September 28, 2020
Games Lift - What's in a workshop
Good workshops are hard to find. In the Games Lift incubator, they are a main attraction of the program. It’s seasoned game devs giving personal advice to a small group. But there is a crinkle: Because of the pandemic, this time around all talks and workshops of the Games Lift Incubator are being held remotely.
Networking, asking questions and finding solutions is not ideally done through a screen. It takes effort to make it work. In the incubator, it takes good preparation and a highly motivated audience.
Wolf Lang is keeping the scope in sight
Among the first experts to address the teams is Wolf Lang, CEO of event agency Super Crowd and co-founder of game studio THREAKS. He has a knack for breaking down topics to their essentials. But at the beginning of his session, he is worried. He is tasked with giving an intro into the games business in two and a half hours or less. His schedule is more than full – „chockablock“, he sighs.
But before running through the basics, he has questions. Where do the teams see their individual projects? Where would they put it on a timeline? Who owns what? What’s the scope? Participants in the session don’t stay passive. And no one leaves the workshop without a well-thought out elevator pitch to show for it.
Lang has stories to tell about making, funding, promoting and selling games. In his eleven years in the business, he has shipped multiple games, won awards and turned around commercial flops. In the workshop, his cautionary tales are directly tailored to the budding projects before him. He does not mince words: Some sectors of the market are „catastrophic“, certain ways of funding „don’t work“, and above all, game devs should plan for the possibility of a game earning „no money at all“. He knows from experience what can go wrong. And he is here to tell the teams how to overcome these challenges.
Michael Schieben has big ideas
The Product Field is a sense-making framework. And one of its authors is here to use it. Michael Schieben has developed a matrix that enables all shareholders to get on the same page and speak the same language when developing a product. Getting people to interact is one of Schieben’s strengths. He incorporates playful asides into his session, conducting a quick poll by asking his audience to obscure their webcams with post-its, or by pointing the camera at his hands while sketching. At one point, he splits the Zoom conference into smaller rooms, compelling team members to talk to each other.
When it comes to the work of making sense, Schieben has a giant canvas at the ready. After getting everyone to sketch out a product field on paper, he goes on to develop and demonstrate its use in the visual collaboration tool Miro. Here, everyone gets to understand their own project as a product. The term can sound dismissive when talking about an art form. But a product in Schieben’s understanding is not just a thing that gets made and sold. His interest lies in highlighting and understanding the complex web of influences and effects that surround it. There’s a lot to talk about, a lot of directions to map. Schieben is a big picture guy. It’s a good thing Miro boards do not have borders.
Jan and Paul Taaks have worked the hard shift
Jan and Paul Taaks are two thirds of Overhype Studios, makers of indie darling „Battle Brothers“. After more than five years of hyping their own game, finding success, surviving droughts and shitstorms, they are here to share their learnings. Their talk appears further down the schedule, when the incubator is already running in full gear. And it shows – no one has to gently nudge the teams into cooperating. They frequently interrupt the speakers with questions and suggestions of their own.
Overhype‘s tale is one of consistency: They have been developing exactly the game they wanted to play, working the hard shift of early promotion, engaging with the community, surviving and thriving on Steam. Jan and Paul Taaks come off like fans of the industry they are working in. Whenever they needed help and advice, they found it by just asking politely, especially among smaller studios. And they are happy to pass the love along.
We are still in the Games Lift incubator’s first of three months. Most of the workshops have yet to happen. But it is encouraging to see how teams are connecting with their mentors and with each other. Working together on shared screens and online whiteboards has helped put a focus on innovation and cooperation. As it turns out, going digital has benefits.