limitations. And the big publishers are noticing; there’s this “rise” as the film points out not seen before from the indie studios. We want to be a part of that.
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IGX: Can you talk a little about your experiences within the indie community? In terms of networking and outreach, what is your relationship to fellow indie developers?
Ken Poh: In terms of relationship with fellow indies, I can only speak for [my] circle here in Singapore. We have quite a few indies making games here; most of us are friends, some are even close friends. A year ago, when we were running test play for Dusty Revenge, many came over to offer their help. These include friends from Ludochip, Ratloop, Secret Base, Inzen Studio and a few others. For example, a friend of mine who used to work with us in the same studio is now making his own indie game. Last year, another friend held an indie party and we attended, sharing our games with one another. Many of us meet during events. We help each other in any way we can. In short, we are all friends.
Adam Corney: We recently had one of our games “stolen” by another developer, and we didn’t know how to handle it. So we asked Reddit, and we got a fair amount of attention from the community. [Editor’s Note: You can read the full story here.]
We were blown away by how supportive everyone was; it was our first experience opening ourselves up online and it was astounding. Also, we wouldn’t be where we are today creatively without the guidance of Brisbane’s godfathers of indie, Morgan Jaffit and John Passfield.
Thomas Happ: Yeah, having done both AAA and indie (concurrently, even), I definitely have found indie life to be more open. I use Twitter and generally we are always retweeting each other’s news and offering help when we come across a question or something. Also, many indies choose to share their experiences through their own blogs or on Gamasutra (a tradition I intend to follow once Axiom Verge is completed).
I think AAA devs are kind of forced into a bit of isolation because of the enormous stakes if a technology or design concept is leaked to competitors, or if news about an unannounced title gets out before the marketing team is prepared for the red carpet roll out. But for indies, the reward for being friendly and open usually outweighs any risk. I’ve noticed that even the unfortunate exceptions – where, say, a game is cloned before release – wind up with the community and the press leaping to their defense.
Speaking of supporting the community, I’d like to say this – please everyone check out these other Metroidvania indie titles: Operation Smash, Escape from Enceladus, Ghost Song, Chasm, Legend of Iya, A.N.N.E, Castle in the Darkness, and Escape Goat 2. Apologies to anyone I forgot, it’s not intentional!
Seon Rozenblum: We are pretty active in the indie scene here in Melbourne, plus I have personally made many friends in the global scene over the last few years while traveling to shows and expos. On my last trip to the US – [to] GDC 2013 – I got to meet and spend time with a lot of the indie devs from Boston, some of which I had known from previous Unite conferences and have forged some *hopefully* lifelong friendships with.
We all have similar stories today of the trials and pressures of being an indie, even though many of us have far different backgrounds and have taken different journeys to get to where we are.
There is a true solidarity within the indie community that you just can’t seem to find elsewhere. I am not 100% sure why, but it’s real and measurable. Sure, many of us compete at the consumer level in one way or another, but there is such a high level of sharing of information from the community, both good and bad stories, that there is an endless supply of motivation and help.
In what other industry or community segment do those that make money share information about how much they make and how they did it? It’s an amazing space to play in. I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.
Sanatana Mishra: Actually, when we started out as an indie we had almost no contacts of any kind; but the indie community in Australia is booming and incredibly supportive, so after a few months we were attending local IGDA and developer meet-ups where we could discuss our projects and pool resources. I’d be remiss if I didn’t make special mention of John Passfield at Right Pedal and the whole Stark family at Disparity Games* for giving us so much support since we started working on Cactus.
(*Editor’s note: Whaddya know, you can check out another Indie Spotlight featuring Disparity Games right here! #Shameless)
As for outreach, I think Twitter is an invaluable resource for modern indie developers: After sharing our project with Ashton Raze from Owl Cave and Rob Boyer from the Mature Gamer Podcast we were practically adopted by the UK indie scene. We even ended up with a quote on our Greenlight page from the creator of Thomas Was Alone, Mike Bithell! On top of all that I think getting advice from these people who have already gone through the transition to full time indie developers is invaluable.
We had an amazing response to Cactus at PAX Aus, but one thing people don’t know is that we were never meant to be at that event! A week before the start of PAX the local laptop companies Horize & Frag Labs were looking for games that would help showcase their latest laptops. By coincidence, we had a mutual friend who showed them our game and they were so keen to help a local developer that they let us commandeer half their booth for the whole show!
