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Chad Chatterton - Selectparks posted 3/25 at 9:52:30 AM PST by DavidRM

Chad Chatterton - Selectparks

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

Actually it just happened . . Julian Oliver, the other primary acmipark designer, had been exhibiting work in galleries and so on for some years and together with another, Stephen Honegger, we conceded that games were the most exciting thing on the planet.

Julian was due to deliver a paper at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology's III Cubed department in Australia about 3 years ago now. At the time we were both had been riding on our excitement of gaming and Half Life, talking about the untapped potentials of game engines, and Julian's paper was directing this discussion towards Architects and Virtual Reality professionals. His point was that the time and money spent on architectural fly-through's and VR projects was falling short of the potential that game engines provide. Game has given us an operational body in our virtual spaces, not just a seat behind a camera, and as a result we're now experiencing our virtual spaces as places.

For the presentation Julian asked me if I wanted to model something indicative of the points he was making. I chose to use Worldcraft to model the Architectural Department at RMIT where most of the audience spend much of their time. Everyone in the audience was very familiar with the Map we showed and it was powerful for a group of professionals at that time to see a real time rendering of a place they new, with the atmosphere and freedom of a game environment. Connected to this level was Julian's own design which represented a degree of abstraction and interaction which, again, we felt games do best. You would be familiar with this map as Qthoth. Its extremely cool and also operates as a tool for live sound performance.

So we were demonstrating the power game engines have to simulate the real and also the fantastic, highlighting the bodily dimension and what that body can generate through interactivity, particularly in relation to sound.

Helen Stuckey of the Australian Center of the Moving Image was in the audience and suggested to us that we ought to submit a proposal to Cinemedia (Digital Media Fund), which funded art projects in Australia related to the screen. At the time the ACMI was part of Lab's major architectural development in the heart of Melbourne called Federation Square. The idea that we developed was to simulate Federation Square and contextualise it in picturesque park surrounds, complete with interactive sound installations and an underground cave network, all of which functioned as an on line world that anyone could access for free. In this way the work would effectively extend the public space of the ACM.

We got the funding and acmipark was the result.

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

No, I have never worked for an established game company, though I would like to spend some time in the belly of the beast . . . anyone? I can say though that when things were going well during acmipark development it was inspiring to work as a tight group on something we believed was really significant. In reality though, those moments were almost too few thanks to the constraints of money, time and the sheer amount of work to be done. Its a very stressful process.

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

5 years could only be a couple of projects away the way things go. Ideally I would like to be working with a small, powerful team developing progressive game scenario's. I'm still interested in working with real world locations, but something more adventurous than acmipark. I think developing a project with Architects on board would be interesting, they seem to appreciate the potential of inter-connections between game and the rest of the world.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

There were many hard times in the development of acmipark, but the most exhausting and threatening aspect was dealing with, then replacing, the initial programming team who took us for a ride for almost 18 months. These guys recognized we were babes in the woods and simply used us for access to RenderWare, and of course for cash, with no plans of actually delivering what they had promised to. Having no experience with a programming team we didn't realise that we were being sucked dry until it was almost too late. The project was massively delayed while the new team frantically tried to bring their code up to speed. They were exceptional considering the time they had.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

I'm currently working on a new game brief which I would eventually like to approach a publisher with. The first step is to secure funding to develop the project to the demonstrable stage of course. Being a finalist in the IGF does help I'm sure, but ask me later exactly how. . .

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

Of course indie games are a part of the greater game development industry; the indie scene generates critical discussion and provides some hope to those interested in the gaming form but dissatisfied with conservative publishing trends. Not only are Indy games capable of dealing with questions of content, but of the development process itself.

I expect the big players view the Indy scene as a breeding ground for new talent which they may one day secure. The scene represents initiative and determination if nothing else.

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

The Independent Game Festival is fantastic in raising the profile of Independently developed games. In relation to Indy developers at the GDC specifically, any aid in the form of financial concessions and real assistance in securing and transporting hardware used to display their work would be greatly appreciated I'm sure. The costs associated with the GDC keep many unaffiliated people away.

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

Well to be honest I don't feel like I'm in an appropriate position to really comment on that, though while any such selection would leave some people disgruntled, it seems to cover a wide range of projects.

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

Well of course CS had a radical impact on the mainstream industry, an effect even the largest companies can't seem to recreate. So its plausible that independently produced titles could have a significant impact in the future. I believe the new generation of engines will bring with them a new generation of mod's and game projects with small teams concentrating on developing content rather than recoding the wheel. Whats more now that games are popular in academic institutions too, we'll see a much broader approach to game making I think.

Things are changing and both acmipark and Escape from Woomera for example suggest that some would-be developers are investing their time in projects that seek an expanded audience. In other words people are beginning to use games to do other things.

Matthew Wegner - Flashbang Studios posted 3/25 at 9:45:42 AM PST by DavidRM

Matthew Wegner - Flashbang Studios

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

Flashbang Studios is basically the commercial continuation of hobbyist development among our group of friends. We had all worked together previously on noncommercial game development projects, including several college projects. I had researched and decided we definitely had the skills, resources, and experience to form a casual games company. It was very much planned, since we formed the company with a very specific market and development focus in mind.

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

Two of our artists have worked in the mainstream game industry previous to working with Flashbang. Based on discussions with them, Iíd say the difference between working in the industry and outside of the industry isnít too significant. The traits typically associated with working for independent developers-more creative freedom, sometimes-unstable income, etc-are more a product of being a small startup studio than they are an independent studio.

The one significant difference is the influence a publisher has on a project. The strain imposed when this relationship is under pressure is felt studio-wide, regardless of any direct contact with a publisher. If your producer is stressing because of a slipped milestone, your lead will be stressed, which makes you stressed, and on down the line.

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

As clichť as it sounds, our goal is to eventually create and sell the kind of games we enjoy making. Some emphasis should be put on ďsellĒ, as one of our goals is to go professional; that is, work full-time and pay the bills with our company revenue. Our plan isnít to jump right into creating experimental work, though. The first few titles weíre releasing to market are ďsafeĒ projects-puzzle-y 2D games inside the boundaries of established genres.

Once we have a baseline revenue stream from our first games, we plan to move into creating riskier experimental titles. In five years, we plan to have made a name for ourselves as the company that successfully introduced fresh concepts to the casual market; concepts previously thought too ďhardcoreĒ to appeal to a wider market. I see the mass-market distribution channels-like Yahoo! Games, Real Arcade, etc-as eager to break out of the swap-to-make-three style games they forged their success around. There will be huge potential in the next few years for companies to modify typical ďhardcoreĒ game styles and technology to fit the mentality of the casual gamer.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

I found the greatest difficulty in finishing the game was managing multiple roles with very different scopes. I acted as both the programmer and producer on the game; I had to both be able to see both the whole forest and the individual trees. Managing task-level scope and project-level scope became very strenuous in the last 10% of the project. Itís easy to get caught in an analysis mode where task work is put off in favor of endlessly figuring out what exactly to do in the first place.

