Going Indie: Making the Transition from Cog to Linchpin

This weekend Cathy led a workshop on running an indie game studio. The workshop was part of a series called ‘New Game Makers,’ run by Dames Making Games and Bento Miso, and offered workshop participants the opportunity to learn from different speakers about the various aspects of game development. Cathy’s workshop, titled ‘Inside the Studio: Games from Idea to Production,’ focused on what it’s like to make the transition into indie game development.

The event led me to my first experience with both Dames Making Games and Bento Miso. I’d heard of DMG before and I know that Tim works at Bento Miso a few times a week, but I first got to see the space when we went to a DMG social the night before Cathy’s presentation. It looked like a pretty awesome place to work and the people were welcoming and friendly- which is exactly what I’d heard about Toronto’s gaming community. The social also introduced me to the Jeuxly participants (who would attend the workshop the following day) and their games-in-progress.

The workshop started off with a review of Cathy’s background in animation and the history of Rocket 5. Cathy talked about Rocket 5’s beginnings, and what it’s like to make the choice to ‘go indie’ when it comes to game development. She talked about salary VS self-employment, and the workshop participants were quick to help provide risks associated with working for someone else and the benefits of being your own boss. Cathy stressed that making this choice is personal and not everyone should make the same one, but that when it comes to choosing self-employment, one of the most important things to remember is that YOU are a valuable asset.

When talking about Rocket 5’s beginnings, Cathy also emphasized the importance of being flexible and ‘diversifying your revenue streams.’ Taking in contracts for extra money has been important to Rocket 5’s ability to produce original games. This flexibility meant solid teamwork, as well, and Cathy went on to talk about the importance of choosing your team carefully and maintaining a professional relationship when you’re working, even if you’re close to your co-worker (say, husband and wife).

While the choice to go indie and the task of choosing your team is entirely personal, so is your concept of success. Cathy outlined Rocket 5’s criteria for success in 5 points:

(1) Does this make us happy?

(2) Are we making games we love?

(3) Do other people love our games?

(4) Do our games receive critical acclaim?

(5) Do we make enough money to live comfortably?

This definition of success is entirely subjective to Rocket 5, but it means that the inspiration for games is not, ‘What sort of game will make the most money?’ I think this is why the indie gamer community is so colourful; profit isn’t the only driving force behind these games. There’s room to be unique and innovative, and make games you love, so indie game developers aren’t just pumping out game after derivative game.

Cathy spoke about the resources available to indie gamers, particularly in Toronto. The Toronto game development community, which I’m just getting to know myself, is completely friendly and accessible for people just getting into game development. It’s growing more and more each day, too, increasing the potential for games to rise up as a more popular art form. In addition to this, there are plenty of online learning resources for game developers, and Cathy suggests that anyone looking to get into the industry should ‘be a sponge.’ Soak up all the information you can get and remember that learning never really stops. Check out this past blog post for a ton of links to some of these resources.

After this, the workshop participants broke into groups. Cathy and Tim explained the components of a basic game design document, gave each group a fill-in-the-blank version of one, and asked them to come up with some game ideas. Tim suggested each member of the group pitch an idea and then the group would choose the best one. The ‘teams’ only had about an hour to do this, but when the time was up, it was amazing what kind of ideas they’d managed to come up with. Each group presented their game concept, and the ideas ranged from the more traditional to entirely experimental. It was awesome to see everyone so involved in the exercise and eager to get their ideas out there. One group even said they had four fully fleshed out game ideas and had difficulty choosing only one to present.


It was great to hear all of Cathy and Tim’s advice, learn about game design docs, and then see the workshop participants so enthusiastic about what they were hearing. It was an awesome experience and has me more and more excited about getting to know Toronto’s game dev community, which is apparently full of motivated people with exciting new ideas and an eagerness to collaborate.

Some Relevant Links

About the Author


Christine Feraday is a new addition to Rocket 5. She is attending University of Toronto St. George, studying psychology and English, and is super excited to be a part of the Rocket 5 team!
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