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Being an indie at GDC

We’ve been on the hunt for indie developers going to GDC and gathered their thoughts on their reasons to attend the biggest dev event of the year. So why are indies going to GDC and is San Francisco still the place to be? These up-and-coming studios give you the answers.

Blue Manchu

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Where they come from: Canberra, Australia
Where to find them at GDC: Day of the Devs

Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here?
We’re mainly at GDC to show off our new game, Void Bastards. It’s a synergistic thing because some of the team are also going to the conference anyway.

How many of you are here at the show, and how big is your studio? Two of us will be going out of a total studio of six.

Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option? 
The game will shown at the Xbox press event prior to the show and at Day of the Devs. Microsoft invited us to their press event and Day of the Devs sounds like a lot of fun – we haven’t been part of it before.

Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show?
We’ll be meeting with anyone who wants to look at the game! Hopefully some press but also want to get reactions from other devs.

Are you just here for the expo, or will you be attending talks at the conference too?
A bit of both.

Do you think the show is good value for money?
It can be since the benefits of making connections and meeting people can be extremely valuable. Most of the cost for us is travel (from Australia or the UK) and accommodation.

Do you think San Francisco is a good place to hold GDC?
I’d like to see it move around and not always be in San Francisco. I hear Sydney’s nice at this time of year!

Brain & Brain

Where they come from: Fayetteville (AR), USA
Where to find them at GDC: Day of the Devs

Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here?
We try to attend GDC every year to have meetings with publishers and platform holders, attend talks and awards shows, and be inspired and energised. But the best part is simply seeing friends from all over the world. We’re showing a new game at GDC this year, Wooden Nickel. It’s a narrative adventure set in a frontier town of the great, remorseless Old West.

How many of you are here at the show, and how big is your studio?We are a husband-and-wife studio, and both of us are
at GDC.

Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option?
We’re honoured to be part of Double Fine’s Day of the Devs showcase. It’s an amazing opportunity, and run by some of the best people in our industry.

Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show?
We’ll be meeting with platform holders and publishers, looking to secure resources for the rest of development on the game.

Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending talks at the conference?
We have Expo Plus passes to the show, so the talks we can attend is limited. We’ll largely be exploring GDC Play and the IGF pavilion.

Do you think the show is good value for money?
We do. The Independent Games Summit pass in particular is a great value.

Do you think San Francisco is a good place to hold GDC?
We used to call San Francisco home, so we love having a reason to go back every year. But it’s also a great city, and home to several studios. Seems like a good fit.

Chucklefish

Where they come from: London, UK
Where to find them at GDC: Day of the Devs

Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here?
Chucklefish is bringing Hidden Layer Games’ super atmospheric platformer, Inmost, to GDC, which is coming to PC and Nintendo Switch. It’s quite a dark narrative-driven game, with puzzle elements and a beautiful pixel art style, where you follow three playable characters within one ghoulish interconnecting story set across two worlds. Andriy and Alexey, the Lithuanian-based developers of Inmost, are very passionate about the game world and interweaving story they’re crafting, so we can’t wait for more people to get their hands on it!

How many of you are here at the show, and how big is your studio?
This year we’re bringing our whole studio (17 of us in total), following the successful launch of Wargroove in early February, as an opportunity for the whole team to meet other developers and attend talks.

Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option?
We’ll be showing Inmost at Double Fine and Iam8bit’s fantastic Day of the Devs event! We brought Eastward by Pixpil and Pathway from Robotality to the Day of the Devs event in November, which was a great event and good visibility for both titles, so we’re looking forward to this one too! The teams at Double Fine and Iam8bit are a lovely bunch too.

Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show?
As a London-based studio, GDC is a great chance for us at Chucklefish to catch up and connect with our US-based partners and developer friends. Getting to speak face-to-face, go for a drink and show off our awesome catalogue of upcoming in-house and published games, is invaluable, so GDC is always an event we look forward to as both a development team and a publisher.

Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending talks at the conference?
Some of our team will certainly be attending a few talks – it’s always great to learn from the experience and gather nuggets of wisdom from other developers. I’m personally looking forward to hearing the Sokpop Collective’s talk on their wonderfully crazy endeavour to release new quirky indie games on a subscription service every two weeks. If you haven’t played any of their games yet, I’d thoroughly recommend Llama Villa on itch.io!

Do you think the show is good value for money?
Shows like these can be quite expensive, especially for indie teams with games still heavily in development. If you get the chance to go, it’s always worth just being in the San Francisco area to network and meet up with as many industry folk as possible and make new friends, without even necessarily attending talks or the proper convention. Same goes for any big games expo, like E3, Gamescom or PAX.

High Tea Frog

Where they come from: Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
Where to find them at GDC: ID@Xbox

Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here?
It’s our first ever GDC, and we’re exhibiting Cake Bash. It’s a party game where you fight to be the tastiest cake.

How many of you are here, and how big is the studio?
Two out of three of our core team are attending, so we’re a really tiny studio. After working together at Ubisoft for several years we founded High Tea Frog in September 2017, and this is our first major event.

Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option?
We’re showing our game at the ID@Xbox stand. It’s a great opportunity for us as Microsoft have covered the exhibition fees. To fund such a great space ourselves just wouldn’t be possible at this stage. It’ll be good to meet some of the people behind ID@Xbox in person too!

Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show?
Originally we were looking for a publisher, but we recently signed a deal that we’re really happy with! Now we’re looking for press and influencers who’d like to try the game – we’ve been focusing so much on development that we haven’t given marketing and PR the attention it deserves, and we understand how important visibility is for a new indie game. It’s always great to get new perspectives on your work too – smaller events in the past have always given us such valuable feedback that we’ve changed and improved features almost every time, so we’re really excited to see what we can learn from GDC.

Do you think the show is good value for money?
As I haven’t been before it’s difficult to say, but as a small studio it’s an inaccessible price point. If there was a really interesting talk, we’re more likely to pay for GDC Vault access where we can watch videos – it’s cheaper than a pass, and you don’t have the issue of having to choose between two relevant talks scheduled at the same time on different tracks.

Do you think San Francisco is a good place to hold GDC?
I think anywhere with sea lions is great by default! San Francisco is an amazing city, though I can definitely understand why it’s too expensive for many people. This year there has been quite a few grants to help people get here, but I think there should be more publicity around these options.

Anything else you’d like to add?
If you’re attending please come and give Cake Bash a try! We also really appreciate any follows on our Twitter page @highteafrog if you’d like to stay updated, and Cake Bash is available to wishlist on Steam now too!

Hexecutable

Where they come from: New York, USA
Where to find them at GDC: Day of the Devs

Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here?
I’m at GDC because I will give a microtalk, I have important business meetings and dinners to attend, and I am excited to see old friends and make new ones. My game is Consume Me.

How many of you are here, and how big is your studio?
It’s two people and both of us are here.

Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option?
Day of the Devs – I didn’t choose the option. The option chose me.

Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show?
I hope to pet some nice dogs in the park.

Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending talks at the conference?
I will be part of a microtalk session (under the Independent Games Summit) called Put a Face on It: The Aesthetics of Cute. I will also probably attend some talks here and there. 

Do you think the show is good value for money?
For folks in similar financial situations to me and AP [Thomson, the other half of Hexecutable], paying for your own pass is nowhere near good value. I simply wouldn’t be able to afford to attend if I didn’t have access to a free pass.

Do you think San Francisco is a good place to hold GDC?
No. San Francisco is an extremely expensive city and it is also located in the United States which is already a pretty inaccessible country for many people. The only nice thing about San Francisco is the weather.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I hope to meet lots of cute dogs!

