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

August 21, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

Creating a New Culture in Sydney

Experience changes you -- it changes your perception of yourself and the environment you live in. It shapes us, defines us and creates the opportunity to develop new habits. Change is freaking difficult (ever try to convince someone to quit smoking or eat better? Yeah. It's that kind of difficult). If we wanted regular peer-to-peer playtesting and open game design debate to become a community-wide habit, we had to completely change the environment associated with game development in Sydney. As easy as it is to organize, meeting up at a pub to talk about games wasn't going to inspire anyone to change.

Previously the culture in Sydney had been divided along this line of "You're either making triple-A games or you're not in the industry". You could sit down next to an indie developer who had made $15,000 in sales a few months after releasing his first Flash game and folks involved in big industry, from media to other studios, wouldn't bother to remember his name (his name is Sash McKinnon, he's brilliant, and he had to move to San Francisco to find work).

With only one local studio, Team Bondi, working on a major triple-A title, the effect on developers new to the scene was poisonous. Confidence in their own abilities would be shot down before they even had the chance to pull their game out for review: "What, you're not triple-A? Why should I talk to you?"

Our culture had to change. The way we saw ourselves and the way we viewed indie game development needed to shift from something a few guys did in a pub once a month to a celebration of experimentation, sustainable entrepreneurship, and being unafraid to loudly and passionately debate issues facing our industry.

Step 7: Experience Design (Every Detail Matters) If your event is going to have any impact at all, you must remove any friction in how people engage with the experience. From environment layout to music volume to pacing -- every single detail matters and will either encourage or cost you engagement.

Atmosphere has to be perfect. We needed a space that felt intellectually artistic, sleekly professional, new age techno, and with just a hint of sex appeal (because we're making games -- and that's sexy, and that's cool, damnit!).

The Arthouse Hotel in the heart of Sydney's central business district would give us all that and more. It was associated with life drawing, burlesque and art cinema during the week -- and techno trance dance parties at night. PERFECT.

Price can't be a barrier. This had to be something I could afford to do on my own and could keep free for the community. Having run events for 50 to 200 people by that point, I felt pretty damn sure that I could at least guarantee a minimum spend of $1000 behind the bar.

With that guarantee, and committing myself to running that event with The Arthouse every other month, I was able to negotiate the venue hire from $500 down to $250, and completely knock off the minimum $1000 food spend. Negotiation is the fine art of solving problems.

Tuesdays are the slowest night in hospitality. They need folks regularly showing up on Tuesday nights and buying drinks. We could lock that in for them if they could help us by lowering the fees for venue hire and minimum spend (which I would have to make up if we didn't match it on the night).

People need to know what the deal is, with plenty of notice. As much as I believed that this event could be amazing, I wasn't about to ask anyone to take my word for it. So I sent out an email that made it extremely obvious what the appeal of this new event would be "meet other developers, get feedback on your game, learn from local industry experts".

This went to all attendees of my previous events, the Facebook group for our IGDA chapter, and everyone I'd met that I felt might get something valuable out of this event. Three weeks before the night I created a Facebook page with complete directions to the venue, all the FAQ on where/when/why and how much (free!) and shared that page around all my networks. Leading up to the event, I made sure to share it around again knowing that no one had a reason to keep it top of mind yet.

And another one from the same night featuring Tim Stobo, a game designer from Team Bondi's LA Noire, talking about taking criticism.

Folks need to feel that their time is respected and participation appreciated. As much as this was all volunteer effort on my part, I knew that the time and attention attendees would be volunteering that night was just as precious as mine. If I said the doors would open at 6 then they better damn well open at 6. If speakers were due at 8:30 then I made sure speakers were prepped by 8:20 and had alternative speakers ready to go in case anyone fell through. This was my event, so it was my responsibility to make sure people felt comfortable and had a good time: that includes helping people get introduced, break the ice, find comfortable spots to set up their games for playtesting, and encourage the flow of conversation and playtesting throughout the night.

You have to be ready to improvise. I had learned from running Game Day and iFest that rigidly sticking to what looked perfect on paper would only lead to stress and frustration. The moment you involve human beings, with all their wonderful foibles and unique personalities, all best laid plans are open to reinterpretation.

What was it Eisenhower said? "Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." I controlled everything I could leading up to the event, which was everything up to the moment I opened the doors, and after that I put myself on watch to take advantage of unexpected opportunities as they arose throughout the night. That's lead to some hilarious anecdotes and a brand new format for running game design debates: the Two Minute Design Slam (think Whose Line is it Anyway meets Crossfire!)

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

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