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Indie Development: Not Just Fun And Games

Bit of Alright showed joie-de-vivre and creative flare in the UK indie scene - but it could do with some hard graft, too

In the Grand Hall of the Battersea Arts Centre, David Hayward points to a grey triangle, projected onto a screen. "This was part of the most boring PowerPoint presentation I've ever seen," he explains. So starts Hayward's introduction to Bit of Alright, an indie game development conference that pointedly avoids the stolid analysis and rigid formalities of the games industry lecture circuit. Under Hayward's curatorship, this feels more like a get-together than a conference, intended to inspire playfulness and spontaneity in its attendees, rather than subduing them with a deluge of instructional slides, as they sit passively before a droning speaker.

At least, this is how you sense many here would characterise the other industry events that dot the calendar. Other opinions are available, albeit not in abundant attendance. Some might find those supposedly grey and unlovely conferences, with their focus on practical advice and technical detail, pretty useful when it comes to the task of actually producing saleable games, and ensuring the survival of an independent developer in such tricky economic times.

Bit of Alright hints at something of a crisis of identity when it comes to the UK indie scene, which sometimes seems to like everything about self-employment but the employment part itself. The talks reflect that hippy-ish suspicion of structure: there's an informal pass-the-mic style, which causes Dan Marshall's session on the mechanics of death to disassemble into semi-audible group chatter.

For some indie development is a pose rather than a profession, and Bit of Alright is almost guilty of mollycoddling those who equate being creative to being a creator.

The murmuring contributors have to compete with a constant background buzz of real-world play - some youngsters lurch around dressed as zombies, others fire Nerf guns, while tooting recorders echo from a presentation by music-app maker My Note Games. A few tables in the centre of the Great Hall are stacked with lemons and spoons, inviting delegates to duel, each attempting to unseat the carefully balanced fruit of the other.

Are these things playful reminders of the freewheeling ingenuity at the heart of the indie community, or are they trappings of a people more interested at playing indie developers than actual development itself? You suspect for some, indie development is a pose rather than a profession, and A Bit of Alright is almost guilty of mollycoddling those naïve dreamers who equate being creative to being a creator.

But Hayward has been canny in his line-up of speakers - this is a conference that has its cake and ultimately eats it too, enticing people in with the lure of carefree chaos and then dropping them into the ice-bath of reality. This comes close to conference's end by way of Cliff Harris, the man behind Positech games, maker of the highly successful Gratuitous Space Battles.

"You're all fucking lazy and you should work harder," he half-jokingly informs an increasingly crestfallen audience. This is your job, he says. It's not even a hard one in the grand scheme of things (a slide with a picture of the D-Day landings flashes onto the display behind him), but you must still approach it with some degree of rigour and professionalism or you will not make money enough to continue.

He cites the increased competition from overseas, and bemoans the attitude to work that permits 10pm starts - "a complete joke." But as well as telling the audience what they shouldn't do, he has productivity-boosting suggestions, too.

Keep a daily log, so that you know immediately what your first task is when clocking on, and remain motivated by checking-off that list. Turn off Twitter and get a dedicated workspace away from distraction. If you find your attention wandering, compartmentalise your work into intense periods of concentration, dictated by an egg-timer or similar. Invest in a comfortable working environment and good equipment - multiple monitors, and a snazzy chair may seem like luxuries, but consider them in the context of their hours of usage, and their value is apparent. Buying the software you need is essential too, and yet some discretion is needed in purchases, as often older, cheaper versions will more than suffice.

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