Marketing himself as “The Man at Going Loud Studios” on Facebook and “Indie game developer, training wheels edition” on Twitter, a quick scan of Ben Kane’s social media reveals little to the curious creeper. The opportunity to learn more about the guy from Ottawa who was nominated for Best Indie at the 2012 Canadian Video Game Awards was given to me, a humble social media strategist, at the OIGC (Ottawa International Game Conference).
In a conference room at the Ottawa Convention Centre, I take a seat near the back of the room, iPad in hand, anticipating a power point presentation outlining the dos and don’ts in the land of indie game development. What I get instead is an in-depth look at Ben’s journey from university to indie game development or as he puts it “from the dark lows of a macaroni and cheese diet all the way to the dizzying highs of a brand name macaroni and cheese diet.”
Ben started his journey at Carleton University in 2004 where he completed his B.Eng in Software Engineering in 2009. He admits that like many university and college graduates, “proactive” was not exactly a part of his wheelhouse. Ben appropriately credits his attendance at a conference with the securing of his first full-time position with EA Black Box where he worked on the Skate and FIFA franchises.
It is his movement from the big-time AAA game studios to his parents’ basement that is of particular interest to me (and my fellow audience members no doubt). In 2010, Ben became an official indie game developer and released his first project, “Zombie Accountant” on Xbox Live Indie Games in December of that same year. The relative success enjoyed by “Zombie Accountant” was responsible for Ben’s first real self-identification as an indie game developer.
Ben’s next project, “Lair of the Evildoer” was released in June 2011 and its less than stellar reception would serve as the source of many a valuable lesson. According to Ben, he began development of this game without a clear idea of what he wanted to do beforehand. Ben’s account of his work on “Lair of the Evildoer” left me with a few glaring dos and don’ts when it comes to indie game development: (1) Don’t put code to concepts that aren’t completely fleshed out yet, (2) don’t get so attached to the game that it prevents you from seeing all of the flaws, and (3) make sure you do a significant amount of external play testing before release.
With two games under his belt and new wisdom to implement, Ben went on to develop the game that now serves as a prime example of the kind of success that can come from perseverance in the face of indie game adversity. In January 2012, DLC Quest took home Indie Game of the Year 2011 from Official Xbox Magazine and earned a contract for release on Steam. Lifetime sales have reached upwards of 205,000 units. All of these glowing facts seem to clash with one of Ben’s concluding statements: “Game development is never something you figure out.”
His journey to indie game development more or less completed, Ben leaves the audience with a few marketing tips. First and foremost, be “googlable” (his word, not mine). Ben suggests googling yourself regularly to ensure your name appears on the first page. He also suggests getting your game footage, trailers, etc up on YouTube and utilizing its massive user base to its full potential. Ben also recommends giving gamers an exclusive build of your game and asking them to go over it.
When it comes to the press, Ben advises that you put yourself in their position before reaching out to them. They need stories that are interesting and they need them fast. Ben emphasizes the importance of making a unique pitch about your game as well as being responsive and replying quickly to those who you do manage to engage.
A screenshot of his first piece of fan mail for DLC Quest that reads “This game is awesome! :-)” betrays Ben’s modesty and reveals that despite his success, both of his feet remain firmly on the ground. Ben had me leaving the conference room with the sense that there is hope for the indie game developer. The openness with which Ben divulged his tale and the general feeling that “he’s one of us” brought to full fruition his proclaimed theme of the presentation: inspiration.
Jennifer June is a Social Media Strategist for Arctic*Empire, the game development studio behind the upcoming tower defense game Office Attacks. The Ottawa International Gaming Conference, now in its second year, brings together top Canadian talent to discuss the gaming industry at large. Learn more atoigconf.com.