This week, NerdQ’s Erik Meyer had the pleasure of chatting with Kyle Weik. Besides his Beach Interactive work on The Abettor’s Letters and On My Own, Kyle has been a strong advocate for local dev culture, and we jumped at the chance to pick his brain.
Erik Meyer: Let’s start off easy; how did Fargo Game Makers start? What led up to that, and how did you arrive at the format?
Kyle Weik: The Fargo Game Makers started in Fall of 2014; the concept originated while my team had been working on The Abettor’s Letters project. We slowly started to hear about other people in Fargo working on games. Realizing we weren’t the only ones, the FGM meet-up was started to create awareness of the game maker community in Fargo, and to bring them together. A big concern we were hearing was that many game makers were quitting projects because they couldn’t find anyone to work with; our strategy with the meet-up is to focus on cultivating relationships, so generally the second half is like a meet-and-greet.
EM: Some people in dev groups have broad surface interests and some have deep, narrow interests in design/gaming. How do you balance those, and to what extent is group engagement tricky?
KW: Engagement is the trickiest part of running the meet-up. The structured content that we usually have is focused on creating a sense of belief in one’s abilities, so that may not be in-depth enough for a seasoned game maker. We generally try to change it up often, but the most helpful thing is the organic community we’ve cultivated. If the structured meet-up content isn’t intriguing enough for a first-timer, you can usually count on a regular member to fulfill that craving by updating everyone on a project that they’ve spent countless hours on. Usually during the break away meet-and-greet is when people chat about the more intricate aspects of what they’re working on.
EM: Agreeing on a platform is huge for devs; even within game development, art choices, engine choices, aesthetics, and similar decisions can make or break projects. What do you see as common stumbling blocks, and what kinds of suggestions do you have for people who want to find a good project but aren’t sure where to start?
KW: One of the biggest stumbling blocks I see is scope when you’re just starting out. Even if you want to make a large game, start small and focus on a single feature or aspect. Games can get so overwhelming, but are totally doable when you focus on completing small tasks. At the same time, it’s so important to scope out on paper all the aspects of the game design. It’s way easier to scratch out a bad concept on paper than it is to code a new feature, only to scrap it because you didn’t think it through. As for starting a new project, I’ll reiterate; hash out your ideas on paper. Sit down and discuss your game with friends you trust. Discuss the mechanics, the desired style, and maybe some of the narrative elements, if you have any.
EM: All kinds of gaming (board games, RPGs, videogames, etc) appear to be expanding. What do you think contributes to this?
KW: The rise of easy-to-use programming tools, crowd-funding, self-publishing, Steam and the mobile app stores, and an a larger population of gamers than in the past.
EM: What is the thing you’re most excited about right now in the world of Fargo dev culture?
KW: I have a very good feeling about 2017. From the little bits I hear, there is a new resolve for many folks in the game maker community to make this a break-out year. We’re seeing a maturing of the community with more leaders stepping up, creating game jams, hosting demo events, and taking more active roles.
EM: What obstacles does the dev community see in Fargo/Moorhead?
KW: Initially, some of the people who came to Fargo Game Makers meetings had a lack of faith in their skill sets, a feeling of can’t that held them back. In the last few years, this has changed for the better. People have gained confidence, and the current hurdles appear to be momentum and sustainability. It takes manpower and a solid team dynamic to see a game through. There’s a real disconnect between the desire to consume AAA games and the knowledge (for most) of what it takes to take on an indie dev project, and most people can’t leave a full time job to do so.
EM: How would you say the local universities contribute to the dev community?
KW: Right now, it comes down to individual people taking action and making connections. Ruben is our main contact from NDSU and is blowing people away with his VR work. Similarly, Alex (from MSUM) has really stepped up as a leader spearheading student interest. For Beach Interactive on the business front, we’ve worked with both MSUM and Concordia doing presentations for students. Think of the universities as islands. People work on their individual projects, often unaware of what nearby efforts are taking place. Getting events on the radar of professors has been a challenge, but where personal connections exist, grass roots cultivation takes hold.
EM: What do you think of Fig as an example of crowdfunding?
KW: That’s a big question, because crowdfunding is tricky. It gets down to a dev being scrappy versus squandering resources. There are a lot of variables in how a team might spend $50,000 or $1,000,000, but I certainly think teams need to be proven before they get funding, because proven teams are more likely to be accountable. Why should people invest hundreds of thousands of dollars when a scrappy dev could make due with $20,000? This gets into a discussion of choosing to invest or choosing to support (with less direct expectation), but clarity on the real needs of the developers is big.