To get around this, I had to discipline myself to behave less autonomously as a programmer. What I would do is take a step back from the project every few days, and create a massive list of features/fixes that needed work. Then Iíd pick two related tasks to work on next, and force myself to focus on them. Thinking about other aspects of the project was strictly forbidden. The goal in taking this approach was to remove autonomy when Iím programming-Iíd just have to trust that tasks were already prioritized.

It may sound silly, but it really helped me out when it came to both managing and programming the same project.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

Weíre always interested in expanding our game distribution possibilities. Our first game, Beeslyís Buzzwords, is available on a number of distribution channels. Weíre talking with some retail people too, but approaching things very cautiously. We arenít looking for a publisher in the traditional retail sense of the word-where they would fund a gameís development with money loaned against future sales-weíre very focused on keeping all of our development self-funded.

IGF exposure has been great, but itís a little early to tell just how many contacts itís unearthed. Weíre very much looking forward to meetings and informal discussions at the GDC. Just being a finalist and having booth space on the show floor is reward enough-we printed a lot of business cardsÖ

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

Before I get on to answering the question, Iíd like to point out a distinction I make between ďindie gameĒ and ďcasual gameĒ developers. I consider ďindieĒ developers to be someone creating a title for the market currently served by the retail game industry. Typically theyíre making the game theyíd like to play with the limited resources they have available.

In regards to indie game development, I think it has a very similar relationship to the retail game industry as mainstream/underground relationships in other mediums: music, film, etc. The mainstream industry tends to play it safe, while the indie scene tends to focus on either sheer innovation or distilling genres to their barest forms. I consider indie development as separate from the retail game industry, although they certainly look to each other for influences-how many indie FPS games would there be if the retail market focused on the puzzle genre?

Demographically distinct from ďindieĒ games are so-called ďcasualĒ games. I use this term to refer to the market currently served by distribution channels like Yahoo! Games and RealArcade. This market is largely ignored and underserved by the traditional retail game industry channels. Casual game developers focus in very heavily on creating games suited for this demographic, idealized as a 35 year-old soccer mom.

I consider the majority of casual game development to be an extension of the industry. Itís really just semantics, but I view it this way due to the ever-increasing amount of large 10+ person studios developing casual games. The barrier-to-entry for casual distribution is high, too, since the big players control an insanely huge audience. I expect to see more retail giants tap the casual demographic through services like EAís Pogo.com (personally, Iím surprised neither HD-enabled PS2 nor Xbox have tapped into it already).

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

The GDC is insanely expensive for independent developers, and particularly so for students. While there are alternative means of attending-IGDA scholarship, Conference Associate volunteer program, etc-it really does create a barrier. I think itís somewhat ironic to have sessions geared at the indie scene when anyone attending paid at least $825 to be there.

There should be more conferences and get-togethers for the independent developer. It would be interesting to create an analogous version of E3 for the indie world; something more focused on business connections and exhibiting upcoming titles than academic betterment.

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

Iím very excited to meet the other developers, and honored we were considered to be among their ranks. The IGFís recent-as of last year, I believe-focus on innovation has helped reflect the finer points of the independent games of today. It shows off the things independent games are great at: appealing to a mass audience (Beeslyís Buzzwords, Chomp Chomp Safari, Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates), raw innovation (Gish, Bont„go, FaÁade), and refining a genre to an extreme amount of gameplay depth (Take Command, Space Station Manager). Thatís just off the top of my head; the games listed are just examples.

Itís assumed by the nature of a competition, but I think itís worthwhile to note the IGF only reflects the highest-quality output of independent developers. The Game Developerís Choice Awards do not necessarily reflect the wide range of quality actually found on store shelves. Likewise, the IGF highlights only the cream of the crop amongst indie game development projects.

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

The wide-reaching demographic appeal of casual genres pioneered by independent developers will become much more commercialized. In particular, the casual space is being targeted by goliath corporations who realize the potential and disposable income of the average 35 year-old.

Another trend I see emerging is veteran industry developers giving up retail development in favor of the smaller teams and project scope of independent work. A good example of this is Escape Factory: after peaking at 25 employees and losing funding on their retail project, the Escape Factory founders moved on to start Sprout Games (Bounce Symphony, Word Symphony, Feeding Frenzy).

I expect to see an increase of self-funded studios, which will change the balance of power in the retail game industry. Weíve even batted around the idea of starting up a retail game project five years from now funded by our casual gamesí revenue.

Kai-Peter Baeckman - Mistaril posted 3/25 at 9:41:56 AM PST by DavidRM

Kai-Peter Baeckman - Mistaril

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

A: Planned. I had been planning a game related business for several years, and been involved in doing contract work for Java games back in the middle nineties. In early 2002 things finally started to fit together and I started working in Mistaril full time in the summer of 2002.

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

A: I have not been employed in the mainstream game development industry.

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

A: Develop more games. The company has found a very supportive community of players and as with all companies, there are plenty of ideas to develop. In 5 years time I will be working with the same thing as now, but there will probably be more people involved in the production process.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

A: Being humble about your work and having enough courage to stand up and take feedback. My biggest victory was accepting that the game was not perfect and still releasing it.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

A: Self publishing has so far been the most profitable option. Being an IGF finalist has given some good general exposure.

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

A: Definetly as part of the overall games development. My humble guess is that their part of total games sales will increase over the next years.

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

A: There are very few GDC sessions aimed at independent developers, especially for ones making downloadable games. My guess is probably that the core reason is that indie skillsets include a lot of business skills very different from the retail business model. For starters, most independent developers have more than five clients.

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

A: For starters, I really think the other finalists this year are pretty good and I'm happy to be part of such a crowd. I haven't really formed a good opinion on how well the IGF represents the state of independent games. I think that due to the emphasis on originality some financially important games are left out, but if this is good or bad is difficult to say. Competitions like this always require value judgements and classification, someting very subjective.

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

A: As very good. A lot of good opportunities, great distribution channels, low barriers to entry and excellent development tools. This is a good time to be in the business or start out.

Andrew Leker - Mind Control Software posted 3/25 at 9:39:26 AM PST by DavidRM

Andrew Leker - Mind Control Software

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

Andrew: I started an independent role-playing game publishing company when I was 19 years old, SkyRealms Publishing, for the SkyRealms of Jorune books that I wrote, so I've been an independent for some time. It wasn't too big a leap to be independent in software. I've done a lot of trailblazing in creative and technical areas, and that's most easily done outside the confines of a large company. So it wasnít exactly planned, but I knew that my creative ambitions were unlikely to find a home at a large game company.

