From camping in the classroom, to a real game dev studio
The following post was written by Steffen Kabbelgaard, CEO of indie studio BetaDwarf. At the end of this post you can watch a short video interview with Steffen from Unite Nordic 2013
Hi, I’m Steffen Kabbelgaard. My partner Kenneth and I started BetaDwarf 2 ½ years ago while studying for our master degrees at Aalborg University in Denmark. We had nothing at the time—no money, no experience—but we’re here today with a studio, a successful Kickstarter campaign under our belt, finishing up our first game, Forced. At Unite Nordic I told our story of starting with nothing and ending up with everything we hoped for, and I thought it could be fun to share what we’ve learned so far with the wider Unity community.
We knew what we wanted to do from the start
Kenneth and I wanted to found a start-up studio with a team of around 10 people. We wanted to make big, ambitious games. Kenneth dedicated himself to becoming a badass programmer; I focused on becoming a design and business guru. I spent months planning a team structure, what kind of people we needed and what they would do. I also wrote a game bible for our game, which was always changing, but it allowed us to have a detailed fundament. Now, we just needed to find the rest of the team.
Then we set out to get exactly who we wanted
We were teacher assistants at the time, so we knew who the brightest and best were in our classes. We had to get the right people interested in our idea. We had to motivate them to work hard without an immediate pay-off. We invited some exceptional students to an exclusive meeting. We told them we had chosen them to join our special project, based on their awesome dedication and skill. We shared our vision of making games with them. And we told them that we couldn’t pay them. At the end of that first meeting we already had a team of 9 and it was time to start developing our game.
The team in 2012
Making games was a lot harder than we thought
Half a year passed and we realized that being nine noobs on our virgin game journey equalled an extreme challenge. We underestimated the work it would take to establish a proper pipeline to create a beautiful 3D game. And, getting 9 people to work efficiently without bottlenecks was, and is, a challenge.
We realized that to get this done we had to focus exclusively on our work.
We broke some rules to get what we needed
Dedicating ourselves full-time to game development without a salary required us to skip classes. We also started to camp out in an empty classroom during the summer vacation. By some miracle no one discovered our “camp”. So we stayed, for seven months. Some of us actually moved out of our apartment to take up residence at the University. We had a gym, baths and a kitchen in the teacher’s room—everything we needed.
Then one morning, a teacher randomly walked in and saw 8 guys brushing their teeth in their underwear. We were kicked out of course, but those seven months of living together had turned us into a team. We proved to each other, and ourselves, how committed we were to making our game.
Camping out on campus
Our work became our life
After getting kicked out of the university, we decided that the whole team would move in together and share the rent. We Googled the cheapest place to live in Denmark, and a few weeks later we were living in a massive house with 3 floors, far away from our families and friends.
It felt so awesome to finally have our own place without worrying about being kicked out. We lived and worked together in the house for a year. In that time we changed, from a group of friends, to a team of professionals. At one point we were 16 people living together, which resulted in unforeseen problems. Like the massive amounts of garbage (we ate a lot of frozen pizzas that year) to the arguments about cleaning up that we often took in our team meetings. But we managed it pretty well. We all wanted the same thing, to release our game.
Working from home
Money was always a problem but that’s OK
How did we manage to get so far on so little money? First, we didn’t get paid for our work. We’ve reached the point of (almost) finalizing our game with the help of 30 developers who have received no salary. Second, we had a couple of key breakthroughs with funding. We got a much-needed cash infusion when the Danish Film Institute gave us almost $40,000. We used that money on team transportation, the rent for our house, hardware, software and conferences.
We also launched a Kickstarter project in October 2012. With only one week to go we still lacked 35% of the funds. We put out a photo album that told the story I’m telling here. It gave our project the emotional punch we needed to get more backers, and just 8 hours after posting the album we surpassed our funding goal.
New challenges and new milestones
Currently we are in a new office in Copenhagen. We now have 10 full-time developers and one part-timer. There are new hurdles to jump, such as how to get on Steam. There are also new rewards, like winning for Best Danish Game Developer 2013.
In my opinion being an indie studio can be just like being a professional football team; it’s full of financial uncertainty yet requires boundless dedication and a love for what you do. Realize that, and start failing so you can start winning.
Video: A chat with Steffen Kabbelgaard at Unite Nordic 2013
Our story continues at http://forcedthegame.com/story/