Category Archives: Game Production
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?
Many gamers have heard of rock star game designers like Sid Meier (Civilization) and rock star programmers like John Carmack (Doom), and while developers like these two get a lot of press, many other unheralded people joined them in developing their games. The games with the highest development budgets, called AAA games, have development teams comprised of dozens (or even hundreds) of designers, level designers, artists, animators, programmers, sound engineers, project managers, and other specialities. So with so many people on a development team, how much of a creative contribution can an individual developer really make?
During the planning, or preproduction phase of the project, where the game’s overall vision is established, the design is fleshed out, and the development plan is created, only a small portion of the team — primarily those in leadership positions such as the Lead Designer, Technical Director, Art Director, Producer, etc. — are involved. It is this core group who make the greatest creative contributions to the game.
When the game’s production phase begins, the team ramps up with additional personnel — programmers, level designers, artists, animators, etc. — to implement the game’s features, levels, and art/audio assets. At this point, the game’s overall look and feel, gameplay, and tasks have already been established, and the team members are responsible for implementing their assigned tasks. Some team members, especially artists, may find themselves working as part of an assembly line doing the modeling, texturing, rigging, animating, or lighting on hundreds of similar assets that need to be made for the game, all according to the production pipeline and specifications established during preproduction.
However, even though there are creative and technical specifications that team members must follow, there are still opportunities to make a certain degree of creative decisions when implementing their task. Game development is all about creativity within constraints. Still, your individual work must fit in well with everyone else’s work to create a unified whole, and so your contributions are subject to the scrutiny and approval of the lead developers you report to.
Finally, in the post-production stage of development, where testing, polishing, balancing, and fixing is done to create a shippable game in time for its promised release date. During this time there are minimal opportunities for creative contributions. In fact, many projects have a Feature Lock milestone, where no more changes to the design, art or audio is allowed; only programming fixes are permitted, since any polishing changes to features or assets could introduce new problems that might put the release date in jeopardy.
Think of a game development as a team sport. There are opportunities to make individual contributions, but each developer’s main focus should be to support the team in creating a cohesive project. If your game is a smash hit, you may not be the one to be handed an award, so you need to adopt an attitude that a game’s success is shared by all, even if not everyone had a large enough contribution to be singled out.