Josh Williams is the CEO of Garage Games. A brief look at the wikipedia article on GarageGames and you'll see why Josh and the company are such a success, know for their Torque game engine as well as the publisher behind many successful indie games. So Josh knew what he was talking about when he asked the rhetorical “What is an indie developer” question to those attending the conference. His answer was simply that an indie game developer is that a person, or team of people, who retain the creative control of their game because they aren't having to deal with the constraints put on the team by an outside publisher or distributor. And it is that creative control that is the critical strength to an indie company. They are able to have innovation in game play that big companies can't truly have. Of course, they also have to face many different challenges than a big name company would. How to get done what needs to be done to make the game being the most obvious one. It isn't always easy for an indie company to find the time, the talent, the technology, and most of all the funding, to create the innovation that they'd like to create. That last item, the funding, became the focus for much of Josh's talk.
Many indies just decide to try to “boot strap” the funding of their game. This “do-it-yourself in your spare time” has worked for a few, but is probably the most difficult to make a game on. The developer takes on debt, uses life savings, inheritance, or whatever they can find, to buy what they have to in order to get their game made. Many will continue to work a full time job, programming and designing in the evenings and weekends only, drawing out the development process until sometimes when the product is finished it is “too late” to still be innovative. And, of course, the running joke around the room seemed to be about wives who lose patience with the boot strap method of game creation.
Other options mentioned were to find investors, either by taking out a loan or finding someone willing to invest in your company and your game. That is, of course, easier said than done. Project based funding is similar, but based on a single project, not a company as a whole. Sometimes this is a better way for an indie game developer to start because by proving that they can complete and create a successful project once, investors are more willing to look at them as a company to invest in. Other options mentioned were to take on contract work while developing your game on the side, an option that many seemed to perk up at. And some of the developers in the room were university students making their games while learning, though funding for this is often very limited.
Josh then moved on to talk about technology options for the indie company, and this is where it got interesting to me. Of course, the first option mentioned was to create the technology on your own. Not something I'd particularly want to do, but some might. What perked my interest was when he started talking about the different game engines. Most everyone has heard of some of the big engines like the Unreal game engine, and possibly even the Torque game engine designed by GarageGames, but one of the ones mentioned that I'd never heard about was Multiverse. And the designers of Multiverse were there to talk to developers and explain what was different about their engine. I think that this interaction is what made this conference so special. I could go on and on about the things Josh talked about, but ultimately it was his last idea that is what made the conference as a whole so special, that being to get together with other developers and form a community of developers to make your game.
This weekend really stressed that. There were people attending who were specialists in programming, ones with big ideas but little programming knowledge, to artists with skill in character model creation but no one to create for, all coming together to share ideas with one another. Josh's final message was one of encouragement. Indie game developers need to not be their own worst hurdle. They need to understand that they can do what they set out to do. Creativity is the key, and knowing what game you want to make and why is one of the greatest assets of an independent game developer. Looking around the room I saw a number of young, creative people, and thankfully some my own age as well, that really made me excited about the possibilities of where independently created virtual worlds would be heading in the not so distant future. And I was very glad to be attending a conference where these people were sharing ideas and knowledge with one another. Tomorrow I'll tell you more about some of the roundtable discussions which happened during the conference, so stay tuned for more all week.
The “glory days” of computer gaming for me were when games like Spectre Supreme, Pirate’s Gold, the Might and Magic series, the original Prince of Persia… those sorts of games were coming out on a regular basis. Back then I owned a Macintosh and was a die hard Mac fan. I was one of the first in my area to buy an iMac and on it learned the joy of playing games on the internet like daily crossword puzzle and “mind bender” type puzzles. My first online RPG was given to me for Christmas the year EQ was released, and I was hooked from day one. I played EQ for about a year. I started playing DaoC during late alpha testing, and was hooked on it.. well, to be honest I still am. I’ve tried pretty much every MMORPG I can get my hands on, from big names like EQ, to more obscure ones such as Underlight. I’ve been writing for IMGS since the first DaoC guide, and find I love the challenge of learning a game and presenting what I’ve learned (and sometimes my opinions), to other players.
I’m not a very strong player as far as learning PvE or quick reaction times, so I tend to stay away from games where I’m pitted against someone else in a way that requires physical (rather than mental) response. I still enjoy story and puzzle games, and in a way that’s how I still approach online games. I would much rather spend hours working through a quest than 5 minutes in combat against another player. I still get lost in simulation type games, obsessing over them until I’ve gotten them beaten. And I like being able to sit down at the computer when I’ve got less than half an hour and playing through a few levels of a puzzle game. I tend not to like first-person shooter type games, or anything with person to person violence, so I steer away from them unless they are fantasy based settings. All in all, I enjoy computer gaming so much that my life feels incomplete somehow when my computer is down.