Joshua Woods: The indie development scene in Melbourne is very active and social. We have monthly IGDA meetups, the annual GCAP conference, and as of this year we have PAX Aus in Melbourne as well. The local developers are very friendly and interconnected, so if you don’t know someone then you probably know someone who knows them. We have a lot of friends in the indie community, including people who we studied with, and developers that we have met through things such as IGDA and GCAP.
Michael Zupecki: In the last few years I’ve been at University, the indie scene here in Melbourne has absolutely exploded. Tools have never been so accessible, ambitions have never been so high and the validity of independence hasn’t been this burgeoning since early in gaming’s history. I’m so happy to be involved at this point, as well as beside some really awesome people – some of which I’ve met through collectives like the IGDA or RMIT, and others whom I have worked with in the commercial space.
The core team behind Armello, League of Geeks, are actually good friends of mine – having worked with three out of four of them when I was at Torus. I keep in touch with them and they’re some of my favorite people on planet Earth – not to mention they’re some of the most talented people I’ve ever met. Funnily enough I’ve known Trent [Kusters] for a little over ten years: We were at High School together and sort of associated through the common ground of our interest in playing games. It wasn’t until years later that we both ended up studying Professional Writing and Editing and spent many days talking about our love of games.
(*Editor’s note: For more info about Armello and the team behind it, check out the Indie Spotlight featuring League of Geeks.)
Also, a large group of the guys I worked with at Red Tribe – my first gig – went on to work at EA and the like. Some of those guys have now left the comfort of a salary to live off their savings and are striving to achieve independence in the newfound [indie] game space. They’re being headed by Barney Cumming [one-half of the team at Powerhoof] and their project is a procedural dungeon crawler aptly titled Crawl. I’m super excited to see them doing that and it’s a really inspiring thing – it feels like we all sort of went our separate ways for awhile, and now we’re all reconnecting through this lovely, organic coalescence of people who want to treat games as art, and explore themselves.
I think we’re living in a real digital evolution at this point in time. It can be scary, and sometimes grueling – the anxiety associated with baring your soul is at once terrifying as it is gratifying. But for many of us… we’ve tried the regular day job thing and it’s just not for us. So we’re here to give all we can, whether for bank or broke.
Alicia Malter: Our experience with other indie developers is quite limited at this point as we are a young company, but it has been very positive so far. League of Monkeys attended PAX Australia and was wowed by the camaraderie and friendly attitudes of all the indie developers. In turn, we have a relaxed open door policy for anyone who wants to learn and be surrounded by like-minded colleagues. We have a great creative space in which artists and developers can pay us a visit or rent a desk.
Andrii Vintsevych: Unfortunately, there’s basically no indie community in my town. I’m sure there are a lot of indies here, but somehow they didn’t form a community. Maybe this story would have an interest for you: It’s about Mary Kish, a young woman that helps indies with little or no budget to spread the word about their games. Her main motivation is the love of indie games. At the moment she is helping me with Sector Zero. You can read about her initiative here.
Lukas Hoenderdos: The indie community is great! It’s a little overwhelming at first, because you don’t know anyone; but once you know a few people, chances are you will get introduced some day by someone. For example, last gamescom (in Cologne) I talked to an advertisement guy and he was looking to meet someone from another company, but they didn’t know his face, so I pointed him out. About an hour later the advertisement guy tapped me on the shoulder because I needed to meet someone. Apparently he was talking to someone from Apple who was looking for new iOS games. That’s how fast things can go.
Here in the The Netherlands there are several events I like to attend like the Dutch Game Garden network lunch, Control Gamelab, Indigo, Local Multiplayer Picnic, Festival of Games, and Game in the City. It’s great for meeting indies, press, and the general audience to test out your game.
Jakub Koziol: I didn’t have a game dev-related background when I suddenly became an independent developer, so the list of people I know from the community is pretty limited. So far, everyone who I’ve interacted with [on Twitter] is super supportive. One of the guys who I had a chance to (virtually) meet, thanks to our games, is Jamie Fristrom – the same guy who invented the swinging mechanics in Spider-Man 2. Before his current project Energy Hook was successfully funded on Kickstarter, I helped him record game footage and gave some early feedback. Now I have access to the Energy Hook project and I can learn from someone who has worked on games for as long as I’ve lived on this planet, which is pretty cool.
