In 2012, three out of the top 15 Apple app store games, as rated on Metacritic, were released by independent game development studios based in Greater Boston. In fact, as the Boston area competes in a global market that includes the largest publishers in the games industry, it is the only market to host more than one studio among the top 15.
So what is it about our local independent studios that creates such concentrated success? I'd venture to say that it's the camaraderie and support between local studios that can result in initiatives like the Indie Game Collective, a group of nine studios that work together in Intrepid Labs, a Cambridge co-working space.
The group was formed last year by Michael Carriere of Zapdot, after he returned from the annual Game Developers Conference with a new-found awareness that much more could be done for local independent studios. "After discussing several ideas for about four months," said Carriere, "it was decided that we would try out co-working, and grow a group of successful studios that could immediately make a strong impact on the local community."
A volunteer community manager for Boston Indies, Carriere hopes to foster growth by positioning the collective as a mentoring organization for younger studios. The idea is to help overcome the difficult conditions faced by games start-ups.
As Dejobaan Games founder Ichiro Lambe put it, "Sustaining an indie game development business is becoming tougher, not easier, despite access to [game development technology] like [Apple operating system] iOS, Steam, and Unity." And although this has been a relatively unstable year for studios in Massachusetts, these small companies are thriving as they bind together.
This could potentially help those affected by layoffs by providing work, while it also gives these independent studios access to experienced talent. "We've been in situations where folks between permanent gigs have done contract work with us, or where we can find a permanent member of the team as a result of another studio closing its doors," said Lambe.
No doubt, this is a handful of dedicated developers who highly value business growth. The group has welcomed new companies almost every month, with Elliott Mitchell of Vermont Digital Arts as the most recent addition in January. With this many working in close proximity, several of the collective's members collaborate and contribute on projects. They assist and push each other to attain success in the industry. In doing so, they hold the bar high. The collective boasts two of the above mentioned top rated Apple app store games: Dejobaan's AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! Force = Mass x Acceleration, and Girls Like Robots by Popcannibal.
Professional mentorship and education are equally important to this group as business success, which sets the Indie Game Collective apart from many other tech start-up collectives, as evidenced by its Friday Lunches initiative. Every Friday afternoon, a different person from outside the collective joins the entire group for lunch. An interested student, a newly formed indie, or even an experienced game developer can bring in a game idea or problem to discuss. The session can go anywhere, with varied results and differing opinions. The visitor receives honest and open feedback from a wide variety of industry experts with unique viewpoints.
Overall, the collective treats independent game development as a trade, as if they are evolving into a modern journeyman program for a technical and industrial skillset. It pays special attention to honing its craft, and attempts to function as a support system for Massachusetts independent developers. As stated on its website, the Indie Game Collective is focused on three primary goals: Impact local industry, improve education, and challenge one another. Sounds like this group is onto something.
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