Develop Indie Day

Last Thursday I went to the Develop Indie Dev Day in the English seaside town of Brighton. My reasons for going were threefold. The sessions themselves sounded interesting, I’d get a chance to chat and socialise with friends my indie lifestyle is preventing me from spending time with, and lastly to try to show my game prototype to a few people.

I live in Guildford, which is around 45 miles away from Brighton, but due to a quirk in the layout of the railways in the South-East of England, the train journey would be close to 80 miles. The reason for this is that railways radiate out from London in all directions, but there’s very few lines going around London so you’re forced to go into London on one line, and back out on another. For me, this meant I got out of bed at 6am, which is something I’ve not done for a long time, and I spent two hours trying not to fall asleep on the train.

The Sessions

The majority of the day was spent in sessions – there was a programme specifically targeted towards indie developers, mostly talking about the business side of things rather than the actual game creation process as it’s assumed we can already do that. This is in contrast to the main Develop sessions that were mostly focussed on the actual production side of games development.

The opening keynote from my old colleague Sean Murray of Hello Games was particularly interesting as it cut through the glamour of indie development and talked about the difficult realities of money, the fact that failed indie studios are never reported in the press – distorting the chances of success, happiness (or the lack of it), hating your game at various points in development and so on. On his graph, I was still on the first happiness peak after forming a studio. Perhaps the session was a depressing way to begin the day, but it felt like a very honest account and there is still light at the end of the tunnel as his own survey showed that the vast majority of indie developers would rather do nothing else.

Other sessions of particular interest to me were covered the legalities of running a small games studio (IP law, defending against patent trolls, etc), and another on how to raise funding. The funding one in particular was an eye opener as it showed that most investors are not interested too much in the product you’re creating – they’re more interested in you and your business as a going concern and on building a long-term relationship with them, even before any money changes hands. It also showed me that if I’m to secure funding in this manner, I have a lot of skills to learn outside the field of games development.

Networking

Networking is a skill I clearly need to develop (pun intended?). When I’ve attended conferences like this in the past, I’ve always been there as part of a large company, so I can spend time between sessions and at the end of the day just catching up with friends and avoiding talking with the scary new people. However, when running a small business you need to promote, this clearly isn’t the best option as you need to get out there and talk to everyone. I’m afraid to say I did end up spending too much time “safely” with friends and perhaps not enough time talking with potential publishers, investors and other useful people to know.

Perhaps my social awkwardness caused some wasted opportunities, but I did pluck up the courage to talk to some people, especially after a beer or two had been consumed. I swapped lots of business cards and shook hands with a lot of the attendees. I also wore my company logo t-shirt all day with pride, so hopefully more people are aware of my company now – which may or may not translate into future sales. The Google Analytics for my company website shows there was a definite boost in traffic during the day – huzzah!

I also got good feedback on my game prototype – everyone “got” the game mechanic straight away which was good, but with a programmer art white-box level I wasn’t wowing anyone. This showed me I was deluding myself in thinking I could build this game single-handed to a high enough standard. The day made me realise the project needs input from artists – probably from some cunning level designers too. The trick is going to be achieving this whilst not running out of money. I’m not about to give up just yet!

The Aftermath

The next day I felt utterly drained and depressed. I was not expecting this at all. I don’t know whether it was just down to tiredness, or the reality of what’s required to build and sell my game hitting me like a ton of bricks – “It’ll take me forever to build this”, “We’ll run out of money long before it’s done”, “What’s the point? I should just go and get a job”. I’ve not felt that down for a long time. I went to sleep early that evening and didn’t get out of bed again till lunchtime on Saturday. I didn’t really feel fully awake for the whole day. This AltDevBlogADay post was due on Sunday, but I just felt like there was no point opening WordPress and starting to type. Only yesterday (Monday), did I start feeling like myself again. I looked after my two children all day and they have a happy tendency to always cheer me up.

Today, I’m back to working on my game again – getting a ton of email out of the way, organising a potential concept artist, working out a plan for the next engine feature. From here, I’m wondering what I was so down about, but I have to say my mood for the last few days has taken me (and my wife) by surprise.

A (Humorous?) Story About Trains

I posted on the social networks yesterday that I would include a story about trains in this article. I don’t like to end on a down note, so here it is.

On the way back from Develop, I had make sure I caught the last train home. It was a three part journey to Guildford. I walked to Brighton station on time and caught the 22:33 to Haywards Heath as planned. The next train was from there to to Clapham Junction, so I boarded the train and got myself comfortable. I might add at this point that I’d had rather a few beers before beginning this journey. After what seemed like an endless journey, which fely like the train was stopping at every tiny village on the way, we reached Clapham Junction.

Or so I thought…

I got off the train, found a member of staff and asked them what platform I needed for the Guildford train. He looked at me puzzled – “You need to go to Clapham for that mate”. WTF? I look around and a lot of very clear and well lit signs pronounce that I’m actually in East Croydon. EAST CROYDON! By this point, the train I had just disembarked had already gone off without me. I won’t repeat the string of expletives that went through my brain, and probably through my mouth too, but suffice to say, it was time to PANIC!

I sent a message to my wife who told me that there was a later train to Clapham at 11:58, which would get there in time for me to catch the train to Guildford. Panic over I thought and went to the correct platform to wait.

The allotted time arrived. The allotted time passed. No train arrived

Then, an announcement stating that the train was cancelled! Noooooooooooo!!! I waited longer still for an even later train, but by the time I eventually got to Clapham Junction I had missed the last train to Guildford by some margin.

Thankfully, my wife was an absolute star and came to pick me up in the car with the children bundled up in the back, still wearing their pyjamas. Home safely, I collapsed in bed.