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

Andrew: I had a stint at Visual Concepts (Segaís first-party in the United States) for 13 months and I didnít care for it. I need to be in an environment that believes in design, and principally, that goals come first, not features. Having worked at a large game development company, I've really come to appreciate what a small, motivated group of people can do when they're free to follow their instincts instead of just chase top dollar.

Not to say that we don't spend a lot of time chasing dollars, but we know that the dollars we chase are for the purpose of funding our original development. Lots of large publishers would like to do that, they just haven't yet found a way to justify the risk. In older industries like computer hardware and software at large, plenty of big companies fund super-creative "think tanks." I think games will get there, just not yet.

What I love about being independent is the humane standard of living it affords all of us. The hours are flexible, as are vacations, and people arenít expected to show up when theyíre sick. I think the quality of our products demonstrates that treating people poorly isnít required to create great games. As an Indie, I can have an incredibly small, tight-knit team, and we can quickly break new ground because weíre all operating under the same principles. The greatest difficulty is the time and energy it takes to convince a publisher that youíve got a game worth their development dollars.

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

Andrew: Mind Control Software is extremely aggressive about new areas of game development. We have significant expertise in design and production for cellphone games, Mass-Market Ultra-Casual (MMUC) games, PC, console, and online multiplayer. Our goal is to create games that live in the sweet spot where great games live.

We focus our energy on what should be made, not just what could be or has been created. One year from now we'll have several MMUC games on the market: Oasis, WordStalk, and a few others that are in pre-production now. We'll also have a full prototype of an upcoming hard-core 3D tactics game that we've been working on. Five years from now, Mind Control Software will be a medium sized development house that specializes in original titles, especially online games. I expect we'll have a number of additional excellent titles on the market, games that we ourselves love to play. Additionally, I hope that weíre able to release one of our educational titles. Our goal is not to be the biggest, just the best, and that attitude attracts the right people and the right clients.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

Andrew: Oasis was completely on the back burner and wasnít even going to be prototyped until one of my friends offered me money in exchange for an early version. I was shamed into it over Thanksgiving 2002. This turned into a playable prototype that caught the eye of Marc (Mahk) LeBlanc, whom I had previously met at Visual Concepts. He left his job there and joined Mind Control Software to become Oasisí lead programmer. So, while Oasis isnít yet complete, the hardest part of creating such a refined game was finding a miracle-worker like Mahk who could come onboard and make each aspect of the game really sing. How did this come to be? I followed my passion, and was lucky enough to find someone like-minded and exceptionally talented.

ďCompletingĒ Oasis is really an extended, successive effort. We take a simple game that we really love, and pound on it week after week, month after month in an attempt to refine the experience. Presumably every game could greatly benefit from such an approach, but the industry favors quick turn-around time at the expense of quality. As an independent developer, working on an original, self-funded game, we can actively pursue great games.

As for the hardest part of working on Oasis, it would have to be overcoming the initial impression that the game makes as a lightweight civilization clone. I donít know that weíve fully succeeded, but Oasis clearly comes across as its own game, much more than even a few months ago.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

Andrew: We have signed a publishing deal with PopCap games, the leader in independent mass-market ultra-casual games for the Internet. We are honored to be part of their lineup. They're really smart, creative people. They have partnered up with us to make Oasis as great as possible.

Being an IGF finalist has been of intangible benefit. I donít think itís landed us any work, specifically, but as more people become aware of our efforts with Oasis and other great games, the chances increase of partnering on more excellent projects.

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

Andrew: If Indie games are defined as independent, not-part of a first-party publisher, then most games can be said to be Indie. If itís defined as starving developers who self-fund their games, then itís a much smaller part of the overall game development industry. However, when a great self-funded game makes it into the hands of a developer, the developers have a great chance of no longer starving.

At Mind Control Software, we believe in our ideas enough to invest in them, but we do plenty of 3rd-party work for major publishers like EA and Disney.

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

Andrew: First of all, I love GDC. Iíve learned a lot, but more importantly, Iíve met loads of great people who I can look forward to seeing each year.

As for the game development industry: I think it could stand a bit of maturing, especially on the design side. We need "game design education" that goes beyond post-mortems and pithy "fortune-cookie" nuggets of wisdom. We have to start formulating and disseminating a body of theory. Iím an adherent to Formal Abstract Design Tools, proposed by Doug Church in his Gamasutra article: www.gamasutra.com/features/19990716/design_tools_02.htm

Marc LeBlanc teaches, and I help staff, the Game Tuning Workshop, a two-day tutorial at the GDC each year. In it, attendees learn a formal approach of Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics. It doesnít replace creativity or wisdom, but it sure helps developers communicate ideas concisely and in a principled manner. Iíve been a big believer in this goal driven approach for many years, and I feel lucky that Iíve met a large body of developers who practice the same principles.

As far as making the game industry better, having a better dialog between the creatives and the bean counters is key. Backers want to back visions that are fully-formed, but the best games are developed iteratively. Reconciling that will be key for future generations of developers. There is a model of professional producers groups that fund prototypes, gather investment, and present publishers with projects that require only a fraction of their normal risk and investment. If this model pans out, then more independent games can be made at a lower risk to publishers. It is true that the infrastructure that allows a game to be completed, tested, marketed, and sold does not imply greatness at selecting and funding prototypes.

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

Andrew: I'm very impressed with the competition, not only this year, but every year of the IGF. The best that these games have to offer represents the best of our industry in terms of spirit, drive, creativity, passion, and technical know-how. They definitely represent the state of independent games.

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

Andrew: Independent games will bring bold new ideas primarily to the smaller spaces of games, where the investment is small because most independents canít afford to take large risks. This creates an advantage of sorts, as the best way to take risks is to take small risks. Lessons are learned quickly, and the model better approximates an iterative development cycle.

Indie games are unlikely to get the media attention (and thus the cultural mindshare) of a game like The Sims, but they are likely to influence mainstream developers and get them to think about their products and their work in new ways.

Indie development is all about vision and passion, a powerful pair.

Josiah Pisciotta - Chronic Logic posted 3/25 at 9:32:47 AM PST by DavidRM

Josiah Pisciotta - Chronic Logic

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

Chronic Logic becoming an independent developer just sort of happened. When Chronic Logic was started we knew that we wanted to make video games, but we didnít know what it really meant to be an indie developer. At some point over the last couple years we realized that we were an independent developer and thatís what we wanted to be.

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

No one at Chronic Logic was employed in the mainstream game development industry. We had all worked on games on our own and knew that we wanted to work for ourselves making games.

