Feeling Isolated As A Lone Developer? Find Creativity, Community and Connection By Joining A Coworking Space!

When you are starting a game development studio, you are essentially starting a new business. Most businesses start small — often with just a single person — and one of the biggest challenges in getting your new business going is staying focused when it is just you. Many of us are more productive when we are surrounded by others, but it can be difficult to get the initial funding to hire a group of people to work with and benefit from their individual expertise. So rather than working out of their home or renting a large office space and hiring a lot of people on Day One, many entrepreneurs set up shop in a coworking space.

Coworking is a style of work that involves a shared working environment but independent activity. Unlike in a typical office environment, those coworking are not employed by the same organization but rather are pursuing their own business ventures. Coworking offers a solution to the problem of isolation that many freelancers experience while working at home, while at the same time letting them escape the distractions of home.

I first became acquainted with coworking through a start-up business who had contracted me to help make their website and mobile application more engaging. It was a self-funded business that began in a coworking facility, where they met an angel investment firm that invited them to work in their own coworking space that had access to potential investors. What I found intriguing about this set-up was not just the reduced expenses from sharing the facilities with other start-ups, but the ability to share knowledge with another entrepreneurs in another office or even another table next to you. It made me wish that coworking spaces were a thing when I tried starting my own game studio many years ago.

So, I was very excited when I learned that my friend Tania Mulry had opened up a new coworking space in Santa Clarita, the community in which we both live. I first met Tania several years ago when our children were in a Boy Scout troop together. Tania owns a marketing consulting services and training company called Digital Detox and is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California, where she teaches courses in Digital Marketing and Interactive Design for Mobile Devices. Tania brings her passion for teaching to her coworking facility, the Steamwork Center, by scheduling talks from experts in business development.

I hadn’t been able to attend any of the Steamwork Center events until last week, when I went to its “Tech or Treat” Halloween party,featuring video games and electronic party equipment supplied by Steamwork member GlowHouse Gaming. Before I unleashed my inner gamer on the games and Halloween goodies, Tania and her associates took me on a tour of the 4,000-square-foot space that she acquired last July. The two-story facility features eight spacious, modern offices for growing businesses, as well as shared meeting rooms and kitchen facilities.

More important than the physical facilities are the fellow Steamwork members with whom to share ideas and work as teams to achieve common goals. Sure, you can be a digital nomad working on your laptop at the local Starbucks, but research found that people who use coworking spaces see their work as meaningful, feel they have more job control, and consider themselves to be part of a community. “Technology has made working remotely easy, but remote working brings with it isolation,” Tania explained. “There can come a sense of complacency when you’re not meeting people and you have an over-reliance on technology to connect with other people. It’s not good for the soul or the heart, and people can become depressed. People don’t just come here to work, they come here to transform their businesses and improve their lives.”

However, before accepting a new member, Tania makes sure that they are indeed a good fit for the community. “I interview them first to find out if they have what it takes to be successful, and that they have knowledge or skills to bring to the other members. We want to plant the seeds for dynamic leaders who build companies with healthy corporate cultures.” Currently Tania’s members include entrepreneurs working in public relations, office services, construction, and insurance — as well as two companies involved in something near and dear to my heart, gaming.

GameGen conducts on site and online classes teaching aspiring game developers how to build a game portfolio. Both children and adults learn how about the programming, art, and audio skills needed to make and publisher their own games. The company has eight studios in the Los Angeles greater metropolitan area, including the one with a classroom at the Steamwork Center.

Class was not in session that night, but I did get a chance to meet one of the other members, Marcell Gordon, founder of Glowhouse Gaming, a startup gaming and entertainment company that partners with video game and eports organizations to develop pop-up events for both inside and outside venues. The party itself was one of GlowHouse’s glow-in-the-dark entertainment experiences that was set up in Steamwork’s 1,800-square-foot double height space and featured gaming consoles, high-end gaming PCs, s live DJ, party headphones, and a staff of friendly assistants. I particularly enjoyed playing Z-tag, a form of laser tag with electronic badges instead of guns and pitting human players against zombie players. Glowhouse Gaming also features branded LAN party events, webcasting leagues, tournaments, workshops, school field trips and girl-gamers’ camps.

While Steamwork’s office space is nearly full, Tania is looking to expand its training programming, so that others can find the success that some of the other members have found. Tania’s goals are high. She wants to help people developer business skills, partnerships and peer relationships that nurture economic growth and will create new jobs in high growth fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Now, why wasn’t there something like this available when I started my own game company back in the day?

 

 

 

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Falling In Love With Game Development Again At IndieCade 2017

Last weekend IndieCade – or more formally, the International Festival of Independent Games – celebrated its tenth anniversary at a new venue: the Japanese American National Museum, the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, and the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. IndieCade CEO Stephanie Barish and Co-chair for IndieCade West GameU Chris DeLeon were kind enough to invite my Los Angeles Film School Game Production students to join other game student groups for free admission to the event on Friday.

