It's been a rough couple of months for mid-size game studios and publishers in general, but Austin especially has been hit pretty hard. I've lived here for almost a decade now, so I've seen a few notable studios come and go (err, make that a dozen at least), but between Bioware shedding developers after the poor performance of their MMO, and this latest wave (including Junction Point, Vigil and it sounds like most of Playdom) we're about to have what is sometimes cynically referred to as a "saturated talent pool" in our community.
Now, in the past, this hasn't been ALL bad. Saturated talent pools don't just mean talented people leaving Austin (which we really really want to prevent - more on that in a moment), but it often means companies coming here to get new things started, like Twisted Pixel a few years ago, or Crytek more recently. This pretty well sums up the Austin food chain, in a lot of ways - SOE goes under, NCSoft rises from the ashes. NCSoft goes under, Vigil rises from the ashes, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.
But not for everybody. It seems like each time the AAA industry here hits a local minimum, we get an inspirational new indie studio in town. Austin indie studio Tiger Style is headed up by ex-Ion Storm designer Randy Smith and ex-Midway coder David Kalina. Stoic, creators of the lovely turn-based tactics game Banner Saga, are rife with Bioware expats; same for God of Blades creators White Whale. There's quite a few of us now, and a couple years ago we banded together under the banner of Juegos Rancheros (inspired very much by Toronto's own indie collective, the Hand Eye Society) to help keep our indie studios alive and well, and serve as a kind of cultural resource for games in the Austin area.
Most of our public-facing efforts to date have just been basically parties. We've been hosting monthly meetups here in Austin for a couple of years, brought Winnitron cabinets to SXSW, and for the last couple years contributed to our local Fantastic Arcade festival.
When the bad news started dropping a week or two ago, and then unfortunately picked up the pace earlier this week, we were at first just disappointed and hoping for the best for our friends. We looked for other big studios in town that were looking for work, etc. But at the same time, we were wondering if maybe we couldn't propose an alternative to hopping back into the roller coaster lifestyle of AAA game dev in Austin.
Juegos Rancheros is finally doing more than just throwing a party (although we're doing that too). We're inviting everybody that is about to enter the Austin talent pool, whether they're students about to graduate from any of the local game programs, industry veterans fed up with business as usual, or just indie-curious in general, to get some free pizza and attend a kind of 101 interview about how Austin's mostly-successful small studios are run. We're calling this event Nation of Indies, and if this sounds like your sort of thing, you can RSVP for the event over at the official website.
Nation of Indies is a free workshop about what it's like to be an indie right now, including a nuts-and-bolts overview of things like the different platforms and markets for games, LLC and healthcare basics, indie-friendly game tools, and more. We'll have real-world budgets and results from local studios, advice about some of the pitfalls you can expect when making the jump from AAA to Full Indie, and free pizza.
If this sounds like the sort of thing you'd be into, or you have friends who might, if only recently, be interested in this sort of workshop, we'd love it if you could help us spread the word and get people out to see what it's like on the other side. Austin is basically just soaking in ridiculous, game-related talent, and we want to hang on to them, and help create a less dependent and more stable game making community. We think this workshop is one way to start doing that.
UPDATE 1: Austin mega-festival SXSW has joined Juegos Rancheros as a co-sponsor for the event, so when you are looking for someone to thank for said free pizza, now you know where to look :) Thanks SXSW!!
UPDATE 2: Thanks to some intrepid volunteers from Nerd Nite Austin, it looks like we ARE going to be able to film the workshop after all. We're looking forward to being able to share the proceedings with non-Austin residents soon!