The Boston Festival of Indie Games is fast approaching, happening on the MIT campus this Saturday. Indie Hangover will be there, but before our feet are on the ground, I had a chance to ask a few questions of Aerjen Tamminga (who you may know from his forth coming card game Pleasant Dreams) and Dan Silvers, the directors of the BFIG. Aerjen and Dan were kind enough to answer our questions on the growth of the BFIG, the Indie community, and the challenges they have faced.
– Now that the Boston FIG is three years old, how has the vision of what you can do for the independent community changed?
Aerjen: To be honest, for me the vision is still largely the same. Our goal is to support developers by creating awareness in the general community for the awesomeness that’s to be found in Indie Games and to connect them to people that canprovide them with valuable feedback along the way. One thing that is new, is that now that we’re a 501c3 we’ve expanded our mission to include fostering the next generation of game designers. We’re looking to find and support summer camps that provide game design related activities by connecting them with professionals from the industry.
Dan: Oh God, is it really? I lost track of time. You know, the thing I’ve noticed is that the independent community is open and welcoming to all types, ideas, and especially games. We wanted to throw a show that not only accounted for that, but even for all budgets. As an independent game developer myself, I’ve fought hard to find ways indies can afford to be at the show one way or another. Knowing my OWN budget allowed me to propose reasonably priced booth space in the past, even if it was a controversial at the time. The lower costs for indies definitely worked out in the end, though, and seeing games at BostonFIG that couldn’t ever afford to be at bigger trade shows is magical. I now feel like I have a better grasp of why indies need shows like BostonFIG, almost even more than the regular trade shows we all know and love.
– What has been the biggest challenge you’ve encountered with you growth?
Aerjen: Getting the number of volunteers to match the needs of the festival. We have an amazing core staff, curators and volunteers, but we always need more.
Dan: Easily the biggest challenge has been financial. You have to weigh giving the community the best possible show they can have with costs they have the ability to pay. For indies, that’s usually not much, which is why we have the low-cost showcase fees (though with only a chance of being accepted) and extremely low barrier to entry Indie Exhibitor costs. Then of course add on marketing costs, space costs, travel, etc. It adds up. In the past we made some financial decisions that benefited the image of the festival but hurt us in the long run. This year we have been a lot more careful. We’ve kept the festival more contained than last year, cut features, and really put the focus on the games and the educational aspects of the show. In the end, the important part is making sure the developers and sponsors have a great time to the point that the show keeps happening year in and year out.
– Looking back three years, what is one thing you would have done differently?
Aerjen: That’s a tricky question, because I feel that each year there have been things we could have done better but it’s also part of learning how to throw an event like this. No one ever expected for 2000 attendees to show up in the first year, sothe space was a bit cramped. At the same time, if we’d had been able to book a larger space it could have looked empty. In 2013 we were stretched a little thin due all the things we were organizing (including a concert). It was great to see everything come together, but it was very challenging as a team to get all the balls up in the air. This year we made a massive push for showcase submissions, because we wanted to pull the focus back on the games. It worked magnificently, but resulted in us being somewhat overwhelmed and having the curation process be slower than we’d like. Looking back, would we have needed to do things differently? Maybe, but I see the festival as a work in progress. We have an excellent base and just like developing a game, we’re going to iterate every year based on our own observations and the feedback we get from the community
Dan: I would have proposed, Year One, that we take a year to prepare instead of putting the thing together in five months. It was a rushed project that ended up being an insane success, but at the cost of some severe discomfort and lack of planning in a few key places. We had more movies than live content, 2000 people crammed into two classrooms, and spent no time planning how attendees would vote in The Figgies. If we had done the research into how much interest there was in a show like this, I think we could have been better prepared not just for that show but for all future shows. We absolutely would have reserved more classrooms, I’ll say that.
– What is one thing that continues to delight or surprise you about the Independent Game community?
Aerjen: How close everyone is to each other and how much everyone helps one another. For example I also run a group for tabletop game designers and the developers are helping each other out in getting ready for the festival. Even though thereis a competitive element, what they care most about is seeing everyone succeed. I’ve personally gotten so much help and support in designing my games, running the game design group and working on the festival. It’s really wonderful to be part of this community.
Dan: Just how much love there is in this community and no matter how many struggles we put up with, we all come together for each others’ good in the end and have each others’ backs. We really are just a bunch of humans looking to bring a smile to other humans’ faces.
– As an organizer, what is one thing that you have noticed makes for a successful showing at the FIG for a developer?
Aerjen: In the case of developers showcasing their games it’s about making sure they have a version or demo that attendees can get into quickly and play within a reasonable amount of time. You want as many people as possible exposed to your game and you want them to be able to get into the core gameplay asap. Having an original booth helps as well. Last year Depression Quest was displayed in a tent which was really fun to see and I’ve seen some people working on creative booth ideas for this year as well. As a festival we’re also happy to help where we can. In 2012 we had a freezer set up for Ice Cubris, one of the tabletop games that was about stacking ice cubes
Dan: Don’t panic! Seriously. Take a deep breath. Don’t worry about bugs in the game, or a typo in your marketing materials, or not having the perfect pitch to give to the press. BostonFIG is a small, relaxed, one day show focused on the fun of being an independent game developer.
Again, I’d like to thank Aerjen Tamminga and Dan Silvers for taking the time to answer these questions for us during what is no doubt an incredibly busy week!
Be sure to keep an eye out for our interviews with Indie Developers this coming weekend!