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

Our goals as independent game developers are really simple. We just want to be able to support ourselves and keep making the games we want. We want to remain independent and keeping making innovative games, that may not appeal to the broadest market, but will be a lot more enjoyable to the people they do appeal to. In a year we hope to have a couple more games under our belt, but the future is an abstract concept which us humans are incapable of fully comprehending.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

Financially there have been times when it was difficult to keep paying all the bills. How did we over come this, borrowing money? Also keeping focus and finishing projects over long periods of time can be difficult.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

We are open to publishing possibilities, but we will also continue to self publish our current and future games. Being an IGF finalist has helped us get more bit more exposure and recognition.

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

Indie games are an important part of the game development industry. Indie developers can try much more risky projects and unproven ideas. This is very important to the industry as a whole, as it keep introducing new ideas and concepts to the industry. I cant say how the overall industry views indies, because I have only been an indie developer.

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

GDC showcasing IGF is a great benefit for independent games and developers. Anything that gets good independent games and developers more exposure and will help the indie games industry.

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

The IGF's focus on innovation and the way that games are judged favors games that are different from the majority. You will see some of the more creative independent games in IGF. In this way I donít think IGF represents the state of independentgames as a whole. You wont see the 1000 puzzle game clones that the indie game industry produces every year at IGF. You also might not see some of the most fun games win any prizes, because the judging is so strongly based on specific criteriaís. The IGF finalists seem to always include some great games and games that I am not very interested in. I guess this speaks for the variety of games that make the finals every year. I am excited to see all the games this year at GDC.

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

I think as mainstream games continue to suck more and more people will play and make independent games, causing a collapse in the stock market, opening the door for a social revolution in which people actual care about society as a whole instead of individual gains. No longer will a person's worth be based on what they own, but what they have contributed to mankind. Also there will be less independent puzzle games, since that markets been flooded.

Tristan Hall - Circular Logic (A DigiPen Team) posted 3/25 at 9:28:26 AM PST by DavidRM

Tristan Hall - Circular Logic (A DigiPen Team)

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

Well our case is a little different than most of the finalist, we made this game as students at DigiPen. Toward the end of development, we decided that we would enter the IGF as an independent developer, because we felt that Bontago was very innovative and professional.

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

No none of us have been employed in the gamming industry as of yet. Ideally, the four of us would like to stay together and continue to develop more innovative games.

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

Right now our goals are pretty up in the air.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

Well we had the added burden to complete our game while also taking 20+ credit hours worth of classes at DigiPen. We overcame this by having good planning, an excellent well-thought-out design, and a team that got along very well.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

It isnít likely that Bontago will be published as-is, but there is the possibility that a sequel would be commercially developed.

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

Indie games are definitely a part of the games industry though they are often overlooked. We think the games industry views indie games as a main source for new ideas and concepts that large game companies are too afraid to experiment with.

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

DunnoÖ

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

I would say that the IGF represents the current state of the independent gaming community with the notable exception of Mod development.

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

As more people become involved with the internet and gaming, indie games will become more Ďmainstream,í because they appeal to a slightly separate audience than other games. Indie games impact the mainstream industry by bringing a wider audience to the industry, and (hopefully) keeping the industry from rehashing the same old game over and over again.

Wade Tinney - Large Animal posted 3/25 at 9:22:10 AM PST by DavidRM

Wade Tinney - Large Animal

1.How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

My partner Josh Welber and I started our company in January 2001 in order to make games. We knew we could earn a living making web-based marketing/promotional games for clients, but we were less clear about how to make money from our own titles. After coming out to GDC in March of that year, we started to get a clearer picture of how that might be possible. The downloadable market was just starting to get going and we made some good contacts with distributors in that area. Since then, weíve been balancing the bread-and-butter client work with the financially riskier original titles.

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

Prior to starting this company, Josh and I were both consultants working for various Internet companies. Neither of us had worked in the game industry. We got to make some games as consultants, but also lots of pretty boring web applications and such. Now we are entirely focused on games, which is excellent.

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

We are trying to get to a point where original Large Animal titles generate enough revenue to cover our operating costs. While it would really nice to sink oneís teeth into a big old console or retail PC title, those arenít objectives for us. We like making games for the casual marketÖlately weíve been really focused on making games that our parents can play. Thatís a surprisingly difficult design challenge and we like that sort of problem.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

Iíd say the most difficult part is deciding when to stop. Thereís never a shortage of ideas and thereís always that one more feature tempting you. Itís much more difficult to draw the line or take stuff away. I think that as a team, we sort of informally take turns being feature-cop and asking ďDo we really need that?Ē. Since thereís no publisher breathing down your neck, its easier to pretend you have all the time in the world. Of course, the fact that a business needs to make money to survive helps keep the pressure on.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

We have good relationships with most of the big distributors of downloadable games and plan to continue supplying those channels with our games. We have an upcoming 3d title (built with the Torque engine) that we are interested in talking to publishers about, but it would also work well as an electronically distributed title.

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

I think that independently developed games are critical to the health of the industry because of their potential to innovate. I assume that people working for large publishers and developers in the industry are interested in independent games in at least a peripheral way, but at the end of the day, they need to meet keep apace of playersí skyrocketing expectations for game technology. (Expectations that have been fueled by their marketing machines, of course.) That type of technology is expensive and far out of reach for most independent developers, and I think that as long as that is the case, it will be hard for most people to compare mainstream and independently developed games (even though the latter may in many cases be superior games).

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

GDC is a great conference and I look forward to it every year. Itís a great place to recharge creatively and remind yourself that there are thousands of other people like you, sitting in front of a computer 12 hours a day for the rest of the year because they want to make games. However, itís pretty expensive for the indie developer - it would be nice if more people in that category could afford to attend. Iím not sure how exactly to achieve that, but Iím sure Alan Yu can think of something. One of the hardest things for an indie developer is getting exposure for their game(s). The IGF is a great idea and Iím happy to see that it is growing (adding a category, getting more sponsors involved, etc). Hopefully it will continue to evolve and help attract the attention of the rest of the industry and the public at large to indie game developers.

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

There are some fantastic games among the 20 that were chosen as finalists and I assume that there were many more fantastic games that werenít chosen. As we all know, itís a highly subjective endeavor. While we feel honored that a small group of judges from the industry liked our game, it would be really cool if the IGF could get a couple million average people to play the games that are submitted and vote for their favorite.

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

I think that independent game developers with some business savvy and a lot of good luck will continue to be able to make a living in this industry. Smaller shops have flexibility that larger developers and publishers can only dream of. The growth of downloadable games market over the past few years is a very positive sign. Independent game developers are in a unique position to create innovative products for players who are currently underserved by the mainstream game industry.

Troy Hepfner - My Game Company posted 3/25 at 9:19:13 AM PST by DavidRM

Troy Hepfner - My Game Company

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

Iíve always loved computer games, and I created lots of simple little games in college. It has been a hobby of mine for a long time. I love playing games, and I love creating them!

