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Want to be Surrounded By a Thriving Local Games Industry? Grow Yours

August 21, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

Solving the Second Problem: Creating a Supportive Community for Startups

Look at the thriving game development scene in cities like Melbourne, Seattle, and San Francisco, and a few things become quickly apparent:

  1. They have REALLY good coffee
  2. Folks from industry are constantly delivering workshops and speaking at events
  3. The community openly celebrates success, whether that success is indie or triple-A

I wasn't going to have any kind of effect on the coffee situation anytime soon (hell, as an American expat, my taste in coffee is somewhat suspect anyways) but we could start experimenting with workshops and open discussion. If one of the major barriers to people going indie was having no idea where to start and feeling insecure in their ability to make good game design decisions, then that was the first thing our workshops had to address.

And for community growth to be self-sufficient, these workshops would need to be deeply ingrained in the culture of the city, and not dependent on any one person or group to keep running. Any pipeline dependent on just a few individuals is doomed to fail, and we needed something more sustainable if we were going to survive the next major economic upheaval (whatever that turns out to be).

Step 5. Prototype, Playtest, and Iterate on Everything. Before getting to this point, you've clearly defined your motivations and set out metrics to measure success by. Iteration won't take you off track so long as you keep checking your progress against those.

The first few times you run an event, just like the first few times you playtest a game, you'll be testing a lot of assumptions about how to achieve the experience you're after. In the same way that involving players fundamentally alters all the design ideas that looked so good on paper, running an event live will make it starkly clear what works and what doesn't. After every iteration ask yourself, 'How can we do this better?"

How we did it: Our first experiment was a "Game Day" run out of the common room of a local games college, AIE. We arranged industry speakers, created a schedule of game design challenges, sorted prizes, and catered lunch. Entry was $25 for the day, to cover costs. But as good as lunch was, folks showed up just to learn and network with their peers; they didn't need special perks like catered meals to attract them to the event.

So for the next iteration (iFest 2011) we cut out catering and found sponsors for prizes, which let us run the event for free. This time, 200 people showed up to listen to talks on indie game development, and a number of studios started in Sydney shortly after, including Throw the Looking Glass (now See Through Studios), Convict Interactive, and INKids. That event was still too big and flashy to run regularly (and heavily dependent on the college we partnered with) and we still didn't have enough folks self-publishing games, but this was the closest we'd come so far to our metrics for success!

Unexpected Solutions

After wrapping up iFest, I settled down to helping my students finish and publish their games in time to submit to IGF and show off at Game Connect Asia Pacific 2011. The challenge here was managing 60-something people, all of whom were working in teams of six to 12 on totally different games that needed to be self-published online at exactly the same time (they didn't need to do that to graduate; they needed to do that so they could call themselves game developers). Any approvals on art, code, or design that had to go through me, our creative director Matt Barker, or our technical director Conan Bourke would have slowed the entire process down, making it impossible to reach our milestones. And that's just silly.

So we stripped the management layer away and operated more like support staff, crowdsourcing the feedback and approval process to the group at large: every week each team would compile all their work (art/code/sound/etc.) and we'd review everything in context of the latest build. We'd take that feedback on board, Scrum around "how can we improve the experience next week?" and then start the whole cycle over again on Monday.

Results were immediate: games were getting better every week, teams were operating independently, and the whole process was self-sufficient. All I had to do was set the day and time for playtesting and ask for next week's goals. If we could extend this out to the entire Sydney community, then that could be one key to the puzzle of folks making, finishing and self-publishing better games.

The other "ah ha!" moment came after attending one of Giselle Rosman's famous IGDA Melbourne events, "Money, Marketing and You" -- think GDC meets Broadway. There was something intoxicatingly magical about the effect of running game development workshops in an art gallery with a full cinema surround sound system and attended by the best dressed of Melbourne's most successful development studios (and Melbourne has some seriously well-dressed game developers!)

Folks in Melbourne were proud to call themselves game developers, totally unapologetic about being indie, and supportive as hell -- sharing what they'd learned openly and being as respectful of newbies as they were of established veterans. The whole vibe of Giselle's community managed to strike a balance between sustainable and revolutionary!

If we could combine that feel of techno-aristocracy and artistic entrepreneurship with the progressive effects of regular playtesting and feedback, then maybe we could create a movement in Sydney that would take on a life of its own -- and completely change our culture of game development.

Here's one from Bryan Ma, a Producer and Game Designer from 2k China, talking about making games for different markets.

Step 6. Keep an Eye out for Emerging Solutions. We would have missed that critical combination of elements entirely (community playtesting and feedback + GDC meets Broadway) if we were wholly focused on just improving the Game Day / iFest workshop model. Let yourself be surprised! A beautiful solution can be sparked by something totally unexpected. Your greatest moments of creativity won't strike if you're constantly locked into "get shit done" mode. You have to give your mind a chance to wander before the light bulb will go off.

Courting Creativity: In his talk on creativity John Cleese goes into this concept of the mind needing to be in an open or closed state for your best work to happen. His point being that getting into an open state of mind means getting away from those things that lock your brain into task-driven problem solving mode. Take a walk. Go on a holiday. For me, that meant taking a trip down to Melbourne to see Ben and Neil from Tin Man Games present at Giselle's IGDA event. For you that could be going camping, booking a retreat, or just leaving your iPad at home to stare out the window while taking the tram around town. Turn off all distractions, go AFK, and give your brain a chance to solve the problem without giving in to the temptation to work.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

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