David Corrigan: The development of Cowbell Hero was for the most part a total disaster. The first artist I had to fire after around four months since he never delivered anything. The second artist started out good, but ultimately I had major delays from him as well. We probably spent a year and a half doing what should have taken around two months. He even had a bad wood working accident during a time where he almost cut off two fingers. That took him out of commission a few extra months as well to heal. I also had to kick a few other people off the team.
Overall, about half of the people were awesome and the other half almost ran the entire project into the ground. When you only have enough funds to pay a guy to do the job once, it becomes a huge problem if even one member of the team doesn’t deliver on his part of the project. The licensing was also expensive and took almost a year as well. I kept it all going though. I wanted this game to be made and I did whatever to keep it going.
In addition, an unforeseen expense recently came up. The songs I licensed were for three years. Since the game hadn’t been for sale but a year I assumed we could change the end date of the contracts to be three years after the game was released. The music publishers are not going for that and I now have to pay for all new contracts or take the game off the app store. The contracts will cost about $11,000 to renew. There is an advance on royalties that has to be paid. I have turned to *Kickstarter to try to raise the money to renew them. We are too far in the hole at this point to pay them without help. So morale is pretty low this month.
[*For more on this story, visit the Cowbell Hero Kickstarter page.]
I did start on another game a few months ago. The idea was just too good not to do it. It is a music game featuring all 8-bit NES style music and a very different kind of rhythm gameplay. We are pushing ahead and it will take all the remaining money I have available to finish it up. I do believe this game has a better chance to be a hit. I had planned to do a Kickstarter for it before the issue with Cowbell Hero came up. I will just have to see how things go. I have already made a list of what I can sell around the house, stuff like most of my video game collection. I always find a way to pay anybody I hire out. I will this time as well, but this really is the bottom of the barrel. Either this game takes off or my business goes back to just being a hobby or maybe I give it up completely. It will take awhile to get out of the financial hole without some kind of success.
Henry Kuo: My experience with the indie community is extremely minimal. I’ve never had the time, more so now with a baby, to attend events like PAX or IndieCade. Tigjam at the Hacker Dojo is practically down the block from me, but I learned about it too late. In the coming year, I’m intent on making time to attend meet-ups and events to find people to learn from. But for now, I just follow the same subreddits, podcasts and blogs as everyone else. Sorry if this sounds so typically boring! It’s a very solitary venture for me aside from the occasional comments I’ll read and post online.
Lester and Anna have shown incredible support for all of their backers and I’ve received probably the same line of communications as the other backers who selected the “Be in the Film!” reward; expressing their desire to support us however they can and for us to feel free to share updates with them at any time. So they’ve really opened their arms and let it be known that they’re there to talk to. But I don’t particularly want to pester them all that much because I know they’ve got a ton of work on their hands to deliver the product that everyone will be waiting patiently for next year.
Jason Cirillo: In terms of my involvement in the indie community, I can say that indie game developers are the biggest bunch of total lovers I have ever met. Everyone is immensely supportive and enthusiastic. Indie developers devote their lives to their craft. Every developer I meet has something inspirational to share. Gaijin Games has befriended some amazing people in the community, and I couldn’t possibly name them all. But I will say that some of them have absolutely amazing facial hair, which is something you find a lot of in this space.
Steve Koutsouliotas: A lot of indie development is done solo or with a small team, and for us it’s 3 guys in a garage working on our games when we have free time from our day jobs. For me, I work at another small indie studio ODD Games also based here in Adelaide. They have seen some success with their first mobile game Monster Truck Destruction on the Appstore and now Google Play, so I was fortunate enough to be able to quit my job making pizza to work full time on their projects. Right now the game is Shaq Run; being developed for legendary basketball player Shaquille O’neal. I have previously worked on racing titles and adventure games at Torus Games in Melbourne so I am well suited for the role.
Also within the dev scene I occasionally attend some indie meet-ups in Adelaide and I have been to the AVCon Indie Games Room 2 years in a row, both times with a different game. This is where a lot of indie devs have met and discussed ventures and it’s always great to see what is happening locally. Over the years I have met or been involved with other indie devs or media production companies in Adelaide in some shape or form.