Landfall

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Where they come from: Stockholm, Sweden
Where to find them at GDC: Day of the Devs

Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here?
We’re at GDC this year to participate in the Day of the Devs as well as do the usual business stuff. We’ll be showing our game Totally Accurate Battle Simulator – it’s a wacky physics-based tactics game that we’ve been working on since 2016.

How many of you are here, and how big is your studio?
Our studio consists of 13 devs and six of us are attending the conference this year.

Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option?
We’ll be showing it as part of Day of the Devs, we’ve always wanted to participate and this time we were asked to, so why not!

Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show?
Since we are self-published, we are meeting a wide variety of people and companies important to distributing our games as well as strategic partners for the future.

Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending talks at the conference?
Some of us are here to attend the talks/expo and some of us are here to party and network.

Do you think the show is good value for money?
Yes and no. There are certain things you can only get at GDC in terms of meeting the international community of developers and business contacts. In a lot of cases this has covered the cost of the trip for us but if we were in a more financially strained situation we would have to think more about the cost vs value.

Do you think San Francisco is a good place to hold GDC?
No, it’s extremely expensive to go and the city is very unsafe. Not much of what makes GDC worth attending is the city itself, it’s the people and a lot of the people who we come here to meet are opting out this year because of the cost and the safety risks.

Playful Systems

Where they come from: North Haven (CT), USA
Where to find them at GDC: Indie Megabooth, Day of the Devs, Experimental Gameplay Workshop

Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here?
I’m here to show my game competitive local-multiplayer painting game, Sloppy Forgeries.

How many of you are here, and how big is your studio?
It’s just me. I’m currently exploring including another programmer on Sloppy Forgeries’ development.

Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option?
I’m showing it at the Indie Megabooth, Day of the Devs, and the Experimental Gameplay Workshop. Why? Because they’ll have me!

Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve at the show?
I’m looking forward to meeting other independent developers and small publishers. Mostly, I’m looking forward to meeting all of the other devs showing at Indie Megabooth, Day of the Devs and the Experimental Gameplay Workshop.

Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending talks at the conference?
I’ll be attending the conference as well. I’m looking forward to the indie and educators summit.

Do you think the show is good value for money?
I don’t think I can answer that question. This is my first GDC and Indie Megabooth provided a ticket.

Do you think San Francisco is a good place to hold GDC?
It might be nice to mix it up.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m a full-time professor of game design and development at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut — so may be somewhat atypical amongst the indie devs showing in these exhibitions.

Red Phantom Games

Where they come from: Leamington Spa, UK
Where to find them at GDC: Ukie/UK stand, DIT/Midlands Engine trade mission

Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here?
I’m attending mainly to show a new game to publishers with the aim of building a partnership to bring it to market in 2020.

How many of you are here, and how big is your studio?
Only one – currently, Red Phantom Games is just me. However, I work with independent contractors and service providers, often drawing upon the wealth of local talent in Leamington Spa.

Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option?
The game is not announced so it’ll be shown privately – though, as a sneak preview, it’s an arcade-action vehicle combat game! I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the DIT/Midlands Engine trade mission which fits nicely with my project timing and means I’ve got space on the Ukie stand to hold meetings.

Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show?
I’ll have an early demo and pitch deck with me. A publishing deal would be the ultimate goal but, being realistic, I’ll be happy to make initial contacts and build interest with a view to pitching fully later in the year.

Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending conference talks?
Time permitting, I’ll be attending talks and looking round the expo. I found last year great for inspiration and motivation as well getting up-to-date on some current thinking.

Do you think the show is good value for money?
I appreciate it’s expensive, so any business or individual must make their own evaluation as to whether it’s worth the spend. Last year was subjectively worthwhile for me. This year will hopefully bring more concrete and measurable value given the focus. Pro tip: volunteer to get bumped off your flight back and receive a voucher to cover most of next year’s cost!

