How to become an international game developer

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MyGaming caught up with Alexander Zacherl, head of German indie game studio Fairytale Distillery, to find out more about the international gaming scene and the challenges faced by independent and remote game developers.

Fairytale Distillery is currently working on a unique MMO titled Das Tal.

Das Tal is a creative blend of MOBA of MMO gameplay elements, pairing the fast-paced combat of games like Dota 2 and League of Legends with the scale and freedom of open-world multiplayer.

If you are interested in creating your own game or working as a game developer overseas, check out our interview with Alexander Zacherl below:

Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us a bit about your game?

My name is Alexander Zacherl. I’m from Munich, Germany, where I run a small independent game studio named Fairytale Distillery.

We’re working on one game only, a Sandbox-MMO-meets-MOBA called “Das Tal” (that means “the valley” in German). In the game you are a prisoner in a post-apocalyptic dark fantasy world who has to figure out how to deal with the other inmates (played by hundreds of actual humans).

The game is based around fast-paced Open PvP, economics and diplomacy, and should see the light of day in early 2017.

How did you get into game design? Did you study anything specific?

I actually got a Bachelor’s degree in Media Management / Communications. When I started studying, I thought I’d set up a games PR agency after university. Having my own business had been my dream from many years.

But after I had worked in a couple different advertising and PR agencies during university, I figured out that I did not really enjoy selling other people’s products. I wanted to make them myself.

That was around 2008/2009 when the first so-called “indie games” came out: Castle Crashers, World of Goo & Braid. That showed me that you can actually make your own games with just a handful of people and that you did not need a team of hundreds – as I assumed before.

What skills are required to be a game developer?

Many. On the one hand you will likely need a certain set of hard skills: Game design, art direction and/or programming. Every development studio out there has those skills in their core team. Obviously anything else that is needed to finish the game is useful, too: 2D and 3D art production, music and sound effects for example. It’s possible to outsource those though.

Once you go from a solo developer to a team you will need a lot more people and planning skills. And if you actually want to make a living through your games, you will notice that you will spend half of your time budget on marketing your game with PR, influencers, social media, partners, and so on.

Of course, if you don’t want to have your own studio and be your own boss you can probably get away with having only one of those hard skills and some people skills. At this point, the only thing you have to look out for is to not be taken advantage of too much – the games industry is a place where newcomers generally do not get any form of job security and/or decent salaries, sadly.

What are the biggest obstacles faced by independent development studios?

Visibility and funding. Most indie devs are relatively low on cash and so we can’t fully finance our projects, meaning we have to go hunting for development budgets wherever we can find them.

Once you’ve managed to get your game done in time and budget (or a little bit over as is common), you are stuck with the problem of the other 1000 games that will release in the same week as yours.

At this point you generally need four things: An extremely remarkable game that makes people want to play it and talk about it, a bunch of ways of generating exposure for your game (such as platform holders like Valve or through the media), a sustainable business model, and an ounce of luck.

Das Tal Screenshot

MyGaming recently interviewed game designer Venita Pereira, who moved from South Africa to England to further her career. Do you think that it is easier to become a game developer in more developed countries?

I honestly have no idea since I have never been employed anywhere and I am rarely outside of “the western world”.

Even if your English is perfect and your portfolio is amazing it’s probably harder for you to get hired remotely than locally, since there are a bunch of legal hoops to jump through for both employer and employee.

It’s probably doable at larger companies, but it’s unlikely that an Indie would hire from abroad. What we do though – and we do that a lot – is working with freelancers from other countries, which is pretty low on legal overhead but requires both sides to be really good at communicating through the web.

What advice would you give to aspiring game designers from countries like South Africa?

Figure out if you just want to make a game or if you want to actually make a business of making games.

If it’s the first, then get a day job that pays your rent and work on your game in your spare time without any monetary restrictions. If you want to be a full-time game developer, then spend at least half your day worrying about how to market and sell your game.

It’s very easy to spend a couple years on game that doesn’t even pay one month of rent once you release it.

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How to become an international game developer

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