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SXSW 2009: Games By the People, For the People

Kevin Kelly

So you enjoy playing video games, right? That's what probably brought you to Joystiq in the first place. But have you ever thought about making your own? Right now you're probably thinking, "But, Kevin... doesn't that take millions of dollars and a huge development team?" Well you happen to be in luck, because the answer is no. You can pretty much do it all on your own for pennies. But what's the secret to making it awesome? 5 out of 5 panelists agree: you need to have a good story, or a really interesting idea. Simple, right? Start thinking, and find out more after the break.

This panel brought together Gareth Davis, manager of Facebook games, Steve Demeter CEO of Demiforce and creator of Trism, Boyd Multerer, general manager for Microsoft's XNA Group, Lee Uniacke, CRO of Kongregate, and Scott Steinberg, managing partner at DigitalTrends, and the guy who wrote Get Rich Playing Games. It was all about fledgling indie games movement, and these guys were offering up advice to people wanting to enter the field. Basically, they all agreed that you need to have a really great idea, or have a fantastic story to tell, and your product will find an audience.

However, we're left wondering what exactly constitutes a great idea. Lee Uniacke raved about a game called Don't Shit Your Pants (yes, that's actually the title of the game) on Kongregate, and it's less than stellar. Perhaps if there were more obstacles or some sort of actual gameplay to it... but where's the fantastic story in the current form? We'd all probably love to not defecate in our pants, but does that make it a universal story?

Anyhow, we'd tend to agree that a great story is the first key to success, and the graphics don't have to be groundbreaking or blow you out of the water. Braid proved that pretty well. Below is a collection of the best pieces of advice and quotes from the panelists:

Lee Uniacke

  • "People who make indie games really use reality TV as a model. If you've got a great idea that is interesting, it doesn't matter what it looks like or what the production values are."
  • "Kongregate is like the YouTube of games, and it's a simple introduction to basic flash programming."
Gareth Davis
  • "You do need at least some basic programming skills to get into game programming and development."
  • "It's fun. The best thing in the world is when someone plays your game and tells you about it."
  • "If your idea is a good one, it will find an audience. It doesn't have to look good. The Wii is a good example of that, it's not about the graphics, it's about the gameplay."
Steve Demeter
  • "My main experience in learning how to program didn't come from classes or anything, it came from hacking."
  • "Most iPhone game app sales happen virally. If you can communicate why you need to buy a game in 10 to 15 seconds, then you've got a great game."
  • "I shopped the idea for Trism at the last GDC, but the iPhone was so new, and nobody was interested in it at all."
  • The best way you can advertise a game these days is to toss up a video on YouTube showing off the gameplay."
  • "World of Goo was just created by a couple of guys working on their own, and it just won a bunch of awards."
Boyd Multerer
  • "Think about films as a model for game making. Back in the 70s and 80s, it was all focused on blockbuster films. Then in the 90s, indie films came along and changed things. Gaming is at that stage now."
  • "We need a good indie game studios with like six people running it that have high end production values, tell good stories, and can connect with their audience. We've gone from blockbuster games to total indie games, but we still haven't seen that middle step yet."
  • "We're at the stage right now where film was when sex, lies, and videotape came out. Indies didn't kill the blockbuster movies, and indie games won't kill big games."
  • "PC puzzle games are the fastest growing demographic right now for women over 30, but they don't idenfity themselves as gamers."
Scott Steinberg
  • "The best recipie for success is failure. It gives you a roadmap to success by learning what not to do."
  • In the Steinberg Defense Force, he moderated the panel and asked most of the questions that got the above responses. However, our favorite question was easily, "So should EA games be crapping a brick that all these indie games and developers are popping up?" Sadly, the consensus was "no," but just in case EA might want to brush up on the game that'll help them learn how to avoid pants pooping. It's free, after all.

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