Last week the Games In Asia website held a evening of talks on setting up an indie game studio here in KL. One of the talks was by a local gamedev, Shawn Beck, who has had some success with his game Velocibox – getting on Steam via Greenlight, and also procuring some international exposure. His talk was the main reason I attended the evening. Shawn is a few months ahead of me (I hope) on the indie gamedev path, his thoughts could be very useful to me. The other talks were by local, larger (4-8 people) indie studios creating F2P mobile games – not quite my thing.
Shawn’s talk was a brief history of his career followed by some lessons learnt developing Velocibox. He promised a more complete postmortem of the game in a later IGDA talk (I’ll have to go to that one too). His path to indie game development follows a common pattern: a desire to write games from a young age, but working in the IT business until heading out on his own in a burst of idealism. I hope it works out and he can continue making games – Velocibox is doing “ok” on a MYR20k budget. I’ve previously heard similar advice to that proffered by Shawn, but the repetition is not unwarranted. He counsels keeping to the game’s main vision and producing the simplest expression of an idea. This point was made with a succinct quote I can’t quite remember – something a project being finished when everything that can be removed has been and nothing else. Good advice – I have learnt the same (the hard way). He also suggests trying to “fail fast”, that is work out quickly if your project is worth continuing and modify the project or move onto something else if necessary. After the talk there was some discussion about this. Some people suggested instead of “failing fast”, a new indie dev should “fail hard” and thus learn better from their mistakes. I can see the benefits of both, there is no point doing something that is not working and devs need to get out their and test their hypotheses (like “is this game fun?”) early and often. However, ultimately something must be finished and released. Shawn’s last point was about engaging with the community (do it!) and recommending Casual Connect as a particularly good local conference. This advice was echoed by the two subsequent speakers – especially mentioning Casual Connect. I may need to make plans for this conference coming year.
The other two speakers were interesting in the similarity of their talks. Both studios were set up as commercial enterprises from the start with multi-person teams from day one (4 people seems the standard initial studio size). Both said that visibility in a crowded marketplaces was their greatest problem. Both started in premium mobile games, but found that market limited and migrated to F2P instead. By all accounts the people running these studios (and presenting at this evening) were interested in games and produced quality products. However, I didn’t get any feeling of passion from them, it was just a business (perhaps a byproduct of having employees to manage and pay?). On the move to F2P, one studio said they saw a “10-20x” increase in revenue after the switch. Wow, that is an amazing difference – it would be hard to refuse F2P without strong objections. The other studio said that premium pricing was very hard when having to pay for team every month (presumably because revenue is lumpy – high peaks when a game is released and long, low troughs in-between). They also said that the market expects games to be cheap or even free and this makes it even harder to be profitable without the ongoing revenue of F2P.
Well done Games In Asia, an entertaining and informative evening.