After distributing the admission wristbands to my students and allowing them to enjoy the festival independently, I was drawn to a session called “Fall In Love With Game Development Again,” presented by Brett Taylor, founder (and lone game developer) of My Dog Zorro.  The focus of his talk was to give attendees a toolbox of enjoyable, low-commitment strategies to try out at home to increase their happiness and productivity; and empower them to define their happiness goals with intention and take more control of their lives.

Here are some of the actionable strategies and practices Brett shared with us:

  • Have a weekly kick-off of what you plan to accomplish, and a week-end reflection on what you actually did accomplish, to keep yourself aligned.
  • Write down something for which you are grateful, every hour. It doesn’t have to be anything profound; it can be as simple as, “I’m grateful for the two sandwiches I packed for lunch.
  • Filter your vocabulary to eliminate negative thoughts like, “I should have…”, “It was hard,” “I am poor”.
  • Take a mandatory 30 second dance three times during the day to rejuvenate your body and spirit.
  • If you find yourself getting too stressed about your work, go home and relax.
  • Schedule loving reminder alerts to yourself on your phone or computer: “Do it anyway,” “Finish that task”, “Tell someone you love them,” and most importantly, “Write more loving reminders to yourself.”

Finding easy-to-implement techniques for maintaining a positive attitude can be very important in the stressful and often lonely life of a indie game developer, but what makes me fall in love with game development again is looking at the innovative games that these developers are making. IndieCade is an opportunity to see more than two hundred of the latest innovative indie games of all types and from around the world.

Having developed games for close to four decades, I’ve seen the same ideas recycled over and over again, so the more unusual a game is, the more I like it.  Here are some of my favorites.

Feast

Maybe it was because I was famished, but the first game I gravitated toward was Feast, a storytelling/role-playing game for five players about power and memory, that’s played during a communal meal and uses eating and tasting as game mechanics. Players take on the role of entities (ghosts, aliens, parasitic fungi, whatever they wish) possessing and eating the personalities of ordinary people. Prior to the game, players each prepare one food item with one dominant taste (sweet, umami, salty, sour or bitter), to be shared among the others. Each round, players eat a morsel of food and describe a memory or thought that they consume from their host. The specific memory they eat is determined both by the dominant taste of the food they eat, and the round in the game. When all the food has been eaten, the players have subsumed their hosts’ personalities and the game is over.

You can find out more about this game, developed by Sharang Biswas and Sweta Mohapatra at Feast.

Keyboard Sports

In this puzzle game developed by Triband, you play as the young apprentice to Master QWERTY who takes you on a wild adventure across oceans, through temples and into dreams in the search for your inner key using the entire keyboard as your controller.  Now, a keyboard may not be the coolest interface there is, but as someone who learned touch typing in high school, I appreciated a game that had me racing around the keyboard, often using the keys in very punny ways.

You can learn more about this game at Keyboard Sports.

Santiago

This multi-sensory virtual reality (VR) installation developed by Team Santiago that explores the idea of escapism through psychedelic visuals and music. The experience revolves around a physical sculpture of Santiago, an ancient fish god, that transforms into a living, breathing musical instrument that can be played through touch. The music created by the player affects objects and visualizations in the virtual environment, giving each player the agency to shape his or her experience. The piece is built for the HTC Vive and uses Leap Motion technology, allowing users to move freely around the sculpture and physically interact with Santiago.

You can learn more about this game at Santiago VR Experience.

Vignettes

As someone who usually develops story-based games, I really appreciated Vignettes as being the opposite of what I normally play.  Developed by Skeleton Business, Vignettes is a casual and whimsical exploration game without text or characters, where objects shapeshift as you spin them around in a kaleidoscope of different moods and orientations.  Your only hints about what to do are in the form of icons that suggest how to manipulate the object.  Vignettes is a game of surprise and discovery, in which players wander through a silent but colorful narrative.

You can learn more about this game at Vignettes.

Emotional Fugitive Detector

This is a two-player cooperative game which uses the human face as both its primary controller and screen. One player is instructed to give an expression of emotion — anger, happiness, sadness — and the second player must guess what that emotion is being conveyed.  But here’s the trick: the firs player’s face is also scanned for emotions by the installation robot’s face tracking technology, and if the robot detects emotion, the two player’s lose. Players must find a difficult middle ground in this emotional Turing test: expressive enough for a human, too subtle for a computer.

I asked the developers– Sam Von Ehren, Alexander King, and Noca Wu — how they came up with this idea behind Emotional Fugitive Detector.  They told me that initially they tried to come up with a facial expression input interface for a fighting game, but when they couldn’t get it to work properly, they turned decided to lemons into lemonade by changing directions and developing a game that took advantage of the technical problem. They also said that while showing the game at IndieCade, they received feedback that this game might be good for helping autistic children to learn to interpret emotion.

Turning a flaw into a feature and possibly benefiting society at the same time — now that’s a story to make me fall in love with game development again!