Austin, Texas: A nation of indies rises

Region Specific: Frontier Spirit

“Recently Laid Off?
Dissatisfied with the Direction of your Current Job?
About to Graduate & Enter a now sort of Scary Looking Marketplace?
Just Curious how Indie Developers Keep Things Together?

Come get Valuable Real World Data
From the People who have Succeeded
And then Probably Failed a Little
But Then Succeeded Again”

The invitation to the Nation Of Indies event in Austin, Texas proved irresistible to hundreds of developers in the area earlier this week.

It was organised in the wake of a triple-blow to Austin’s big-name studios. Junction Point had been closed, there was a round of redundancies at Playdom and Vigil had failed to find a buyer in the THQ sell-off. Jobs were lost, but the community wouldn’t be beaten.

Tiger Style’s Randy Smith picks up the story. “The local Austin indies started an email thread like 10 minutes after the Disney layoffs,” he tells us. “We were worried about all the newly-unemployed folks and the thought that lots of people might move away from Austin. Within 48 hours of the Disney closing, we’d finishing organizing this event, creating the website, securing a venue, sending eventbrite invitations, and getting it funded – all without any central leadership. Within four hours of the website going live, it had sold out completely.”

Monday’s Nation Of Indies shindig was emblematic of Austin’s collaborative spirit, and its formation must be credited to Juegos Rancheros, the Austin independent game collective which was established by Adam Saltsman, Brandon Boyer and Wiley Wiggins in 2011.

Saltsman, creator of Canabalt and Hundreds, describes the mood in Austin right now after the layoffs. “Things don’t feel panic-stricken or post-apocalyptic to me,” he tells us. “I guess it’s hard for me to speak for the whole community but I kind of feel just a general sense of concern that comes more from the proximity of these closings than from some sense of impending doom.”

“Studios opening and closing in Austin is really a fact of life here, I think I’ve seen maybe a dozen studios build up and collapse here over the last decade,” he continues. “There is just a math problem at the moment, where the quantity of people just outweighs the traditional opportunities right now. There are obviously more opportunities outside Austin than there are inside at the moment. Assuming the recently liberated folks are looking to get back into triple-A, I think it’s sort of inevitable that some of the talent will head out to other cities.”

The Nation Of Indies event was a day designed to stop that happening, encourage game developers in the area to stick around and maybe set up studios themselves. Leah Smith is a former animation and video game liaison with the Texas Film Commission, indie developer and member of Juegos Rancheros. “We may see a short period of time where we see a contraction in those numbers is followed by overall growth to the industry in Austin,” she tells us. “There has been, and continues to be, a larger independent and entrepreneurial sector of developers in Austin and Texas, as well as publishers opening development studios to capture the newly available talent. With studios such as Crytek and Battlecry Studios opening in Austin, I suspect this trend will continue.”

Anecdotes from the event’s organisers suggest that Nation Of Indies achieved what it set out to do – ease fears for the future, offer advice and inspire. “I talked to someone from LA who had come to Austin just for that event and was specifically considering moving back to Austin – he used to work here – just to start an indie studio,” says Saltsman. “That kind of stuff is pretty kickass.”

Tiger Style’s Randy Smith says of the gathering: “I think we’re witnessing the primordial soup from which the next impressive Austin studio could form. If our seminar helped provide a compass for that effort, then playing their games will be reward enough.”

Juegos Rancheros co-founder Brandon Boyer is committed to continuing this kind of community support, through monthly gatherings and other initiatives. “Even outside the energy of the event itself, it was super heartening to see how much interest we’ve had from the rest of the world. We’re really looking forward to spreading this information and these ideas in the coming weeks and months and helping widen the community of sustainable indie developers.”

The shakeup in Austin has left many developers unemployed, but not alone. The Nation Of Indies event was a one-off pick-me-up, and the Juegos Rancheros collective is the more permanent support group. Austin, Texas may have been shaken up a little, but it remains one of the industry’s most vibrant communities.

“Texas has been the second largest concentration of developers for good reason,” adds Leah Smith. “We have an innovative and creative spirit supported by a long tradition of bootstrapping entrepreneurship. This looks to be an exciting time in Austin’s history.”