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Goodbye BioWare, Hello Indie

Brook Bakay | 6 Mar 2012 12:00
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Manthorpe is on the other end of that proposition. After two years and two games as an independent, he is having to look for more traditional work. In the end he fell victim to the specter that claims most independent developers: It's terribly hard to get noticed. Manthorpe's first game, Pistols at Dawn, was released on iOS, and he knew he had to do something creative. "I wanted to do something different," he says, "because I knew it was about standing out." And stand out he did. A fan of gaming news website Giant Bomb, he built their entire office, and the four main podcasters-in Lego. He sent it off to them, and watched excitedly as they opened it on-air, giving him the shout-out he was looking for. To no avail. "It absolutely made no dent. [The game] did absolutely terribly. It was definitely under a thousand sales."

The harsh lesson for anyone contemplating indie game development is that you can be good, hard working and creative, but you will still need to be lucky to succeed.

Undaunted, he applied two key pieces of learning to his next game that marketing is vastly important and he needed a more accessible IP. "People in general are not excited by the genre of pistol duelling in the 18th century," he says. He knew exactly what his new IP should be: Dragon Age. Manthorpe spent the next five months putting together a demo tailor-made to sell to the Dragon Age team. It had a good-looking 3D engine, character development, fully-voiced cinematics and a novel approach to storytelling. "I wanted to show them that I could do it," he says. Once the demo was ready, he flew back to Edmonton and pitched it to his old friends at BioWare. He followed up by sending Dragon Age's executive producer a custom 3D printed chess piece. BioWare was interested, but - still smarting from the experience of its own iOS game, Mass Effect: Galaxy - ultimately decided to pass.

It was a tough blow. "I didn't really know where to go from there except that I had made this really cool demo. Well fuck it, let's just finish it." Finishing Emissary of War took another year. This time, Manthorpe hired a marketing company and hit the convention circuit himself, "Vying for attention with people who've got booth babes." In the end, it wasn't enough.

The harsh lesson for anyone contemplating indie game development is that you can be good, hard working and creative, but you will still need to be lucky to succeed.

Unless you define success differently. "Mostly it was about working on what I wanted to work on, and doing it the way I wanted to do it and being able to recapture some of those early BioWare days," explains Manthorpe, who hasn't lost his enthusiasm: "You know, I'd love to do it again. Building something from scratch and saying, 'This is ours'. It's totally rewarding. I love that."

Rewarding, yes, but surprising, too. Fedor set out with just two simple rules: "Make your first game small, and make it a baby you're willing to kill. I've violated both of those. Every step of the way I said I wouldn't and I did. Things change very slowly until you realize they've changed to a point where you are in a completely different place." But he has no regrets about going indie: "It was the right decision, for sure. I needed to do this. I've always wanted to do this, so I'm glad I did this. I've still got steam left in me."

You can download Dan Fedor's game here.

After ten years in the game industry, Brook Bakay quit his dream job to kill babies with writing. You can read about how that's going on his blog: beesonpie.

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