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Development perspective: What lessons did Develop 2014 teach our indies?

Games by the sea
Development perspective: What lessons did Develop 2014 teach our indies?

There are two things that are certain to happen when the Develop conference rolls into sunny Brighton: everyone will wear their shorts, regardless of the weather, and, given half a chance, every Full Indie UK developer under the sun will be in attendance.

The other certainty is that, as always, the days will fly by in a haze of caffiene, networking, and gaming.

Of course, we wouldn't have it any other way, but before the Full Indie UK contingencey went on their merry way,  we found time to meet up and reflect on the week's many talking points. 

What was the most significant thing you learned at Develop?

Jake Birkett - Grey Alien Games: I liked that a lot of the mobile devs I know are abandoning mobile for PC instead.

David Mitchell - Two Tails: Some of this may be skewed by the groups I was with, but there is definitely a strong feeling that there are fewer opportunities for indies on mobile than on PC. I do think part of the problem  is caused by perception, and how F2P is changing the market, but, yeah, there is definitely a shift.

Johnny Marshall - Sock Thuggery: That my PR for our Kickstarter was working. People saying “Oh, yeah, I’ve already seen/heard of/backed it!” was a massive relief and a joy.

Tim Wicksteed - Twice Circled: I was surprised by the growing prevalence of games utilising VR technology like the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus. There seems to be a real appetite for both the creation and consumption of games using these systems, more so than I ever encountered with things like 3D TV technology or motion control.

What was the coolest thing you saw?

Alistair Aitcheson - creator of Greedy Bankers: I went to the talk on the face-building tech used in Kinect Sports Rivals on Xbox One, and it was fascinating. The game scans in players’ faces using the Kinect and creates a caricature for them to play as.

“Having tried the Oculus at GDC last year, I was really impressed with how far Sony have come with the Morpheus tech.”
David Mitchell

It was really interesting to see how they detected glasses and beards and gauged skin tones, for example, as well as how they morphed the input data to go from data to cartoon character.

JM: I liked the eye tracking hardware Special Effect used, largely because the racing game I was controlling with my eyes was actually fun to play. It didn’t feel like a second class controller, or a poor substitute for ‘proper’ controls. It felt good.

JB: I wasn’t there long but I really enjoyed the “Indies publishing Indies” talk by Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris and Cliff Harris which included development and sales stats for Redshirt.

DM: I have to give a shout out to SpecialEffect and the amazing work they are doing. I also had a chance to test out the Morpheus for the first time, and that was nothing short of astonishing. Having tried the Oculus at GDC last year, I was really impressed with how far Sony have come with the Morpheus tech. It will be interesting to see where things go from here.

How has the conversation around mobile development changed since last year?

AA: From my perspective there wasn’t a lot of talk around mobile specifically, and there was very little on free-to-play. That studios are working with mobile and tablet as well as consoles is to be expected. Mobile is no longer the weird younger sibling of console gaming, and that’s healthy for our industry.

JM:  There was a drop in people banging on about F2P, and an increase in core multi-platform talk. I’m not sure I heard anyone use the word ‘casual’ this year.

VR was all the rage at this year's show
VR was all the rage at this year's show

JB: As I said earlier, lots of mobile devs are moving into PC dev now. You can have higher price points than mobile and craft premium games that people want to pay for, but you have to keep an eye on development costs and schedules to prevent them from spiraling out of control. Even then, there’s still no guarantee of success.

TW: I’d have to agree with Jake here. There’s also a pull coming from other platforms. Sony and Microsoft continue to battle for the hearts and minds of the indie developer and Steam seems to be becoming easier to gain access to.

Are people still talking about the indie bubble/gold rush?

JB: I guess this wasn’t discussed much. Many devs I know accept that the mobile premium gold rush is over, and that the Steam gold rush is over as well. Even the Kickstarter and Early Access gold rushes appear to be over. Of course, it’s still possible to succeed in all those areas, and plenty of devs are doing fine.

“We’re still talking about an indie bubble, but if there ever was one it has already burst.”
Tim Wicksteed

DM: I feel lots of people are talking about the indie bubble, but, let’s be honest, it’s mostly bullshit. Lots of indies are making a good living off their games, but these cases are not that interesting to talk about so we always tend to hear about the overnight successes or how people are failing.

AA: In Nathan Vella’s indie keynote he said that indies should be looking to achieve sustainability rather than make a fortune. I believe most indies are doing this already, but in reality running a small studio off of your own IP requires as much dedication as a smash hit.

Even in the non-indie tracks a large chunk of the audience were expected to be indie start-ups. These are entrepreneurs who take their craft seriously, not foolish prospectors, and they're very healthy in a world where big studios are struggling.

TW: We’re still talking about an indie bubble, but if there ever was one it has already burst. There will continue to be micro-bubbles around specific technology - we’ll undoubtedly experience a bubble around VR technology over the next few years - but these will be short lived. By the time most people are aware of the bubble, it's already been gone for a while.

What opportunities for indies did you hear about at the event?

JB: Cliff Harris mentioned that the Indie Fund are always looking for great games to back, and it sounded like he was personally open to backing some games in the future as well. So, if you’ve got a great idea and the skills and experience to make it happen, send him an email!

Everyone should also check out Games Lab if you think your pitch is good enough to get a grant!

DM: Generally I get the feeling that funding is starting to become easier as more opportunities come around. Indies like Cliff Harris are funding other indie games, so it’s worth coming along to these sort of events so you can make these kinds of contacts. Tax credits are obviously a big thing and indies should definitely be looking at these to find out how it can help.

Tap Happy Sabotage brought in the crowds
Tap Happy Sabotage brought in the crowds

TW: I can’t think of any new resources I learned about at the event, which is quite sad.  I can, however, confirm from personal experience that there are lots of funding opportunities for indies willing to seek them. I wrote about this in a little more depth in a article earlier this year. 

Did you have a favourite event?

AA: Obviously I’m biased, but I really enjoyed the Games by the Sea local multiplayer party! I was showing Tap Happy Sabotage - my new multiplayer game for a 27-inch screen, and as many people as you can fit around it - and the reception was fantastic. I had a constant flow of players, and everyone got into the spirit of foul play the game is built around!

JM: I loved Games by the Sea as well, but then, I was also exhibiting there. I only got a chance to play Tap Happy Sabotage, Gang Beasts and Bubble Tennis : Infatuation - all of which were great fun.

JB: I just went for dinner with some indie friends at possibly the best ever vegetarian restaurant I have ever been to. It was awesome.

DM: Games by the Sea was wonderful, wasn’t it? Shame so few winners of Dan Marshall’s Golden Tea Bag awards turned up to claim them. Simon Barratt also raised a ton of money for SpecialEffect at his annual Four Door Lemon Birthday party, which was nice to see.

There is a raffle being held in a few weeks and there is still time for you to donate some cash to a really great charity, so go grab some tickets.

TW: Yep, it was all about Games by the Sea this year! I played Starwhal for the first time - a game about stabbing your friend’s pet whale in the heart - and absolutely loved it. The shape of the whales and their asymmetrical nature add some really interesting, previously unexplored mechanics. Well done Breakfall.

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