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?
One evening last week, representatives from the United States Department of Commerce met with myself and other Los Angeles chapter board members of the International Game Developers Association to discuss policies to promotes economic growth, technological competitiveness, and sustainable development of the game industry. I kicked off the conversation by saying that the big game publishers already have a voice in Washington through the Entertainment Software Association, but who really needs a voice are the indie developers, and what they most need is funding for doing development. We talked a bit about different sources of funding, but what seemed to really perk their interest was funding from other countries.
As it so happens, two days later I met with a representative from a Shanghai-based game publisher who told me that there is indeed a lot of money in Shanghai for funding game development. What they lack are creative ideas for games, and they are looking to the United States for development teams with proposals and even individual American game designers to lead teams.
Now, both these conversations are just in their infancy stages, and I will share more when and if anything develops, but what last week confirmed for me is that indie developers need to look beyond their own borders. There is a whole world out there that has an interest in games, and here are some things you can do right now to take advantage of a world-wide audience.
One decision impacting your ability to reach a worldwide audience is your selection of a publisher, assuming you are not publishing the game yourself. While there are many advantages of going with a worldwide publisher like Activision or Electronic Arts, ironically, they may not have distribution in some territories.
One alternative to consider is to use smaller publishers that each focus on one of the counties in which you want to distribute your game. You may find that these smaller publishers may give more individual focus to your game than the big publishers do, and you can probably negotiate a higher royalty rate too. However, the big publishers dominate the U.S. and U.K. markets, and it may be difficult to get physical distribution in these countries if you take the country-by-country route for distribution.
You selection of which countries in which to distribute your game will require you to do a little homework on each country. Some questions to ask yourself include:
- Is there an emerging game market in that country? If there is a growing interest in games that isn’t already saturated with product, your game could be one to satisfy the country’s desire for interactive entertainment.
- Does the country have any prohibitions on marketing or data collection? If you can’t promote your game or use metrics for measuring the effectiveness of your marketing campaign, you’re going to have a hard time getting potential customers in that country to find out about your game.
- Does the country have access to digital stores? If you plan to distribute your game digitally instead of physically, you’ll need to be sure there’s a way for the country’s citizens to actually download your game.
However, if you can jump over some of these hurdles, you may be able to tap into markets that are not as crowded as the U.S. market currently is. Of course, you have to develop your game first, and that requires money. Hopefully, in the coming months, I’ll have some information to share about obtaining foreign funding.