In recent years, I have noticed two trends in the mainstream gaming industry that prompted me to consider turning my hobby into a viable business. The first trend is a lack of creativity. I donít even look for games in the stores anymore because there is nothing there I havenít already played a hundred times. The graphics and sound might be fancier, but theyíre essentially the same games I played ten years ago. The second trend is a growing vacuum of clean, family-friendly games. The store shelves are littered with trashy titles and grotesque games. We have many friends with kids who have lamented over this trend, and the more people we talked to, the more we realized that there is a sizable market here that is being largely ignored by the mainstream game companies.

After lots of encouragement from family and friends, my wife and I started our own computer game company. We want to create clean, family-friendly games for boys and girls of all ages that are original and entertaining. Our target audience is primarily Christian families, although our games appeal to anyone who is looking for some good clean fun.

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

N/A

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

Since we are a small startup company, we currently operate on a part-time basis. Our current plan is to release 2-3 games a year for the next couple of years, while we get established and begin to grow the company. Within 5 years, we want to be doing independent game development on a full-time basis. Weíve got some great ideas for epic-sized games, but we need to be able to devote our entire time to implementing them.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

The most challenging part of completing Fashion Cents was creating all the interchangeable clothes! We wanted the game to have a cartoon look and feel, so all of the dolls and clothes are hand-drawn. Scanning the graphics and sizing them all to fit properly was a real challenge. We ended up refinishing all the graphics and repainting them in Corel Photo Paint, so in a sense, we had to do most of the artwork twice.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

For the time being, all of our games will be published as shareware. It was the easiest way for us to get started in the business, because there are minimal up-front costs. The most difficult part of getting started has been advertising, letting gamers know our company exists. That was the main reason we entered our first game in the IGF. We figured if the game could at least qualify as a Finalist, we would get lots of publicity. And we were right! Itís given us a big boost!

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

Independent games are a VITAL part of the game industry, even if many mainstream companies donít want to acknowledge it. Traditionally, independent game developers have led the way in terms of innovation and creative ideas, while mainstream game companies are usually bound by market trends and corporate politics. The trend I have observed is that when an independent game makes the big time, the mainstream companies seize upon the idea and build on it, adding better graphics and sound. Without independent developers, I donít think there would be many truly original games available.

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

I think the biggest challenge facing the game industry is innovation. In the past, many independent games have been technically innovative, blazing new trails in graphics and sound. For example, we all know that Commander Keen was one of the first games to bring smooth scrolling worlds to the PC, and Wolfenstein 3D paved the way for 3D games.

However, in recent years, technology has advanced to the point where the small independent developer cannot afford to compete with the deep pockets of the mainstream game companies in the areas of technical innovation. It takes too much time and resources for the average independent to develop something that is technically innovative. I think independent developers need to learn how to be innovative in new ways, such as gameplay - give the players a unique experience. Some of the games that have had the most impact on me (as a consumer) in terms of ďwowĒ factor have not had true-color, photo-realistic, 3D graphics or amazing surround sound. The games that are the most memorable for me are the ones that let me see/do things that I had never experienced in a game before!

Or an independent developer could be innovative with respect to his marketing approach - write games for niche markets, like girls, small children, or Christian families. Itís a basic rule of business: find a demand and fill it. There are many groups that are overlooked or ignored by the mainstream companies, and thatís a wonderful opportunity for an independent to step in and create something truly unique. Our game, Fashion Cents, is a good example of how this can be done successfully!

I think the GDC and the gaming industry could do more to encourage developers to be innovative in new ways. I appreciate thought-provoking articles by writers such as Ernest Adams, but those kinds of resources are too rare. We need more resources that challenge developers to think outside the box. Many consumers, myself included, want something new to play.

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

Funny you should ask about other finalists. After we submitted Fashion Cents to the IGF, we began working on our next game. It was a word search game but instead of a traditional square grid, we decided to do a hexagonal-shaped grid and use a bumblebee theme. When the IGF announced the finalists back on December 12, we naturally looked through the list to see who our competition was. We were very surprised to discover an entry in the Web/Downloadable category entitled, Beeslyís Buzzwords! It was very similar to our idea! At first we were rather bummed. But then we realized that even though someone beat us to the punch, it was obviously a prize-winning idea! So we are encouraged by the fact that weíre on a roll!

As usual, there is quite a variety of games in the IGF. Itís great to see the large amount of diversity in what is being produced. I certainly hope thatís indicative of a future trend in the independent games market, because we need more variety!

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

I think many consumers are looking for something new and different, and independent game developers have a unique opportunity to satisfy that desire because they are not bound by corporate politics and marketing trends. Those developers who can think outside the box and create truly original games that give gamers unique experiences will do very well in this business. Those developers who canít, who just reinvent the wheel, will never last. You canít make it as an Independent by writing Quake and Half-Life clones, because you canít compete with the mainstream game companies who produce those games far better than you. I think the successful independent games in coming years will be those that give the players something they havenít seen before.

As far as the mainstream industry goes, I think independent games will continue to lead the way in terms of creativity and innovation. As usual, when an independent game makes the big time, the mainstream companies will jump on the bandwagon and try to better it.

Gabby Dizon - Anino Entertainment posted 3/25 at 9:12:52 AM PST by DavidRM

Gabby Dizon - Anino Entertainment

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

When we started our studio in the Philippines, we all had no prior game development experience. When we were developing Anito, we shopped it around to different publishers, but because we had no reputation and had a small budget for producing the game, we stayed an independent studio. Fortunately, it enabled us to enter our game at the IGF, and here we are now =)

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

All of us have never worked in the game industry prior to developing Anito (since there was also no game industry to speak of in our country). A lot of people in our team entered Anino Entertainment straight out of school. So we wouldn't know what it's like working in the mainstream gaming industry =)

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

Our goal is to make the absolute best games that we can possibly make. We feel that we have the people to make AAA games. We would also like to have the resources and contacts in the industry to make this happen. In a year, I'd imagine that we would be working on our first high-profile game. In 5 years, we can hopefully have 2 or 3 teams doing the same.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

The biggest challenge was undertaking such a big project with a very small team. There were only 7 full-time developers working on Anito, and as you may know teams making RPGs usually take anywhere from 20-50 people, because of the massive amount of content that has to be put in the game. We had to cut back a lot of content to meet our deadline, including an entire chapter for both players, an NPC race, and quests related to these elements. We also had a lot of trial and error during development - the initial town of Lanuevo was remade 4 times until the final version, and we went for sprite based animation instead of boned models since it took less research to implement that.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

We already have or are talking to publishers for almost all of the possible territories in Europe. We still have no North American publisher as of now, and are still looking for one.

We self-published our game in the Philippines, and are also using those copies to fulfill our online orders. Being in the IGF definitely helped us gain the attention of our foreign partners - it lent us some credibility that might have otherwise been missing from an unknown rookie studio.

