Jan 4, 2013

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Full Indie and Half Crazy: The Team Behind Full Indie Talks

It’s a cold December night in Vancouver, and I’m sitting with Kimberly Voll, Alex Vostrov, Alain Bourdages, and Ola Rogula in a small Yaletown apartment. The five of us are sunk deep into a couch or an armchair, assuming the kind of Rodinian pose one takes when they are in the middle of debating something with intensity. Of course, we’re talking about video games.

The group I’m talking to is the executive team behind Full Indie, a community for independent game developers in Vancouver that meets every month at Ceilis’ pub to show off games, network, and share their knowledge. I’m here to ask some questions about the meet-up, but it’s been three hours and we’re deep in the midst of a discussion about the developer-publisher model, and I’m too fascinated to notice that we’re not quite on topic.

“There’s a really interesting shift happening now,” says Kim. “I see in large part that we’re shifting away from AAA. You’ve got PS3 games out right now, and companies can’t even cover the cost of those with the piece of market they’ve got, and now they’re going to cut into that with a new console? You’re going to see a lot of AAAs sink now.”

“Also, AAA is kind of getting left behind right now,” Alex Vostrov adds. “The people who are going to form the perception of games in the future is not going to be AAA.”

At last, something we can all agree on.

I’m also speaking with co-founder Jake Birkett via Skype, who recently returned to his home in England after living in Vancouver for four years.

“I guess I’m like one of those producers you see in the movies,” Jake says. “I don’t obviously take part in the meetings because I’m quite far away now, but I’m still one of the founders and they would probably run any large decisions past me.”

Jake and Alex held the first Full Indie event in May 2010, but the idea was planted long before. “In England I went to a couple of meet-ups with other indie developers,” says Jake. “There was a forum called Indie Gamer Forum, and I went to a meet-up just with six other developers, and it was really good to meet somebody else who was doing what I was doing and knew where I was coming from and encountered the same kinds of problems as me. “When I went to Vancouver a guy called Ryan Clark used to run a company called Grubby Games, and he set up an indie meet-up and there were about 15 indies. It was really good to meet them and it was just a kind of one-off thing.”

“I worked at EA right out of university, and I liked that so much I decided to go into banking,” Alex laughs. “The whole indie thing started to happen when I was doing that, and then the whole idea of making games for a living went from an insane lunatic dream to a lunatic dream that is actually possible to do. I quit my job and was going indie, and I was looking to hook up with people in Vancouver who were trying to do the same stuff. Somehow I found Jake’s twitter.”

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“I was working at Big Fish,” Jake adds. “And I thought I would really like to have more of these meet-ups more frequently but no one was running them. So I’d been posting about this on Twitter and my blog and Alex said, ‘hey I’ll help you set one up,’ and it just seemed to be that he was the catalyst. We set the first one up in May 2010, and now it’s grown to 1000+ members.”

At the start, Alex and Jake would frantically try and find a place to host the event every month, but whether it was because of space or money, most places turned them down. “Which is strange,” Alex says, “because then we found Ceili’s and they were like ‘yes! Come over! What’s this? 100 people who all want to drink beer? Yes!’”

Since starting Full Indie as a monthly meet-up, the community has expanded to include many other kinds of events, such as developer showcases, workshops and game jams. Jake remarks:

“Originally, that was the vision. Full Indie as a brand. It was to become A) a website where people can show off their games and share resources and tips, and B) to have many different kinds of events. We ran several showcases at the Vancouver Film School cafe, where people show up and they’ve got five minutes to show their game off. I think they did a sound workshop recently, and we’ve had ideas for speed dating – not literally going out with someone – but an event to find a programmer to work with.

“There were plans to expand it more and even combine up with an indie meet-up group in Seattle. We talked about maybe having a joint venture possibly in somewhere like Bellingham, some middle ground and having a weekend event.”

As the group has grown in size, Alex and Jake have added executive team members Kimberly Voll, Alain Bourdages, and Ola Rogula to help out with the organizing. “I asked Kim to help out when I left,” says Jake, “because she had run the Global Game Jam before, worked at one university and was teaching at another, and I thought she’d be a great person to help out and keep it going forward and I think that’s proven to be true.”

Kim has years of experience helping the indie community in her own way before joining Full Indie. She taught computer science at UBC for six years, and now works at the Centre for Digital Media teaching game design. “Most relevant to me was trying to get my students better positioned to get into the video game industry. That’s not something the department was particularly strong at, and it was my own passion, having dabbled in it ever since I was five years old.”

However, Kim’s largest contribution to the video game world may be that for the last four years she has run the Vancouver Global Game Jam, growing it from 25 people to well over 200. The jam is a massive event where people who want to make games show up, get into teams, and try to crunch out a finished product in 48 hours. “It’s amazing, it’s magical, it’s really intense,” Kim says. “I start in about June each year to get ready for January.”

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About Garin Fahlman

By day I'm a college student, and by night I sleep, and sometimes when I'm sleeping I have a terrible nightmare in which video game journalism is moderately underwhelming. I'm trying to do my part to make sure that dream never comes true. I've played video games since the day I found a Sega Genesis in a trash can and decided to bring it home. I have great memories of putting in the 32X version of Doom (which was inexplicably found along with the Genesis) and getting it to actually kind of run. But I really fell in love with games the day I got my hands on an N64 and played Ocarina of Time for the first time. The opening fly-by of Kokiri Forest is still the most incredible thing I've ever seen, unadjusted for inflation. I currently try to play anything and everything that looks even slightly interesting. As a result, I am constantly alternating between games that came out yesterday, and games that came out back when you needed to shovel coal into a furnace just to power up the console. I'm currently playing Borderlands 2, and rank it second in my list of games with best moons. You can find me on Twitter @GarinFahlman.