Game Designer Erin Robinson on Free Games and Indie Life


Erin Robinson is a game designer who blazoned her way in the game industry by making much-loved free games such as Nanobots, Spooks and Little Girl in Underland. It helps that she can make her own concept art, too.

Shareware For Life

Robinson being interviewed by Morgan Webb from G4TV

Robinson being interviewed by Morgan Webb from G4TV

Even in her early years, Robinson was a fan of indie games. She played every shareware game that she could get her hands on. “The first game I paid for was The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain and I did chores for weeks to earn the money. Maybe associating video games with chores was the reason I became a developer.”

Despite working in the publisher scheme nowadays, Robinson still believes strongly in her independent roots and free games. “For starters, your audience is significantly bigger. It doesn’t take nearly as much to convince people to check out an offbeat indie game if it’s free,” says Robinson.

“Free games can help a new developer build up a reputation.”

Further, working on her own free games helped Robinson find her style and share it with players. “Free games can help a new developer build up a reputation. The style of your work will become more apparent with each project you release, and can help you find your audience, or help them find you!” she shares.

The Indie Road

Robinson having breakfast with fellow indies during GDC 2010

Robinson having breakfast with fellow indies during GDC 2010

Even with these advantages, free games are not often a viable option for professionals. It can be a tough path to keep afloat financially while investing time and energy into developing free games. However, there’s a payoff. Robinson has been embraced by publishers because of her proven effort.

Finishing a game is a skill of its own, declares Robinson. “If you develop a reputation as someone who gets things done, it will only help you down the road.”
Most importantly, free games are a good way to get established and respond to feedback without incurring the risks of commercial game development.

“It’s the feeling of creating something from nothing that I find so engaging.”

Robinson has also discovered through experience that it is very rewarding to work on a commissioned project and pitch ideas. She experienced this first when designing Puzzle Bots and later when designing missions for social media company Akoha. “It’s the feeling of creating something from nothing that I find so engaging,” adds Robinson.

Into The Future

"Manning (ladying?) my booth at the PAX 10."

"Manning (ladying?) my booth at the PAX 10."

Lately, Robinson is learning how to program in Unity. “It’s going slowly but surely,” she admits. She is tackling programming because she understands how useful it is for game designers to be able to sketch out new ideas on their own.

Robinson is working on a small game that she occasionally updates people about using Twitter. “Nothing has been announced yet, but I can’t help but post concept art sometimes,” she admits.

Finishing a game is still the bane of her existence. “It’s easy to think a project is 90% done and then find your to-do list getting longer every day. It just happens,” Robinson shares. After all, releasing a game is only partly about ensuring a bug-free release. Creating promotional materials and sending a game to the press takes quite a bit of time and pushes budget constraints.

But in the end it’s worth it.

Erin Robinson recently talked about the neuroscience of gaming at GDC China, summarizing findings that video games are increasingly being used in medical and rehabilitative therapy and playing First-Person Shooters improves visual and auditory perception.

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