Start-up Special: How game jams can benefit you

Start-up Special: How game jams can benefit you

By Fee Stewart

November 9th 2012 at 10:30AM

FormerDroid's Fee Stewart reveals how a dev event sparked the creation of a BAFTA-nominated game

[This article is from a series of special features on starting your own studio, as found in Develop #133, which is available through your browser and on iPad. We'll be posting up further articles in the coming days.]

When I began training to become a games developer, my long-term goal was to set up my own studio.

What I didn’t realise, however, was that it would happen so quickly after embarking on a career change.

This time last year I was still studying with Train2Game, alongside some of the guys who would go on to create FormerDroid with me. At the time I was studying in my home town of Holmfirth and completing a work placement with Radiation Burn in Middlesbrough, which involved me travelling up to the North East two days a week.

Little did I know the experience I gained at Radiation Burn would stand me in good stead when I came to establish my own independent studio less than a year later.

COMING TOGETHER

This year a group of the students from Train2Game and various other universities decided to take part in the 2012 Global Game Jam in Scotland. It was a great opportunity for us to work collaboratively with people with different skill sets, and also collectively trial a range of ideas.

As digital art students, we were able to work with programmers to help bring our ideas to life. Two of the programmers that we worked with at the event ended up becoming members of FormerDroid.

Over the course of the event we developed the XNA-based game Shplem, which won the category of Best Art in Game and the IGDA playtest award. The game was also nominated for Best Tech, and the FormerDroid team for Best New Talent, at this year’s BAFTA awards.

While we did not end up scooping the prize, the nomination made us realise that we had something special on our hands, both in terms of the game and the team’s collective talent.

It was at this point that we started seriously considering setting up our own studio and developing Shplem beyond the XNA version. While we were technically proficient, thanks to our time studying with Train2Game, we lacked the business acumen to establish ourselves as a functioning studio.

We were not short of creativity, and I had faith that there was a pool of ideas that could form the basis of further games, but we needed a business structure in place to allow us to do that.

Coming from an artistic background, the legal and financial side of business were unfamiliar to me. Registering the company with the tax office, coming to grips with corporation tax, and transferring the IP rights for Shplem over to FormerDroid have been among the low-lights. But they are an important part of creating your own studio.

WINDOWS OF OPPORTUNITY

More recently we have become involved with Microsoft’s BizSpark programme. For a company like ours the level of support we have received has been fantastic.

When I first met with Microsoft I was still smarting from some of the bruising encounters all businesses go through at the early stages and so naturally I was rather cautious. However, they have given us the tools to build on what we already had and establish ourselves as a studio.

BizSpark has provided us with software licensing for the next three years. As well as the money this saves us as a business, it also means that everyone is working on Windows 8 and has access to a uniform suite of software. When you are working collaboratively, that makes things a lot easier.

Bizspark also gives us access to an incredibly broad business community, including fellow tech start-ups. As the new guys, it can feel like you are the only ones struggling against the tide. Being able to speak with people who have overcome similar problems allows us to benefit from collective experience and reassures us that not every one of the challenges we face is unique to us.

As for Shplem we have switched platform from iOS and are now developing the game primarily for Windows 8. We are close to completion and hope that Shplem will launch ahead of Christmas, which would have been unlikely had we not made the decision to change platform.

We still have a long way to go and one Shplem does not a summer make, or something along those lines. But we have always believed in ourselves as a creative force.

Train2Game and the evolutionary process we went through at game jams has provided us with the technical skills to turn that into something tangible. Now we are confident we have the structure in place to really establish our business.

Fee Stewart is MD and co-founder of FormerDroid, and works for Radiationburn.net and Gogo-Robot Games. She is a trained artist with a wealth of experience in the games sector. www.formerdroid.com

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