Chromacon’s Allan Xia wrangled developers Peter Curry, Dean Hall, Alexey Botkov and Joe Chang (all pictured, from left), as they got stuck into the the joys and pains of independent development. Xia kicked off by asking what the panel members considered “independence”.
“The sense of independence disappeared when I started soliciting feedback,” said Dinosaur Polo Club’s Peter Curry. He talked about the stress of interacting with a game’s community, and feeling at times that he would end up making Mini Metro the game others wanted it to be rather than executing his own vision for it.
Ideas and suggestions were sometimes helpful but, Curry thought, if people wanted a game so different from his own ideas, they should just go and make it themselves.
Botkov reckoned that Frogshark wasn’t independent yet, meaning that the company had to focus its attention on completing its game Swordy. Later in the day, Frogshark was named runner-up in the Kiwi Gamestarter pitch competition, taking away cash and support to help it bring Swordy closer to release.
Last year’s Gamestarter winner, Eyemobi’s Joe Chang, was also on the panel. Since winning Gamestarter Phantasmal has advanced and is now available on early access on Steam. Having presented earlier in the day about the development journey, Chang backed up Curry’s comments about other people’s opinions, noting it had been crucial “to figure out what’s noise and what’s important in feedback from early access”.
“Remember that anger means they like the game!” added Curry.
“How do you make peace with the compromises to your vision?” asked Xia.
“The money helps,” Hall said. “I have two rules for social media. One. Don’t take it personally. Two. Realise you’re going to take it personally.”
“Analytics are good,” Curry claimed, “because you see what everybody’s doing – not just what the squeaky wheels are saying.”
Getting the game out there, whether via Steam or other means, was often a decision born of compromise. Grinding Gear’s Chris Wilson had spoken on an earlier panel about giving access to Path of Exile as part of a fundraising drive when the team was running out of development money. Here, Botkov and Curry both noted that opening up the game was sometimes about getting a job done you couldn’t do in another way.
“It’s a financial concern. We can’t afford QA,” admitted Botkov.
“How do you handle discoverability?” asked Xia.
Chang explained the shotgun approach he’d taken with Phantasmal, hitting everyone they could with information. Press, YouTubers, everyone.
“95% ignored us,” Chang said, “but Pewdiepie played it and that happened during the Kickstarter campaign.”
Hall said, “I’m at the other end of indie, where I can self-publish.”
Whether that amount of control was automatically a good thing was open to debate. Hall reckoned, “It’s sunshine and rainbows and then it’s like hell. You end up putting fires out and making no progress.” However, he still held to his belief that you can’t go wrong making something you’re passionate about.
Wrapping up the session, Xia asked the panel members to share some of the lessons they’d learned.
Hall offered, “Make your mistakes early. Fail in the first month. And move on. I look for reasons to kill an indies – the red flags that don’t go away. If it looks too hard it probably is.”
Hall also talkedabout having a clear understanding of the monetisation strategy for a game – advice he hadn’t taken himself when developing Day Z – noting, “You can’t put your prices up.”
Looking forward, Xia asked about the developers’ plans. Botkov, Chang and Curry were all focused on current projects. Hall took a broader perspective, saying he wanted to transition his new Dunedin studio to employing 50 people and get a Queenstown studio up.
“The billion dollar industry will come from the people who have ideas. We should be trying to find the people who have the ideas,” Hall claimed.
The full panel discussion is available to watch on YouTube.
NZGDC15 ran 11 September in Auckland.