Anything else you’d like to add?
It’s the 20th anniversary of my first visit to GDC. I’ve not been every year but it’s so interesting to see how much games, technology and the industry have grown and changed.

Talespinners

Where they come from: Cardiff, UK
Where to find them at GDC: Welsh Pavilion

Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here?
We’re mainly at GDC to meet people: old friends, existing clients and potential new clients. We’re also looking forward to hanging out with the folk on the Narrative Summit; there’s a particularly vibrant community of games writers at GDC and they’re a lovely bunch of people to spend time with.

How many of you are here, and how big is your company?
Two of us are here, myself and Cash DeCuir. We have four permanent staff, and a varying number of freelancers who work alongside us.

Where are you showing your service and why did you choose that option?
We have a stand as part of the Welsh Pavilion. Our company started out in Cardiff, and we’ve always had a lot of support from the Welsh Government; without them, it’d be difficult for us to have such a central and well-supported space.

Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show?
We’ll be meeting with developers who’re interested in help with their story and narrative; these could be teams in the very early stages of development who need ideas, teams who are nearly finished and need editing or voice support, or teams who are in that horrible place somewhere in the middle where nothing in the story seems to quite hang together and who need someone else to make sense of it.

Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending talks at the conference?
We’ll be at the talks. I’m part of a panel in the Independent Games Summit, talking about co-op teams. Talespinners is cooperative, whereas we all used to be lonely freelancers. The co-op model offers many advantages for working in the gig economy, and is a model which is very unusual in the US, hence the interest.

Do you think the show is good value for money?
The summits have always felt vastly overpriced to me, effectively shutting out many small indie companies or freelancers. I think that’s a great shame.

Do you think San Francisco is a good place to hold GDC?
I enjoy my time in San Francisco – apart from some of the hills! But the location does add to the cost, restricting the audience a lot.

Third Kind Games

Where they come from: Leamington Spa, UK
Where to find them at GDC: Ukie/UK stand

Why are you at GDC? And what are you showing here?
As participants of a UK trade mission this year we’re focused on business development opportunities primarily, but GDC always has so much to offer through conference talks and the myriad of networking events throughout the week. We’re showcasing the talents of both Third Kind Games and the games we’re passionate about making, as well as the Leamington Spa games dev cluster that we and many others at GDC are proud to represent.

How many of you are here, and how big is your studio?
Three of the team are here following on from the SXSW Gaming Festival in Austin, Texas. We’re a ten person studio founded by senior management and developers from Activision and are currently growing the team to support our projects.

Where are you showing your games and why did you choose that option?
We’ve exhibited at the expo in previous years and had a great experience showing our game to GDC attendees. This time around our projects are in the early stages so we’re keeping everything under wraps until the time is right.

Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show?
Through the trade mission programme, network connections and the event itself, we’ve got meetings with a wide range of people to talk about our vision for incorporating blockchain technology into our games, and hopefully forging a future partnership on the way.

Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending talks at the conference?
In between meetings, we’ll be checking out the expo for sure, but may have to rely on the awesome GDC vault to catch up on the conference side of things once we return home.

Do you think the show is good value for money?
I do think it’s good value – while the cost of attending GDC can be high for some developers, the conference talks and B2B meetings around it are extremely beneficial. I’d certainly recommend looking at what support is on offer from local government authorities and trade associations.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Come say hi to us if you see us around the Ukie stand or reach us on Twitter @thirdkindgames! Third Kind Games is the lead developer of Blankos Block Party, a blockchain-powered party MMO game from Mythical Games.

About Marie Dealessandri

Marie Dealessandri is MCV’s senior staff writer, having joined the publication during its days as a weekly magazine. After testing the waters of the film industry in France and being a radio host and reporter in Canada, she settled for the games industry in London in 2015. She can be found (very) occasionally tweeting @mariedeal, usually on a loop about Baldur’s Gate, Hollow Knight and the Dead Cells soundtrack.

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