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Making Indie Games From a McDonald's: 10 Key Tips

Ever wish you could use McDonald's as a workplace? Hero Generations designer Scott Brodie shares his top 10 tips for making your McDream a reality.

Scott Brodie, Blogger

April 1, 2015

4 Min Read

I spent a lot of time working out of McDonald's during the development of Hero Generations, and I think you should too! The golden arches offer high-quality game development amenities: free Wi-Fi, comfortable work space, tasty subsidized food, beverages on tap, and sanitary lavatories. Here are 10 simple rules to live by for effectively running an indie game studio from the inside of a fast food dining establishment.


1. Find a comfortable booth with a power outlet: Before making your first food purchase, do some recon and find a large enough table that is within cord distance to a power outlet. Stake your claim to this prime real estate by leaving your coat, jacket, or hat on the table. Pro tip: be sure to charge your laptop at home, in case a large group of elderly patrons unexpectedly camp your favorite spot -- you can sit elsewhere until they leave an opening to reclaim your rightful place.


2. Meal Planning: It's important to buy something in exchange for your work space.You're a game developer, not a homeless person! The key is to avoid blowing your entire food budget on breakfast. Do you really need that hash brown? Also consider using the same drink cup for all 3 meals.


3. Be aware of the 1-hour Wi-Fi reset: There is nothing worse than missing that Skype message from your concept artist because you forgot to reconnect.


They're lovin' it, and by it I mean making video games in a crowded public fast food restaurant. 


4. Lunch: Stop! Don't get your lunch yet. If there is one lesson you take away from this guide, I hope this is it. Take a break and leave the establishment at midday. Sit in your car and listen to the Idle Thumbs podcast, or maybe go for a walk. Use this time to clear your head, stretch your legs, and trick the afternoon staff into thinking you are a new customer.


5. Don't blow your cover: if you do phone calls, be sure to avoid picking a seat near the Play Place or in-house speakers (McD keeps the smooth jazz playing all day long, commercial free). Tell your contacts that you're "just out at a coffee shop." It will make you seem more sophisticated, show that you are your own boss, and reinforce that you are the decision maker they want to talk to.


6. Don't let them ice you out: it’s a well kept secret that restaurant owners have an air conditioning dial in the kitchen they can turn at will to blast you with cold air. You're not going to be able to focus on your voxel terrain algorithm if you're cold. Scout for ceiling vent locations and come prepared with a hat and jacket. Don't feel ashamed of wearing them indoors because all that matters is how fun your game is when it ships. 


7. Avoid old people: McDonald's is a nationwide sponsor for elderly gatherings. The elderly are your natural born enemy and will do everything they can to interrupt your workflow. They will scowl at you for stringing your laptop cord anywhere near their path. They like to strike up conversation and tell long stories about their time in the “military”. They like to pretend they know about games and let you know their "daughter owns an iPad." 


The most dangerous patrons are actually those between the ages of 38-50. They haven't gone senile, and if you are near a computer, you immediately become tech support. They'll ask you how to get Wi-Fi on their iPhone, and it will kill your flow. Just remember this handy acronym and you'll be fine: ABWHP (Always Be Wearing Head Phones).


"Are you familiar with that 'Wii' thing?"


8. Mix it up: If there are multiple McDonald's within a few miles, consider traveling to the other location so you don't have to bare the shame of working from the same McCafe for a full 8 hours. Starbucks or Panera Bread are also viable alternatives, but these higher end indulgences will quickly eat into your marketing and audio budgets over time.


9. Invest in tools: get a wireless mouse, a sturdy laptop bag, and cloud storage. Store backup batteries, power cords, and emergency snacks in your glove box.


10: Dessert: Keep supporting your McOverlord with a purchase around 3pm. The cheapest item that seems reasonable to get is 1 chocolate chip cookie (available for $.39 as of this writing in the US). If your game gets featured by PC Gamer or a YouTuber like Northernlion, think about treating yourself to a set of 3 chocolate chip cookies for $1.00, or two delicious apple pies.


And that's about it. There's no magic formula to game development, but if you follow these steps, you'll have a hit game in no time.


[If you made it this far: April Fool's. Kind of.]

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About the Author(s)

Scott Brodie


Scott Brodie is a Game Designer and Producer with Microsoft Game Studios' Xbox LIVE Arcade Team. He has background in most aspects of game development, serving as designer, artist, producer, and programmer throughout his career. He regularly writes and creates experimental games for his personal blog, Left-Handed Game Design. He can also be followed on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/brodiegames.

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