MCM London Comic Con Panel: How to Be an Indie Games Developer

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Have you ever had a great idea for a video game? Perhaps you’ve already started creating your own? Well, according to indie developers and Arch Creatives founders Ollie Clarke (LA Cops, The Button Affair, The Typing of the Dead: Overkill) and Steve Stopps (Lumo Deliveries), there has never been a better time to get started. At the MCM London Comic Con on Friday, the pair shared their advice for aspiring games developers.

Perhaps the best thing about working in independent games development today is the fact that there are so many excellent tools available, many of which are free to download and easy to learn to use. This means that it’s now become possible to make games even if you’ve never programmed anything before. Examples of great game engines given were Construct 2, Unity and RPG Maker. Of these, Construct 2 was described as the most simple and best for beginners, while Unity, though still relatively accessible, is perhaps the most versatile, with the biggest online user community. Others, like RPG Maker, are more tailored to specific types of games.

arch creativesOnline communities are a fantastic way of learning to use software, with plenty of forums and video tutorials around to help people get started. There are even online asset stores selling characters, scenery and animations – perfect for those just starting out, since they enable aspiring developers to produce something quickly and to get used to how everything works before deciding for definite whether or not games development is for them. They’re not so good, however, for serious developers hoping to create their own unique brands: to do this, you’ll need to get hold of some 2D and 3D design software such as Xara or Illustrator, and start producing your own assets – or, if you’re not so hot on visual design yourself, find an artist to create some for you.

Making your first game is always hard, according to the speakers, and they recommended starting out as small as possible. “Try to make your first game in two weeks,” Steve suggested. This enables you to get something finished, get people playing it, and learn from their reactions what went well and what needs improving. You might find at first that “everyone plays your game wrong,” but if what seems obvious to you isn’t clear to your audience, that probably means you need to make some changes: if the game has been successful, you shouldn’t need to be there to tell people how to play it. Although it means learning to deal with criticism early on, getting lots of things completed and putting them in front of people to play is much more immediately rewarding than spending years working on something that may ultimately never see the light of day.

ConceptKeyArtThough patience and practice is key to success, the most important part of being a developer, according to Ollie and Steve, is to have fun and enjoy it. Ollie likened the process to cooking, where you’re trying to make something that people will enjoy, and you test things out as you go along. It’s also important to work with a group of people with whom you get on well, and who share and understand your vision. If a creative team are enthusiastic about a project, the chances are that players will see their “joy shining through” in the game.

Asked by a student audience member about to break up for the summer whether it would be better for them to look for an internship in the industry, or to spend the time making something of their own, the panellists both recommended creating something independently as the better option, partly because it’s actually easier to break into the industry if you’ve already done something on your own. They did qualify this, though, by explaining that it ultimately depends what you enjoy and what you’re hoping to achieve. If you’re happy to be a small cog within a much bigger machine, and you want to be working on games that everyone has heard of, then a placement is definitely the way to go. On the other hand, if you’d rather work towards building your own company and having creative control over your work, it’s better to get hands-on experience as soon as possible.

860A second audience member then asked how to go about publishing and promoting their work for the first time. The speakers explained that one of the reasons it’s so great to be a games developer today is that the Internet has made it easy to connect with players directly. They stressed that it’s important to start out by knowing exactly who your audience is, since this allows you to find them and tell them about your work quickly using forums and social media. This is a great way of getting feedback quickly and of steadily building up an audience: if you can get a few people really excited about your work, they’ll probably start telling their friends about it. They also recommended carefully considering the platform you’re publishing on: for example, if you’re opting for the IOS store, it’s worth thinking about how your game can help Apple to sell products, because they’ll then be more keen to help you with publicity. On the other hand, if you choose Steam, you’ll want to have a game that’s really innovative and different to stand out from other indie titles. Whether its worth going with an established publisher or not is down to personal choice. They can, of course, help you to reach bigger audiences more quickly, but those audiences will never really be yours. If you decide to go it alone, it may be a few years before you produce a game that’s truly successful, but if you build up an audience by yourself, they’re much more likely to stick with you and take an interest in your future work.

Arch Creatives is a not-for-profit organisation that runs a working space in Leamington Spa for game developers and other digital creatives. Check out their website, or follow @ArchCreatives, @OllieClarke or @KumotionUK on Twitter for updates. You can also find out more about Steve Stopps’s work with Lumo Developments here, check out his “guerrilla publishing” service, Kumotion, here, or try out some of Ollie Clarke’s games created with Modern Dream here.

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