November 21st 2013
Meet Indie Game Developers in Toronto
Since I worked in gaming companies and focused on North American market for 3 years before studying in Sheridan, I thought I knew the industry well. Thanks to this Fall Tour Interactive and Oddly Studios, I open a new door and know more about the local developers in Toronto.
When West meets East
The huge difference
As reported by the Andy Smith, the Production Manager of Get Set Games, over 90% game developers in Canada are indie developers. With 3 to 5 individuals working in a garage or a warehouse, they continuously contribute innovative indie games for the market. Since the booming of the indie games market, the auxiliaries for indie game developers are flourishing as well. These studios focus on offering support technologies and services like composing background music and audio, designing user interface (UI), creating game characters, offering motion capture technology, and sharing advice of marketing and promoting for indie games. The various third-party studios are impressive in this market, as well as the mature system. International Gaming Developer Association helps the studios to develop right. Unity 3D engine offers free service until the studios generate a certain amount of revenue. Government offers capital support, paying up to 50% of the salary of the indie studios. Associations offer programs and activities to gather the indie developers, sharing ideas and skills to address the problems. Developers sign up Kickstarter.com for crowd funding, participate in Steam for distributing and cooperating with other studios for technology supports. This is a dynamic market.
In contrast, the gaming developer structure is distinct in China. Giants are everywhere.
In contrast, the gaming developer structure is distinct in China. Giants are everywhere. The majority of the games are developed by the huge companies with thousands of employees like Tencent, Net Ease and Shanda. They have in-house game developers, music composers, promotion department and even game engine department. If some studios happened to develop an outstanding game, the game would be ripped off with in a month. Still, some indie developers were able to find a bloody way to avoid the barrages from the giants, but this rarely happened. Due to the lack of support from government for years, few third-party studios exist in this land. What's more, the game development engine like CryEngine and Unreal is too expensive to afford for the indie developers. The shortage of investment and distribution channel is another vital issues for them. As the result, the giants control the game development market and boost the development of the games, especially the evolvement of Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG).
The differences between these two markets are more than I thought. The land with giants gave birth to the MMOG which needs a huge investment to develop, while the continent on the other side of the earth offers a better ecosystem for indie developers.
Ideas and Sparks
Lessons and Pitfalls
1. Players today are all casual players
Andy Smith of Get Set Games shared his comments about the free-to-play mobile games. After the success of Mega Run, the studio today has 11 persons in-house development team to work on the Mega series, including the updates of Mega Run and relatively new game Mega Jump.
"Today there are not difference between hard-core gamers and casual gamers. All gamers are casual. Even hard-core gamers will play Candy Crush and Angry Bird almost every day.”
Apparently, the giants, like Electronic Art (EA) and Ubisoft, realize the value of mobile game market as well. When the studio goes big, they are not local indie developers any more. They jump into the pool of global competition. How to segment their specific target audiences is the top goal they are seeking to fulfill. One of a strategy Andy executes is holding events frequently in social media, engaging fans and involving the studio into community conversation. According to his words, it works.
2. As an Adult, Be Responsible for Your Choice
Lamin Martin is a Concept Artist in gaming industry. He designs the concept arts for the monsters, heroes and environment in the games. To prepare for his job, he took over 6 months to develop his portfolio and signed the job successfully. He chose to work his project and carried the worries with him for 6 months. It paid off.
A student asked him about the issue of overwork. He shared the experience in his previous company.
- Be equal between boss and employees. Tell your boss the payment will raise for overwork.
- We are adults. Be responsible for your choice. If you feel sick about overwork, it's your problem.
- If I go home early, it's always for learning more knowledge related to my work, so I can work better with higher efficiency.
3. Make Money, Enjoy Life and Chase Your Dream
We visited an incubator for indie developers in Toronto, chatting with the founder and some awesome developers there. It's impressive. The typical indie developers short of investment and time, so they worked as freelancers for two and half days, then spent the rest time into developing their favourite indie games. The incubator idea stemmed from supporting these local indie developers, offering rooms, drinks and food for them, they can focus on developing. The team worked hard to build a bridge between developers and developers, developers and government, as well as developers and customers. Holding development seminar and competition is another major activity here. All invited developers will work for 2 days here, and try to finish a game from scratch, involving a bunch of discussions to share the ideas and knowledge of the developers.
All of them are chasing their dreams here and try to strike a balance between their dream and life. One of female developers commented her experience to start development.
"There are no excuses not to develop a game. A lot of free sources and tools, brilliant community are out there. Take full advantages of them."
Besides interacting with presenters in this trip, I made a new friend from Russia. Evgeny Pasternak is a concept artist and illustrator for games. He has 4 years' experience working in this industry. It was pleased to share different opinions about games and life with new friend all the way to a gaming studio. Best wishes to him seeking his career in Toronto.