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

I think that indie studios are an important part of the overall industry. This is were some of the brightest people get their start, and without the indie games some very talented people who can move into the mainstream developement (if they wished) might remain unknown. But there are also people who I think like staying in independent development, and not having to deal with the whims of the big publishers. This allows for a level of innovation that many times cannot be seen in mainstream games. Their production values may not be as high, but the gameplay is often very interesting and different from what we can usually buy off the store.

Aside from these yearly events where indies get noticed and awarded, it's usually a hard road for us. Except for the largest indie studios, it's a struggle to get funding, to get people to know about your game (indies usually don't have any advertising money), which translates to low sales. It's a vicious cycle that tends to drive people out to get "real", more boring jobs. Fortunately, there are sites such as GameDev.net, DIYGames and GameTunnel who frequently monitor the events of the underground gaming scene. Hooray also for sites such as Dexterity.com where some of the best (and most fun) indie games are being sold.

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

GDC is a great place to go around in, see the big guys and the little guys like us, attend all the interesting talks, and check out what happens to the industry in general. And what GDC is already doing for the indies through IGF is already fantastic; I don't think we can possibly ask them for more.

Mainstream gaming press seem to give little thought to indie games and their developers. There's only room for the biggest games with huge production values. And this is what most of the gamers read, which influence their buying decisions. And sometimes, when they do review indie games they rank terribly low on the scoring systems, putting more emphasis on production value (which is admittedly lower on indie games) than the overall gaming experience. I'm not asking for a different scale for indie developers, but I just wish that the traditional gaming media, when looking at indie games, focus more on the things that indie games are usually known for: innovation and gameplay. There are some mainstream game sites however that already act this way, and for that we are thankful.

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

I personally haven't played any of the other games in this year's IGF. And the only one that I remember playing previously was Pontifex. Pontifex is an example of a great-playing game which didn't look great at all (at least in its first few iterations!) But it was really fun. I remember losing quite a few hours of working time to that game. Other games, such as Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, seem extremely interesting. I plan to try that particular game sometime.

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

This is as hard as asking me to describe to future of the whole game industry! But I'll give my two cents' worth.

The definition of "indie" will become more blurred than ever. People will start to come out with indie games that are more and more resembling mainstream games, while there will be indie games that will stick to the traditional notion of short, easy-to-play arcade or puzzle like games. This will confuse a lot of people, but I think it's generally a good thing as people will be able to see all the sorts of different games that the indie developers are capable of.

As for their impact on the mainstream industry, I'm not very optimistic about indies making a significant impact; the mainstream industry is already very crowded right now as it is. But there may come a time when players will say "I've seen this all before! I'm tired of sequel-itis and me-too games! I want something fresh!" And when that time comes, indie developers better be ready to offer them something new, original, and (most importantly) fun.

Another area that indie gaming may fulfill is to create games that will not be commercial hits but will explore the boundaries in game design. This is something that happens in film, and I'd like to see it in games as well.

Seth A Robinson - Robinson Technologies posted 3/25 at 9:10:13 AM PST by DavidRM

Seth A Robinson - Robinson Technologies

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

I've been writing computer games since I got my first Commodore 16. When I was around 14, I started selling Legend Of the Red Dragon (a BBS game) and it eventually sold very well. I remember getting 50 checks in the mail in a single day and thinking "Man, this is where it's at!" It was about that time I quit working at my dad's cabinet shop and never looked back, much to his chagrin. :D

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

I've been self employed for the last 13 years but I have worked on many games as a hired gun/consultant.

Working on other people's stuff feels very different - having to deliver under pressure on a project I'm not really interested in is great conditioning though; I believe it helps me finish my own stuff faster, especially during motivational lapses.

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

Iíd like to continue working from home, learn Japanese better (Iíve been in Japan about two years now) and finish my overly ambitious game project someday. Right now Iím able to spend a lot of time with my family and I donít want that to change, itís great.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

Hmm. Dungeon Scroll was designed and developed at a leisurely pace in less than a month, it was probably the first 'zero stress during development' game I ever worked on. I put up a post mortem on Dungeon Scroll with some source here actually:
( http://www.rtsoft.com/codedojo/how_to_write_a_word_game.htm )

I had to deal with some bugs in the CDX library (a pretty cool directx 7 wrapper) which wasted a bit of time.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

Nah Iím not really looking for a publisher, at least not with my current games. Too much effort for too little payoff.

I don't think being an IGF finalist really helped me much in that department, just attracted more of the questionable budget-ware guys that I was already getting contacted by anyway. (Speaking of last years experience with Teenage Lawnmower) It really depends on the game; some games are more marketable than others.

Iím probably overly pessimistic in this area, but thatís just my experience.

On the other hand, Dungeon Scroll is more casual than my usual fare so itís made sense to put it into channels I usually donít, such as on Real Arcade.

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

That's a hard question because there are so many different caliber and degrees of 'indie'. I think "casual games for your mom indie" has really been noticed in the mainstream and hope other forms will see more recognition; the problem is having a small team develop all that content... but people are doing it, amazing really.

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

The IGF is pretty neat and it will only get bigger and more refined as the years go by.

More indie media coverage and demo distribution would be helpful but overall I think that's been improving. Now it's just up to us to make some killer games.

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

From what I've seen it's a very high quality batch of games, I think the judges did a good job.

I'm guessing there are a lot of great games that got skipped simply because the authors didn't enter. With how easy it was this year (it now can be done entirely online) there is just no excuse.

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

Indie distribution is going through some big changes and when the dust settles I hope people can A, still find my stuff and B, realize Iím the guy who made it. :D

R. Norb Timpko - Mad Minute Games posted 3/25 at 9:08:07 AM PST by DavidRM

R. Norb Timpko - Mad Minute Games

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

Adam and myself both have a very entrepreneurial spirit. We both always wanted to get our own thing going and luckily we found each other. Once we saw that the other had the same dreams, we started work on our game.

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

We were both employed by a software company that sometimes worked on game contracts. The best thing about working on our own is that we get to decide what goes in the games.

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

We are just hoping to make enough money to keep funding more games. We currently work nights and weekends and it would be great to work on our own thing full time.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

I won't consider our game complete until it's for sale.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

We are currently planning on self publishing but we are listening to offers. Being a finalist in the IGF has given us a lot of exposure and we have been contacted many times by publishers.

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

We definitely feel that there is plenty of room in the game industry for Indies. A good game is good, no matter who makes it. It takes a lot for me to lay down 60-70 dollars for a game, but I'm more willing to take a chance with a less expensive indeed game.

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

I think it's great. With the internet you can make and publish your own game if you want to. How much you get involved is purely up to you. I think publishers take way too much of a cut, but no one makes you sign. If you don't like it you don't have to do it.

