Kongregate launches Labs for indie devs

Kongregate launches Labs for indie devs
Michael French

By Michael French

October 14th 2008 at 2:00PM

SPECIAL REPORT: Popular Flash game site offers amateur developers free training, tools and assets

Popular games portal Kongregate is launching a brand new community devoted to helping would-be developers learn how to make games in Flash, Develop can reveal.

Kongregate Labs will be offering free access to step-by-step tutorials (dubbed 'shootorials'), dedicated chat channel and forum, and even assets so that players can create their own original Flash games to upload to Kongregate.com.

Since it's launch a year and a half ago, Kongregate has become a popular casual and Flash games portal amongst both consumers and developers - the site lets programmers upload their own creations, which generate revenue through ads and make use of the site's dedicated community and achievement functions.

The site has made stars of the likes of Desktop Tower Defense and its creator UK developer Paul Preece, but CEO Jim Greer isn't happy with just helping one or two developers turn their dreams into a reality - the Labs have been opened to help more developers make the leap from amateur to indie, he told us.

"Flash on its own, while a great tool, is not totally accessible to a total beginner – you still need a book or a friend to take you through it. So what we’re aiming to do with these tutorials is fill that space," he said.

A former EA Pogo and Shockwave tech exec, Greer founded Kongregate to help would-be developers get more attention. He grew up learning to code by typing in programs from '80s games magazines and learning how to make “plus signs move around and shoot other characters”.

But the leap between making games and playing them is still too huge for many - almost as wide as it was when he was staring out, he added, so the Kogregate team want the transition to be easier for those consumers looking to make their own titles or experiment with game development.

"The fact that GTAIV is made by human beings is this incredible, almost abstract concept to grasp – it’s this huge world that is something you or I could never build single-handedly on a computer," he said.

"So we’re scaling things back to explain to players how you can build something – for us, our first tutorials are for a 2D shooter – on your screen and run it over a series of nine tutorials."

As well as guiding players through the game creation process, Kongregate Labs will also launch an imminent ‘remix’ contest that challenges users to customise the basic game they have learnt to build with new gameplay, graphics and/or sound.

Kongregate has attracted a big-name sponsor to support the launch, Toyota’s Scion brand. Scion is Toyota’s urban car aimed at younger drivers and primed for the custom and modded car market – something that sits well with the idea of inviting players to remix or mod a game from scratch. (And it’s not Toyota’s first dalliance with games – the firm previously commissioned an Xbox Live Arcade advergame promoting it’s Yaris automobile.)

Scion’s involvement, and it’s bid to get involved in the customisation of games, pinpoints a key change in the interests of players, aspirations of younger players, and how that ties with the future talent of the games industry, said Greer. It's also the highest value sponsorship the site has scored so far, and Greer promises that the revenues are being reinvested in both the Labs and other Kongregate initiatives, such as funding select projects at up-and-coming studios.

"Scion has pushed us to be original, and keep the design of the site unique and true to what gamers would expect – rather than some heavily branded ad-driven site -  in order to keep users happy and engaged.

"The aspiration to become a games designer or developer is certainly a more important goal amongst our users than, say, being in a rock band. In fact it’s much more mainstream now – when I was a kid, it was a bit weird dreaming of being a games designer rather than being a star quarterback, but now it’s really common amongst kids."

He added: “I hope the Labs will really lower the bar and give our players the chance to try their hand at something. The aim goal is to demystify game development for first-time creators, offering them everything they need to know to express themselves, and to develop great games to share with our community, as well as profit from them."