Video games are a more global enterprise than they’ve ever been. Nowadays, game development software is more accessible than ever, and there are numerous resources available online to show people the ropes on how to get started with game development. To celebrate this phenomenon, we decided to talk to indie developers from around the world to see how they’ve formed communities around GameMaker.
José“Zarc” Castanheira, developer of Super Arrebenta Manos and the upcoming Exophobia, is based in Almada, Portugal, which has a rather tight-knit game development community. “As the country and number of people involved in video games are small, we all end up using the same social media channels and are connected by the same circles,” Castanheira explained. “In the past, it was online forums. Nowadays, it’s Facebook groups and Discord. Everyone can join, from artists and programmers, to sound designers and press. People eventually end up working with each other once in a while in different projects because of this. Most active people get recommended for most jobs.”
That said, Castanheira still works remotely with his primary collaborator (a sound designer/composer in Lisbon), and mostly uses Facebook Messenger to communicate with his other colleagues. He noted that the community on the whole uses chat apps like Slack, Discord, and Skype for the most part
Because of Portugal’s relatively small size, game dev meetups are quite common, happening about once a month or so, in Castanheira’s estimation. “They started in Lisbon and are now happening both in Lisbon and Porto, organized by different groups. They usually consist of a gathering of all kinds of game dev related people. Everyone can showcase their game, sometimes there is an online or local talk with an industry veteran, or some kind of fun game related activity. After the event, everyone goes to have dinner and keeps networking through the night.”
Beyond these gatherings, game jams are a major bonding exercise in the Portugal indie dev community. “There are local game jams with their own original concept like Altera Game Jam, where devs are challenged to create a new game in a different genre, but in the same world, of an already published Portuguese game. Others include Neuro Game Jam, where the games have to contribute to neuroscience and can be used in real behavioral experiments, Horror Game Jam, where the theme is a horror theme and there are a lot of horror activities during the jam, and Games for Good, a social responsibility game jam, to name a few,” Castanheira explained. “But there are also local gatherings for online game jams, like Global Game Jam and Ludum Dare, sometimes happening at multiple sites like universities or private spaces, all organized by different entities.”
Castanheira also noted the importance of Game Dev Camp, the biggest game dev conference in Portugal, which he called “obligatory due to the richness of what can be learned.” That’s just to name a few. Ultimately there is no shortage of events for up and coming developers to attend in Portugal.
It’s a different scene entirely over in Poland, where we spoke to gameonly.pl owner and indie developer Piotr Gnys. He got started in using GameMaker in the early 2000s, where he was an avid user of the site gmclan.org, which consisted of news, articles/tutorials and downloads sections, as well as a forum. He noted that GMClan has about 15k users from around Poland, mostly ranging between 13 and 35, and the forum now has nearly half a million posts.
As for in-person meetups, these aren’t as common due to the expansiveness of Poland. “As the community is more evenly distributed around the whole of Poland, it’s usually hard to meet. I think that the biggest meeting [I attended] involved around 10-15 people,” he said. He noted that sometimes you’ll get maybe two or three devs in the same town who will meet up for a pint, but that’s about it. “There were some [meetups] back in 2003-2010, I think. After that, people changed the way they work because of Facebook, Discord, etc.”
To combat how spread-out its populace is, Gnys said that devs had to use more modern technologies to build a community. “From the start, in 2002, we used IPB forums and jPortal (a very old Polish CMS), which was changed in 2004 for a custom solution (so our own CMS plus IPB), and that's remained until now,” he explained. “In 2017 we started to use Discord too, as that was proposed by many users (there are at least 100 users there now). As for the community, they’re mainly using private messages on boards, and then [Facebook] Messenger, to cooperate on projects.”
The one exception to all this working remotely in Poland is GIC (Game Industry Conference), which happens every October in Poznan, and Gnys estimated that this gets about 5,000 visitors. Having that many devs in one place naturally leads to a lot of community building. Gnys noted that he organized the 2010 version of GIC in Gdansk, where its attendance was only about 300 at the time. So interest in game development has clearly been booming in Poland since then.
Like Portugal, the Polish indie dev community is big on game jams. “Locally on GMCLAN.org we have something called League 24, where you've got 24 hours to create a game, and the topic is only revealed when the clock starts ticking,” Gnys explained. “There were about 170 rounds already, and more than 600 games have been created for it. In recent months we extended the time to cover the whole weekend, as the average age of the community is over 20 now, so people have large blocks of free time.”
The Polish GameMaker community has had some hit gems over the years. Arguably the best known of the bunch would be MoaCube’s titles (Magi, Cinders, Solstice), or Top Hat by N94 Games’ Nikodem Szewczyk.
Over in Saint Petersburg, Russia, we caught up with OctoBox Interactive’s Kirill Zolovkin (Paper Knight, Steam Panic, Geon FX). Given that OctoBox works remotely, with his main colleagues in Karaganda, Kazakhstan and Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine, he said that the main social networks they use these days are Discord, Trello, and the GameMaker user group on Vkontakte (VK), which is the largest social network in Russia.
Zolovkin estimated that he attends game developer meetups about once a month, which is bolstered by larger-scale industry events such as DevGAMM and White Nights Conference.
When asked about the advantages of being a game developer in Russia, Zolovkin said “the low costs of living and wages and advanced high-level technical education, i.e. cheap professional programmers.”
The Brazil-based indie developer Cedrik Rocha’s (Piko Piko) experience was similar to his Eastern European brethren in that it’s a large country with a thinly spread-out population. As such, the majority of work that Rocha’s collaborated on has been remote. Furthermore, he noted that there isn’t a lot of support for Portuguese speaking developers. “There are several challenges [to being an indie dev in Brazil],” Rocha said. “The main one would be to find content for studies. Usually, all good study content is in other languages and this is very complicated for new developers.”
With little Portuguese language support, the Brazilian indie dev community had to take it upon themselves to show each other the ropes. “Discord, Telegram and Facebook are the three solutions I see most creating communities in Brazil,” he said. “I started with a Facebook group, then that group went to Telegram. After a few months, it was necessary to set up a Discord, because people wanted to talk by voice and with that, we ended up greatly increasing the size of the community.”
Chinese indie developer Zhang Laoshi considers himself an amateur indie developer, though he’s released four games on the indie game sharing channel Tap Tap. He noted that in his neck of the woods the main GameMaker community in China is Baidu Post Bar For Gamemaker. He said that in China GameMaker is primarily used as a learning tool, and as a full-time teacher himself, Laoshi has taken it upon himself to teach others how to get into game development with GameMaker. “I had worked as a programmer for 10 years, and have built up a small community of followers on the video uploading site Bilibili,” he stated.
It’s a big world out there, and in the social media age GameMaker developers have found ways of connecting all across the globe. While there are certainly advantages to working in a place with lots of industry connections, aspiring game developers can find ways to connect anywhere, whether it’s through Discord, Facebook, or more regional forums and social networks. Every country brings its own unique voice and talents into the mix, and it’s never been easier to find potential game developer collaborators close to home.