Dev Life & SIGC 2013

Editor’s Note: Robby Zinchak is an independent game developer who won the 2013 Seattle Indie Game Competition with his game, 8BitMMO.

The Challenge

For me, the greatest challenge of being an indie is cashflow. A lot of indies live project to project, and anything less than a success on each game released means the end of their company. Many indies start off working on their projects part-time at home while carrying on a traditional job, and once they have enough saved up, leave their jobs to work on their project full-time out of their personal savings. I was a producer at a large game company approximately a year and four months back, and left with a year of savings. I used to live in this house that I was renting and absolutely loved, but that first weekend after finishing out my two weeks notice, I moved all my worldly possessions into storage and began couchsurfing. It was tough, but rationalizing that I was sacrificing creature comforts to do something I had always dreamed of made it worthwhile. I eventually found a tiny studio apartment in the heart of Seattle, and I’ve ended up having even more fun living here and being able to follow my dream.

Being an indie hasn’t resulted in any massive paydays for me, and my bank account was even looking pretty scary a couple months ago. Fortunately, I was able to pick up some short term contract work, and once I finish up that in about two months, I’ll be able to go full-time indie again for at least another year. The prize money from the competition will be directly contributing to my goal of going full-time indie again. I’m very much looking forward to focusing on my own games!

Building a community in a game

I find building a community in and around your game is one of the most important things you can do. It’s been so vital in 8BitMMO, and I’m continually amazed at what my community is able to do with the building tools the game provides.

The best thing I can recommend to fellow developers to encourage community development is to let your players participate in the development of your game. Get to a point as early as you can where you can show off your game publicly, and ask players what they think. Find out what they most want to see to improve the game, or add to the game. I have a section of my site where players can post their ideas and others can vote on them. The top ideas often get implemented. The community loves being part of the development process.

My community set up a wiki by themselves, and have continued to update it with game documentation and entries about their favorite places in-game. It’s up to 114 pages or so, entirely written by the players. My favorite section of the wiki is probably the fanfiction section, as I certainly didn’t expect players to write narratives about the game or about myself. As one of my friends joked with me, you know you’ve made it in life when strangers are writing fanfiction about you on the internet.

The Presentation

The presentation was intense. I probably rehearsed it at least fifty times. I was allotted five minutes for the presentation, and I later found out I used exactly four minutes and fifty nine seconds.

The judges had excellent questions. It’s not enough to just focus on the creative, or just focus on the business side, or just the technical aspects of your game — as an indie you have to keep on top of all of those fields, and the judges asked targeted questions in each of these areas.

I really enjoyed getting to show my game off in front of so many people, but I was pretty nervous too. I remember this fraction of a second after I finished showing the game and I worried no one liked it. A moment later, the applause felt positively thunderous.

Grit of the moment

Winning felt unreal. I remember trying to get through the crowd to get up on stage and accept the award, and it felt more like a dream then anything that was happening in reality. All the finalists had great games, and I feel honored to be selected as the winner.

Check out the game:


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