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

I don't know that much about all of the Indies games out there. I have seen the finalists and have looked at last years as well. All the games look great. The amazing thing is that because we are Indies, you don't see the same ideas rehashed in every game like you do in the commercial world. Every game is vastly different.

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

I think the indie game will always be there because they are more likely to come up with the new cool ideas than the mainstream. They are beholden to no one which gives them the freedom to create the game that they want to, with the money people coming in and telling them to do it differently.

Rich Carlson - Digital Eel posted 3/24 at 12:06:04 AM PST by DavidRM

Rich Carlson - Digital Eel

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

The three of us met and became friends while working on different projects at a game company (no plugs) in Kirkland, WA. We started making games together almost right away because we like each other's ideas.

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry?

Yes, there are professional programmers, artists and level designers among us, but the lawyers will descend like winged monkeys if I say another word. (j/k)

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

Eventually, we'd like to see our games being enjoyed on the Moon and Mars. Ultimately, we'd like to become Jovian Game Barons and rule the game industry from our fortified ice palace on Europa. Actually, we just go game by game, although we're always thinking ahead to what the next one or two might be.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

Figuring out what to name it. (If you've seen the titles of our games then you know what I mean.) In the future we're going to use one-word game names like Zap or Fizz. We've already used Groink. I have no idea what I'm talking about right now.

It's not hard for us to complete a game. Digital Eel is self-funded and very grassroots, and we make modest-sized games so the process is pretty easy going.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

====no comment====

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

====no comment====

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

====no comment====

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

We've played most of the games in the web-downloadable category and they're terrific. Last year's nominees were great too. I'm sure there are exceptions out there but the games that get nominated do represent a kind of "best of the indies" roster.

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

It's quite possible that as colleges and universities begin to offer game development degrees, a vibrant indie games scene will arise around campuses. Perhaps indie games will get the same kinds of attention and support that indie films and music get. If these kinds of things happened I think it would have a profound and very healthy effect on the game industry.

Jack Lyon - AstroManic Studios posted 3/23 at 11:22:51 PM PST by DavidRM

Jack Lyon - AstroManic Studios

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

We actually started our company a few years ago to develop "advergames." But we found advergame development a little too limiting for us, since it was more about the advertising, and less about the actual game. Over time, we simply evolved into a full-fledged game developer, focusing on Web-based and downloadable games.

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

AstroManic Studios is comprised of two full time people. There's myself (Jack Lyon) and Patrick Baggatta. Patrick has a background the in the video game magazine industry, so he knew a lot about the traditional game developer market coming into this company.

But I think both of us agree that the overwhelming attraction of being a small developer is the complete freedom and creativity. We have no specific client, so we can work on game titles that are only limited by our imagination, skill and time. We also personally get to work on a variety of things that developers working at larger companies don't get to. The graphics, the game design, the music and sound effects, the marketing, the distribution - it all falls on two people.

On the down side, being a small developer means that it all falls on two people. We try to develop a title every three to four months, which means there's only so much you can do. Since our budget is basically zero, we can' t usually hire out any of the work, which can limit the overall depth or production value of a game. For Chomp! Chomp! Safari, however, our friend Nathan Wilson did the character illustration and a lot of the artwork, which ended up being an enormous contribution to the game's success.

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

I think our biggest goal is just to continue making better games. Games that look better and play better. We're actually not interested in becoming a very large company. In a perfect world, we would bring two or three more people on board to focus on the things that we can't give a lot of attention to.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

The hardest part is simply the huge amount of development that's required to make a game that's worthwhile with such a small team. Patrick does all the actual coding, which is a gargantuan undertaking.

Designing a successful Web-based game is also an incredible challenge. Since it's on the Web, the average person is only going to try the game out for a few seconds, before they click on something else. So, there's the difficult mix of designing a game that someone will immediately understand and enjoy, while making the game deep enough that they'll want to continue to play it beyond those first few minutes of discovery.

Obviously, we haven't completely overcome these challenges, but I hope that we improve our speed and quality with every game that we develop.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

Being so small, there's no way for us to successfully publish on our own games. Since our games our distributed on the Web, we actually use dozens of publishers. We've actually been very fortunate in that regard - we've partnered with some really great publishers that believe in what we're doing and deliver our game to places that we could never get to on our own.

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

Our specific market of downloadable games is an interesting one, since the space is actually shared by big game developers and small indies like ourselves. There are places where our games are listed along titles developed by Sega and Atari, which is just amazing for us. But, for now at least, I still the two industries as pretty separate. The vast majority of developers in the downloadable game market are still small independents like us. Our customers are also a totally different demographic.

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

I'm really not sure. GDC is without a doubt the best show for us, though. We 've found some great distributors through the show.

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

We honestly haven't had any time to really check out the other finalist. I' ve always really liked the stuff that Large Animal Games has done though. I' d say they're a strong example of an indie game developer that does consistently high-quality work.

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

With all the downloadable game sites doing well, it seems that there's been a gigantic increase in independent developers over the last two years. It's getting extremely crowded in our space - the game title turnover rate on all the more popular downloadable game sites is just mind boggling. With so many new developers and games popping up, it does make it more of a challenge to create a game that even has a chance to get noticed.

Beyond that, I think that the quality and creativity of independent games is going to continue to rise. Indie developers are far more likely to take risks and make really unique games that don't necessarily fit in one particular genre. And as more professional-level development, graphic and sound tools are becoming affordable to a company of our size, I think the production value of the average indie game is going to skyrocket.

Dan Goldstein - Shizmoo Games posted 3/23 at 9:21:12 AM PST by DavidRM

Dan Goldstein - Shizmoo Games

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

I was working for a company doing massively multiplayer role playing games, and got frustrated with the management there as well as the projects we were working on. My brother and I decided to do our own games professionally, and the rest is history. We didn't initially anticipate our current market or type of games, however.

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

Working on your own projects is definitely rewarding, when those projects are labors of love. If you are doing indie games on more of a contractor basis, it's a lot less fun. It can also be difficult maintaining motivation without a lot of outsiders pushing you on. Working alone or with only a few other people can also be a drag. But of course there's huge potential upside, and you get to set your own hours and do your own projects!

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

We like to make socially interesting game experiences that aren't like other games that already exist. In a year I think we'll be similar to how we are now, but with much better distribution. We may also have some other products that don't fit our current mold by then. In five, I think we'll be a well known name in multiplayer web games, and possibly many other channels. I think we'll still be 'independent', though.

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

Which one? We've made about 14 at this point, packaged in 25 skins available in several different locations! Completing games is relatively easy for us these days, because all our games rely on our proprietary platform which is designed to make prototyping and deploying multiplayer games a snap.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

We have a few distribution models, but at the moment none of them requires a traditional publisher. Future titles or retail versions may require a publisher, but being indie is really just about developing the games independently. Using a publisher for distribution doesn't take away from that. It's the publisher funding the whole process of development that matters.

