Competing in the indie world is fun and games for IGF entrant Zarzecki

Matthias Zarzecki was waiting anxiously for the IGF Student Showcase finalists to be announced on Sunday, Jan. 15, where his game, Unstoppaball, was an entrant. He had steeled himself to endure the five days between finalist announcements for the main competition and the student one by programming new games relentlessly; indie-developer therapy, he described it.

And then the Student Showcase finalists were announced on Friday, Jan. 13. Unstoppaball wasn't on the list, and Zarzecki could have let that pent-up anxiety and excitement explode in a livid email to the IGF for reporting incorrect announcement dates, or in a furious YouTube video calling on all developers to boycott the IGF -- but Zarzecki chose a different response.

"My reaction was something of a 'huh, those games are really good,'" Zarzecki told Joystiq. He was a one-man team and had absolutely no budget, so Zarzecki could see how, out of the 300 games submitted to the IGF student competition, he may have been out-performed. "In that way it is a little disappointing to see that I was probably beaten through factors that were outside my influence," he said.

Having successfully avoided an Internet meltdown that could have scarred his reputation as a developer forever, Zarzecki is optimistic about his own future:

"Unless you have a massive fanbase and are already commercially successful, the IGF can feel like an unpredictable, random event," he said. "Seeing as my investment in it was done months ago, nothing changes much, and I continue designing games. There are still other venues, competitions and awards to explore, but this time I carry the badge of competing in the IGF, which is more than before."

Zarzecki has plenty of experience with other competitions, such as Ludum Dare and Unity's Flash in a Flash contest, and he sees them as a wonderful way for indie developers to get a start and gain an audience, for five distinct reasons:

Rules: "Just trying to figure out the parameters of a project can be daunting," Zarzecki said. "A competition takes care of that by setting some simple rules, upon which you can start building something."

Affirmation: "Game-designers rarely get a pat on the back in the street for doing their job. Having other game-designers tell you 'Good job!' is very important."

Competition: "Seeing what other indies create under similar circumstances is a perfect way to gauge one's abilities and to compare it to the works of fellow indies, including rivals and idols."

Community: "Chances are that you aren't going to meet some indies in the street, so an online community becomes a good way to show that you are not alone, and that there are possibilities to be successful."

Reputation: "Starting from zero as an indie is incredibly hard. Performing well in a competition increases subsequent chances of coverage."

The accessibility of software such as Unity and Game Maker (both of which Zarzecki uses) has opened the indie field remarkably, as have digital distributors, such as Steam and Desura.

"While technically there is still physical shelf-space to explore, that venue proves way too slow, risky and costly for small indie developers," Zarzecki said.

"I'm always on the lookout for competitions where I could design something."
Unstoppaball, originally released for PC and part of Indievania's 99% Bundle, is available now on iOS devices as Unstoppaball DX. For now, Zarzecki has started his own studio, Nuclear Wombat, and he is developing a new game. He's eager to learn more about indie and mainstream development -- and, of course, enter more competitions.

"I'm always on the lookout for competitions where I could design something," Zarzecki said. "At the moment I'm developing full-time, and I wouldn't want to do anything else. Unfortunately I can't make a living yet, but I'm hoping to change that in the future."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.