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  • What I Learned as an Indie

    [04.23.09]
    - Tobias Heussner
  • "How to break in?" That's one of the most frequently asked questions from students and potential career-changers all around the world. Unfortunately, no one has a good answer. I hope, however, that my personal story will be enough to encourage you not to give up, and that I can offer some advice on how to gain and develop experience, even if you're not working on an AAA or AA title right away.

    My story starts many years ago in a small town in Germany with two other students. We had all been interested in game development and most of us had already developed smaller designs and demos. Together, we decided to take our hobby to the next level and founded the indie development group Tricium Factory. 

    We recruited other interested students and within a month our group had 10 members, all with different specialties. By then, as one of the founders, I had also become one of the leaders. As the head designer I was responsible for developing our vision and maintaining our connections with other German developers.

    In my eyes, this was and still is the most important advantage someone can gain from being an indie developer. You're not one of the big global players, but you're part of the market and can make connections and build networks more easily.

    As Wendy Despain mentioned in her book Professional Techniques for Game Writing, you never can have enough connections and your network can never be too large. I only can encourage you, especially when I consider my background, to get out and make connections with other developers. A good place to start would be your local IGDA chapter, any kind of indie development conference or or pro conference, like one of the Game Developers Conferences.

    Another lesson I learned was that it's better to have something finished, even something small, than any big unfinished project on your desk. So start small -- there will be enough time to grow and with each day you should be getting better in your field of expertise. For me, it was writing, game design, and level design, but for you it could be something totally different.

    If you are an aspiring writer, I would recommend you to take some time to study game design and scripting. Later within the industry you may not only write, but also design missions, quests, and maybe even need to script a prototype.  Learning now makes it easier later on.   

    After the Tricium Factory was founded, it was part of the German games market for almost seven years before any major outcome was within reach. That's a very long time and often it was very hard not to give up and go somewhere else, but during that time we developed presentations, demos, pitches and the second advantage from being indie kicked in, which I'll call the chance of flexibility.

    As an indie developer, I had more chances to try out different fields, which helped me to find my personal expertise. It is still helpful today, when I have to talk with artists or programmers. I'd never been a professional artist or programmer, but I learned to review code, to outline my ideas, and most importantly I learned how to communicate with these different professionals.

    Since I now have talked about advantages, I experienced during my time as an indie, I'd like to give away some tips that been useful for me to solve one of the biggest problems as a start-up indie.

    The biggest problem you most likely will encounter is the problem not to have enough manpower and/or experience to write a complete toolset and game engine right away and maybe you also encounter the problem not to have a skilled team member for a certain task in your team.

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