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

Certainly they're part of it. It's really just a question of who is calling the shots during development. The overall industry may be a bit surprised as the indie share of things grows. However, we're already starting to see consolidation and some new 'publishers' in the online space. Things on the web may simply get to be more like they are at retail soon. Of course there will always be indie developers, but how many people will get to see the games they make?

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

I think the IGF is a great venue for independent games. Raising awareness is probably the thing that's going to improve the state of things the most. Also, we need better free tools for game developers. The price of developing a reasonably complex game is really high right now.

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

They represent one facet of independent game development. There are many facets, though. For example, there are lots of indy projects that never get to a stage that would interest the IGF. You could argue that being incomplete those aren't really games, but they certainly have things to contribute.

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

I think that independent games are going to become more and more common as more people learn to program and development gets easier due to improved tools. Let's face it: programming is the critical piece that takes a lot of specialized knowledge in game development. Sure, you need to do artwork and create a good design, but those things can be done poorly. With programming, if you don't have the skills you can't even make a poor product.

The impact on the mainstream industry really depends on what you consider an independent game and what you consider the mainstream industry. If an independent game is any game that is not funded by a publisher, then there are two possibilities: either it was funded by someone with deep pockets, or it is a really simple game. Simple games can be great, and the question then becomes whether or not the mainstream industry includes those. If so, you'll see some serious impact. If not, then since no many people have the opportunity to get external funding, so you won't see much impact. Again, as tools develop it may become easier to make complex games, but there's always going to be a limit to how complex a couple people in a garage can get, even if that's speaking just graphically.

Iain McNeil - Slitherine Software UK Ltd posted 3/22 at 12:22:29 PM PST by DavidRM

Iain McNeil - Slitherine Software UK Ltd

1. How did you become an independent developer? Was it planned? Or did it "just happen"?

It was sort of an accident. A few years ago I was a producer at Eidos & one of the games I was given was T-Tex - a 3D FPS for the GBC (not GBA). The developers of this game had a great idea, but no idea how to put it into practice. Its a long story, but the upshot is that I left Eidos, we got involved & Slitherine was born, but we took it in a very different direction & have now brought 4 PC strategy games to the market, which we think is a major achievement!

2. Were/are you employed in the mainstream (i.e., non-indie) game development industry? If so, what do you like/dislike about working as an independent versus working within the industry?

Initially I worked at Intelligent Games, who unfortunately are no longer with us. While there I worked on a number of titles including Simisle for Maxis and was team leader on the Westwood projects, such as Red Alert Aftermath & Counterstrike, Dune 2000 & Dune Emperor, before I decided I needed a change of scenery. I moved to Eidos as a producer and worked on Urban Chaos, Praetorians, Warrior Kings and Deus Ex. I realised that working for a publisher was not as much fun as I'd hoped as the developers don't want to listen to any of your feedback and just think you are interfering. To them you are always an outsider. This made me want to get back into development again & that's why Slitherine happened.

In theory large developers offers security, but in practice its not always true. The problem with a large developer like IG is that the wage bill is huge - with around 50 developers costing £3-4k a month its around £250k a month with overheads! If your game is a month late, that's £250k lost. You cannot afford to fund your own game development because of the cost, which means you are always trying to sell an idea to a publisher. If it takes you 4 months to sell the idea, that's £1m. What if they turn you down.... The amounts of money involved are scary. You can go from a nice profit of £1m to a loss in a few months.

Say you work for EA and are doing Harry Potter II. If they cancel the project half way through what can you do? You can't take it to another publisher because EA own the Harry Potter license. You are tied in to them completely and any work you have done is wasted.

Being independent means we fund the development, not a publisher. It also means we own all the IP and any licenses required to do the game. Its a little scary because you don't know if anyone will publish your game when its done, so there are still risks - just different ones! The advantage is if one publisher says no, you can to the next, then the next. There are a surprising number of them out there!

3. What are your goals as an independent game developer? Where do you see yourself, in terms of game development, independent or otherwise, in a year? In 5 years?

There are too many people involved between the developer & the gamer & each take a chunk of the pie. For example Legion sold around 35,000 copies in the US and we received about $2-$3 a unit. Gamers don't realise how much of their money gets eaten up by shops, warehouses, etc. We'd like to cut down on the number of people taking their chunk of the pie & we still want to be independent!

4. What was/has been the hardest part of getting your independent game completed? How did you overcome that?

There are so many challenges its hard to pick one out! There is the development itself, but so much other stuff that people forget about! Negotiating with publishers, contracts, marketing, testing, manuals, box art, translations. The list goes on! You need a team with a mix of skills ranging from the obvious art, programming & design tasks, to project management, marketing, test management, business management (pay the bills, wages, taxes etc), contract negotiation.

5. Are you looking for a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish your current and future games? Has being a finalist in the IGF helped?

We are publishing Spartan through the normal channels and have signed publishers in most areas, but are still looking for partners in some places. If anyone is interested they should contact us! We'll be looking at all the options in the long term.

6. Do you see indie games as a part of the overall game development industry? Or do you think of them as something separate? How do you think the overall industry views indies?

I see them as the same thing, just on a different scale :)

7. What do you think the GDC in particular, and the game development industry as a whole, could do to improve the current state of independent games and developers?

Currently its very hard for independents to get to market. Until you've proven yourself with a published game its hard to get anyone to take you seriously. There are incubator programs and the like, but at the moment nobody has developed the skill of talent spotting. In other industries scouts will spot up and coming talent and develop them. As an industry we just don't do that at the moment. We wait till someone has proved they can sell games before we are willing to invest in them and it is restricting the development of the industry.

8. What do you think about the other finalists in the IGF, this year's finalists as well as those from past years? Do you think they, and the IGF, represent the state of independent games as it is today?

I hadn't actually heard of the IGF before this year and we only found out about it on the day the entries were due. We had to rush so much to get all the information together and we really didn't think it would lead anywhere. The version we sent off was one that we had just sent to the beta testers, so we were lucky to have that available. In the end its worked out really well for us. Being a finalist in the competition has opened a lot of doors.

As we have been mastering Spartan for the last months we haven't really had a chance to look at the competition. After working till 9pm every day the last thing you want to do is look at another game ;)

9. Describe the future of independent games, as you foresee it, and the impact of independent games on the mainstream industry.

I think its looking healthy. Managing game developers is like herding cats - they all want to go their own way and do their own thing. I think game developers will always be looking for a way to be in control of their game and this means we see new developers springing up for a long time to come. The failure rate is pretty high right now, but maybe that will improve as the industry matures.

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