Community is vital. We're social creatures, and this is especially true for the increasingly common work-from-home remote gamedevs and the lone wolf indie developers. Internet communities are great, but the chance to physically mingle with others and share your experiences is key to staying motivated and staying sane.
Unfortunately, there may not be an existing game development group in your area—but fear not! In this article, I'll give you some pointers on starting your own local game developer community.
Why Build a Community?
Building a community can take some work, but is it worth the effort? The short answer is yes: the many benefits to having a local community vastly outweigh the effort it takes to start one. Not convinced? Here's a quick look at what having a local game community can bring:
- presentations by game professionals
- social gatherings
- networking opportunities with other developers
- game jams
- mentoring opportunities
- potential collaborators for projects
- employment opportunities
- knowledge about relevant local companies
- feedback on your games
- a look at what other gamedevs are making
- local microbrewery beer samples
- new friends
- good fun!
- and much more...
As you can see, a local community can provide many benefits as it grows and develops. It's also worth noting that each local community has its own unique character that can distinguish itself from its peers and attract new people to it. People will often move to cities because that city has a community with a good reputation.
Start With the Basics
What's in a Name?
Once you've decided to start your own group, the first thing to do is come up with a snazzy name for yourselves.
This should be something simple that describes what your group is about, but is still interesting enough to get people's attention. When creating our group, we chose LevelUp Victoria because of its connection to games (the idea of levelling up or getting to the next level in a game) and our geographic region: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (Not to mention the geeky use of camel-casing.) It's fairly playful, which reflects the character of our group, but you should feel free to choose something that fits your group a bit closer. Something like Victoria Game Developer League or Game Creators of Vancouver Island might work if we were starting up a new group now.
Bonus points if you can come up with a clever acronym—Vancouver Island Game Oriented Rascals (VIGOR), anyone? Okay, maybe it's not that clever...
The Internet is Your Friend
Once you have a name, you should set up some manner of Internet presence for your group. This a really easy way to provide both a place for your members to congregate online and a spot for potential members to find out more about you. (Confession: I have no idea how people managed to organize groups before the internet. I suspect sorcery.)
I recommend using free services as much as possible in the beginning. Social media such as Facebook and Google+ allow for a simple web presence for free. Beware of Facebook Pages, however: they're structured more for commercial businesses; you'd be better served to go with a Facebook group instead.
My group began by using as many social media outlets as possible (no doubt due to my own masochism), but is now scaling back to the ones that are most used by our members. We also use a few paid services, but we'll discuss those more in the Growing Your Group section below.
Now that you have the basic structure for your group set up, you'll want to think about recruiting some members. Hopefully, you know a few like-minded folks who would be happy to join up. If not, don't despair; there may be a few out there that you're not aware of yet. It's time to schedule a meeting to get them to come out of the woodwork.
Game folk tend to be a bit geeky, and that often means that they can be a bit introverted. But if you provide them with an event that piques their interest, in this case a meeting of game developers, they will happily leave their homes to satisfy their curiosity.
Extra! Extra! Read All About It!
Through your web presence, and by whatever other means you can devise, announce a regular monthly meet-up.
It should be at the same time and place each month, and it should be casual and relaxed. If possible, set up an event through your web channels and get folks to RSVP so that you know roughly how many people to expect. Share this via any related groups that may be in your area: programming groups, artist groups, and so on.
Don't forget to give the meeting a name that gets folks' attention. We call our monthly meeting the Main Event, and it's only occasionally mistaken for a wrestling match.
Look, Robin! The Bat Signal!
You may want to consider placing a small stand-up sign on your table with your group name or logo on it. This will assist new members in discovering you, including those who haven't heard of your group before. Wearing game-themed T-shirts also doesn't hurt, as we can often recognize our own kind by these secret signs and symbols (such as the Triforce).
Location, Location, Location
Choosing the right place to hold a meeting can make a big difference. I recommend a public place with enough room to accommodate a half-dozen people, to start with.
Cafes and pubs seem to work well for these type of meet-ups. There's food and beverages available to those who want them, they're usually not too loud, and there's often free Wi-Fi. Be sure to pick a location that is not too busy so that you can hold on to a table or two without keeping them from other patrons. Also, keep local liquor laws in mind, if you're considering meeting at a pub and you wish to keep your group open to all ages.
Looking For Group?
You may not get anyone new coming out for the first few meetings. This is normal, so don't beat yourself up about it. This could happen for any number of reasons: it may take time for word to get around about your group, potential members may want to come but are tied up with other commitments or need to overcome social nervousness, or any number of other things that you can't predict.
The founders of my group had to wait a few months before someone new showed up to a meeting, but now we've grown to over 350 members strong.
Where to Go From Here
Okay, let's say you start getting some new people showing up regularly for your meetings and you're thinking about taking the next step. The problem is, you don't know what that next step is. Luckily for you, I do.
Casual meetings are a great place to start, but once you start growing you may wish to hold meetings with a bit more structure to them, including such things as group announcements, presentations, and show and tell sessions. This will require a more private location than the common area of a cafe or pub. If the place you're currently meeting happens to have a private room that you can use, you may be in luck. If not, you'll need to track down a suitable location.
Here are some of the things you may need—keep these in mind:
- space enough for your current members, plus some room for growth.
- a large-screen TV or projector screen (plus projector) that you can use for presentations.
- a central location, close to downtown or bus routes.
- food and beverage service (optional).
LevelUp - IGDA Victoria uses a private room at a pub in downtown Victoria with a projector screen in the room, but with us providing our own projector. Because we meet on the first Monday of the month, which happens to be a slow night for the business, they've waived the regular cost for the space for our group. They provide regular food and beverage service for us, and most of our members will buy at least one beverage, so the situation works out to everyone's benefit. I highly recommend trying to find a similar arrangement.
You may also wish to consider using a community halls or similar space. Some may require a payment for use, but others can be hired for free by non-profit groups and organizations. Don't be afraid to approach the administrators and ask about options. It never hurts to ask.
The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship
If you can't find free digs for your meetings, or if you have other plans that require funds (such as running events like game jams and parties), it may be time to look at finding ways to offset those costs.
One way to do this is through partnerships with game companies and other related organizations. If there are game companies in the area that are successful enough to have budgets for public relations and marketing, they may be willing to become sponsors for your group. Generally, these tend to be win-win situations: the company gets some good PR for sponsoring the local community, and your group gets the means to grow and do more fun and interesting activities. Another bonus is that your new partners may share some good ideas about which directions your group could take, and what kinds of events might work well for your members.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention partnering up with the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) as an option. Our group was invited to become the official IGDA chapter for Victoria, BC shortly after we became established, hence our current name of LevelUp - IGDA Victoria. The IGDA is an excellent resource for game development knowledge of all flavours, and, more importantly, is a great way to get in touch with other chapter organizers to discuss best practices for running a game development group.
Go Forth and Prosper
Hopefully, I've given you enough information to get a start on building a healthy and happy community of game creators in your neck of the woods. It can take a bit of work to get going, but once things are set in motion you may be surprised at how well your community runs with just a minimum of effort.
Below is a list of links to my group and others so that you can see how things are done in other communities. Good luck and get building!
- LevelUp - IGDA Victoria
- Full Indie Vancouver
- Boston Post Mortem
- Portland Indie Game Squad
- IGDA Chicago
- IGDA Scotland
- IGDA Melbourne
- IGDA Homepage
- IGDA Chapters Page