A View on Indie Development from the Inside…
By Guy DeRosa
The games industry is packed with developers interested in making a jump over to indie development, but where to start, and how do the successful ones do what they do?
Skillsearch Games & Interactive Recruitment sits down with the co-founder of Just A Pixel and the Brighton Game Collective, Danny Goodayle, for a rare five minute breather to uncover what drives him, why indie developers must embrace networking - and how being a successful dev is sometimes about more than making games...
When did you first become interested in game design?
When I was 10! I started my career when I was 16 making very basic websites. I went to uni but left a year early and ended up working at game studio PLA. I worked there for six months before being offered a very well-paid job as a tech director for an advertising company, making augmented reality cars that customers could interact with via mobile.
Why did you decide to become an indie dev again?
My girlfriend Roberta Saliani was working at Playfish when it shut down. We had already been talking about setting up our own videogame company plus I was missing making games - the creativity rush in advertising just wasn't there any more. So we packed up, moved to Brighton and set up our company Just A Pixel. We'd never even been to Brighton before!
So what's your typical day like?
I wake up at nine, head into the office and work until four in the morning every day, mostly because we are doing multiple projects at the same time from games to advertising-based assignments and need to finish things. The two of us are trying to do the work of four people so we have to put in ridiculous hours to get everything done!
Have you ever been tempted to hire in an extra pair of hands?
We hire people for any expertise we don't have. For instance, we've brought in an artist who is working on one of our mobile game projects. She takes care of the art side which allows me to focus on the game and the mechanics while Roberta can manage the production and the overall game design.
What games are you working on at the moment?
Mobile game Bashy Cars which we will be releasing soon. The game started out as a 48-hour prototype after we were asked to make a mobile game for a client - but we didn't want to accept the job unless we knew we could completely deliver our own mobile game.
You create games, make advergames plus work on other dev's projects such as Mike Bithell's Volume. Is such diversification key to surviving and flourishing as an indie dev?
Multi revenue streams help make our business more stable. Game work tends to ebb and flow over time so there aren't always contracts available. But advertising always has projects to work on so whenever we have no game work coming in, I can take on an advergame or an augmented reality project.
Tell us about about your other co-venture, the Brighton Game Collective.
Working with former Creativity Assembly employees, Tom Pickard and Julian McKinlay, we wanted to bring more games devs to Brighton and help them network with one another. When we first started out down here, there were very few places you could go and actually ask questions without heading to an event... which normally involved drinking!
We wanted to have a space where, for instance, you could ask business questions - how do I run one? How does it work? We wanted to provide that kind of network plus offer people the opportunity to hire a desk in an office packed with other devs.
How do you see the Collective developing over time?
We would like to have as many different types of creatives in the Collective as possible so it acts as a big hub. People can then talk to each other and connect and figure out solutions to different dev problems. For instance, if someone is working on a project and needs help with art assets, they know that there is an artist in the office who can help them.
It's all about allowing intracompany relationships to form - instead of having a massive developer working on one or two projects, you'll have a bunch of different devs who can all benefit from a big developer-like setup instead. You also get the social aspect as well - lots of people here go out and have lunch together, instead of being sat at home alone.
How is the financial side of the Collective handled?
It is non-profit so any money that comes in basically pays for our members to go to different events for example. It also means we can afford a nice office with a quality internet connection plus many other benefits. If you were to go it alone, it would cost a lot more - the hidden costs of running an office and the cost of business rates, etc. Instead, you can have a desk with a fixed fee each month and that's it.
How do you see the indie dev scene as a whole?
It's maturing as an industry - people are learning how to make sustainable businesses with real longevity. It's more important than, say, the big names that come out with a big game and then everyone looks up to them as if this is how we should all make games.
That said, there is still too much focus on individuals instead of products, i.e., this game is going to be successful because this particular person made it. I think a focus on actual games instead of individuals is a far more beneficial approach to take.
Why are so many people drawn to the indie dev scene instead of mainstream developing?
Simple - since it's become easier to make your own games, there's very little motivation to work for a large studio and spend three years of your life working on a single project. As an indie dev, you can spend six months making and releasing a title and end up with a game under your belt!
What advice would you give to someone starting out as an indie dev?
Do think about your market and carry out market research; don't expect to just release a game and for it to be a hit. Make sure you network with other developers too because they can help you in ways that you may not have considered - for instance, advice on marketing, business strategies and finding good staff.
Also, be open to communicating what your business is and what you are doing. Never lock yourself in a room for months - networking will allow you to expand your game in ways you wouldn't have thought possible.
How important are recruitment companies to the indie scene?
For indie devs looking for contract roles on bigger titles, they are very useful because such opportunities are not always readily available via word of mouth.
Recruiters though could help indie devs further by sourcing and offering more short term flexible contracts such as working for three months on a big game while being allowed to do your own stuff part-time. Such an approach would quickly boost an indie dev's funds and experience.
The final and most important question - what are your favourite games and how have they influenced you?
That's a tricky one - I guess Metal Gear Solid, the Fallout Series and Deus Ex. They offer multiple routes to solve a single problem plus the skill system inside the Fallout and Deus Ex games in particular keeps you coming back and playing in different ways. We tried to pull off that approach but on a very small budget with our own game, Light.
If you are interested in freelance or permanent work within the games industry, please feel free to contact me for advice and a chat about your options