Recently a question was posed on the Facebook page of my local game industry special interest group, GameCampEdmonton.
“If you were to list what you need to help grow your indie game studio here in Edmonton in regards to talent levels, assistance, business options and so forth, what would you want to see and why?”
I’ve had a couple of days to ponder this notion and it certainly got the ole noggin a churnin’. As we near completion of our first title, in terms of resources – what is it that would have made our lives that much easier? What resources do we still need? (Itzy! Try the demo! Ahhhh…plug, plug, plug!)
Talent isn’t really the problem. The pool of artists and programmers who can dedicate their time without any idea of how much or even if they’ll be paid may be a bit shallow as we start up but for talent we’ve been able to manage. I find what we are really lacking is a voice of experience.
The internet is home to not just porn, funny cat pictures and tales of Xbox hardware issues, it’s also a place where people can share their thoughts and experiences on numerous other topics as well. The problem is, in relation to starting up an indie studio, the thoughts and experiences shared are often from people who haven’t actually achieved the feat of starting up a successful, indie game studio, let alone turning it into a viable business. Combing through online blogs and articles on the subject, I’m often left feeling like I’m a runner taking advice in marathon running from a writer who watched half a marathon on tv once, or from a writer who created the laces for a popular running shoe. Genuine advice from people who have run my particular marathon seems to be a bit hard to come by.
Soft advice is another problem. It seems I’ve come across countless articles with advice to indie studios like “Don’t lose sight of your goals!” or “Focus on your passion” or helpful nuggets like “if you fail it will not only affect your family, but your team member’s families too.” Wow. How did these pearls of wisdom never occur to me? /s
Attending a developers conference in Vancouver a few months ago, I was also left frustrated by the lack of information I could use. While there a couple of useful talks, most talks seemed geared towards helping established developers land the funding required to keep their teams of 20-50 employed and working on their next PSN/XBL release in a dynamically changing marketplace. Not much thought seemed to be given to those that dare try to start up their own companies.
Why is it that finding specific, useful information on the internet is like trying to find sunlight by digging a hole? How hard is it for indie bloggers to share specific information regarding their wins and losses?
In this day where anyone can self-publish their titles, what do publishers really bring to the table? What are effective social media marketing strategies for indies with a marketing budget of zero? What type of games are the most successful in the mobile marketplace and why? Are free games littered with ads the way to go? Clicks or impressions? Who do you turn to for ads? Or are in-game transactions the cat’s pyjamas? Budget titles? How do the numbers compare? Who’s tried them all?
What indie studios like mine need are mentors. We need someone successful who has gone through this type of process recently and can speak to the specific trials they faced and share that wisdom over a pint of Guinness or through some sort of correspondence. Articles from people who haven’t actually made it in the industry, or articles from people who made it 10 years ago when you had to fight for shelf space in retail stores, while well intentioned, don’t offer up much in the way of useful information that the indie studios of today can wrap a business plan around.