[What do indie developers get out of working together in a shared office environment? GameSpy's Indie Open House selected six teams to work in its San Francisco offices, and Gamasutra speaks to the developers about the experience.]
Last September, media firm IGN Entertainment announced Indie Open House, a six-month pilot program designed to help talented independent game developers complete their projects and find an audience.
Selected teams would share office space in IGN's San Francisco building and get free access to the matchmaking and social networking technology provided by subsidiary GameSpy, retaining all rights and revenue for their games.
For IGN, the program allows its GameSpy engineers to work closely with actual game developers to better implement their products.
It's also part of a sustained effort over the past two years to "broaden the footprint of who could potentially benefit from our technology," explains Drew Curby, senior director of sales and marketing for GameSpy Technology Group.
That effort began with the GameSpy Open Initiative and acting as a sponsor for the awards show at the Independent Games Festival. The company also recently announced a new licensing program aimed at indie developers.
Around 50 teams applied to Indie Open House, and of those, five were chosen. These members of the inaugural class, who have now been working out of the IGN offices for some months, represent a wide swath of the independent game landscape.
Their experiences range from Carnegie Mellon students working on a school project to an indie veteran with well-known titles (Gish, Bridgebuilder) under his belt. The games they are making are equally diverse, and are profiled below.
Cryptic Sea consists of Aimee Seaver and Alex Austin. Austin is the elder statesman of Indie Open House, having worked in the industry for over nine years. During that time, he created the popular Bridge Builder and developed Gish with Josiah Pisciotta and Super Meat Boy's Edmund McMillen.
He and Seaver are now at work on Invasion of the Balls, a massively multiplayer 2D platformer for up to 100 people. Players take control of tiny, fuzzy aliens intent on wreaking havoc on Earth. The goal is to cause as much damage as possible -- sometimes working with, sometimes against other players -- in the game's human-sized environments. Think of the balls in Invasion of the Balls as an overtly malevolent version of Star Trek's tribbles. (A beta is currently available on the Cryptic Sea website.)
Seaver and Austin have devised an intriguing -- if ambitious -- method to market their project: they plan to include a demo of it in an "album" of smaller games packaged at a single price point.
"They're kind of our take on old games but with new graphics -- and multiplayer," says Austin. "We want to get more people playing The Balls, and we figure if we include it as a demo with a packaged game, it'll be a way of getting it out there."
The other "tracks" in the album are a word game, a physics-based match-three puzzler, and a side-scrolling motocross game similar to Excitebike.
Invasion of the Balls
Being a part of this project means helping them with what they consider the most difficult part of being an independent developer: Simply getting games done. "It can be pretty isolating working on indie games if you're just working by yourself or with one other person," says Austin. Motivation can be difficult. So being in close proximity to the other teams, swapping tips and ideas with them, has inspired him to follow through on his own projects.
Seaver adds that they also benefit from the quality of their new colleagues' advice. "They're going to give better feedback than, say, some random friend who doesn't know much about games," she says.
That kind of feedback is especially important when testing a massively multiplayer online game, and Cryptic Sea is making sure they take advantage of it. "We did one [test] here where we got five or six people here playing and people online," notes Austin. "That's definitely something nice, to be able to have everybody in one room playing it and getting that instant feedback."
But the most important benefit of the project for Cryptic Sea is exposure. "Normally we're not that good at getting press," says Austin. "We tried getting it on web pages but didn't have too much success. So it's nice to have this interview, for example. We couldn't have set this up on our own."
Adds Seaver: "The people who see our game and play our game, they keep playing it. But it's really hard to find people to try it."