Shane Trewartha: I have to give special mention to the IGDAM, and in particular Giselle Rosman. Giselle makes so many things happen, and keeps so many things ticking; she is the heart and soul of the indie community here in Melbourne, and it has been a great pleasure to know her. One of the best experiences we have had with Blastronauts as a game, was when we had the opportunity to exhibit it at AVCon in Adelaide. That is to date the most people we have had play and give us feedback on the game, and it was invaluable.
Also, having worked in so many different places over the years, we sort of have quite a few friends who are ex-coworkers, who are also now doing the indie thing. Two of note that come to mind, are Camshaft Software here in Melbourne, who are making a very unique car company tycoon game, and Evil Aliens back in Canberra, who are currently developing a couple of punchy little amazingly beautiful arcade style games.
Javier Vega: In the previous years, it’s been more of a “spectator role” for us. We would go to a lot of websites and basically watch what others were doing. It served as great inspiration for us. Eventually we decided it was time for us to develop a game that was floating in our heads for sometime now. But before we could get started, we felt it was important to get some advice from other indie game developers.
We first reached out to Pixel Ferrets (Secrets of Grindea team) and at first we didn’t expect much of a reply, if any at all. But then we received a reply from them and we were pleasantly surprised. They sent us a very thorough reply with lots of helpful information. You could tell they took their time and really wanted to help us out. We had a similar experience with Derek Yu (Spelunky developer) and others as well. This is when we saw first hand what makes the indie scene so special: Everyone wants to help everyone. This has motivated us to support several indie titles through Kickstarter and other sites. Films like Indie Game: The Movie, Minecraft: The Story of Mojang, and the Amnesia Fortnight 2012 [bundle published by Double Fine] have really inspired us to make our games. We give thanks to them and to the indie community for what they have accomplished.
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After hearing so many examples of the community pulling together in support of one another, it’s nice to know that Studio Bento is also going the extra mile to assist those who have helped them along the way. In addition to reaching out to media outlets and helping promote the games that will be featured in GameLoading, Lester explained that “we will also be showcasing some games on our social media. This isn’t part of our Kickstarter rewards, but the devs and their games are so amazing that we want to share them with our community.” This will come in a variety of forms via Twitter, Facebook, and the Kickstarter’s Updates page.
In addition to their strong stance on community support and camaraderie, there’s one other point that the indie developer community agrees makes all the risks, challenges, and hardships worthwhile: The gamers. Over the past few months, I’ve spoken to dozens of teams who have traveled the world visiting just about every major, and minor, convention that exists. When asked about their favorite experiences from going to these public venues, their responses are always two-fold: First, they’re excited to catch up with friends and colleagues, or otherwise meet fellow members of the community they can swap stories with. Second, and usually the most emotionally resonant, they find considerable joy in seeing an attendee find their games for the first time. The best examples are often when, after a few moments of quizzical stares, folks decide to try out these strange or quirky titles. In that moment, as a total stranger magically metamorphoses into a fan, it makes all of the struggles fade away. In that regard, and in many others through active participation, just as the indie developer community helps support each other, so too do the fans help sustain this ever-growing subculture of gaming.
While the future remains forever uncertain, GameLoading looks to take a snapshot of the indie community in its current form. Given the way things look right now, it seems to be a photo worth sharing. And one worth holding on to as well. For the developers, they are at the forefront of a movement that emphasizes creativity over target demographics. For the gamers, they no longer have to settle for the stagnation brought on by sequel-itis and the paralyzing fear of risk-taking so prevalent in AAA development. But that’s not to paint big publishers and high-profile developers in a totally negative light. There are plenty of ways for these multimillion-dollar studios to benefit and learn from the popularity of indie games as well. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats; and indies are certainly on the rise.
That’s all folks. If you enjoyed this behind the scenes look at indie culture, feel free to share this article with friends on the social network of your choice. In fact, please do so. The teams featured here are some of the most talented I’ve ever come across, and while there are thousands of others equally deserving of some attention, the best way to help promote the indie gaming scene is by spreading the word. Afterwards, if you’d like to hear more out of me or otherwise continue the discussion, you can follow me @Vincent_Parisi or just +VinnyParisi add to your circles. I’d also like to take this opportunity to direct you below to the gallery of photos. While I couldn’t include them all throughout the feature, all of the participating developers sent me a ton of great concept art and screenshots that everyone should take a look at. Enjoy!
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