Couples in Game Development – ‘Wed-Ware’ Magic or Madness?

Ruth Wilson is a communications consultant based just outside Manchester. Operating regionally, nationally or internationally, Ruth Wilson PR promotes products and services across consumer and business markets. Her article discusses the views of couples working together in game development, as seen by 100% Indie.

100% Indie

100% Indie helps Android indie developers worldwide get published, and noticed more couples working on great games.

Creating a game is a personal process. It’s full of passion, sometimes a bit tense and even – dare I say it? –  a bit frustrating. Much like marriage, some might say.

But 100% Indie, the team helping Android indie developers worldwide get published, has noticed more and more couples working on some fantastic games. Marriage extending into the app marketplace is a noticeably rising trend

So what’s their secret? Is it down to chemistry? Or would game developing couples (Devouples? Decoups? Gooples?) advise you to stay solo or work in a larger team, for the sake of your sanity?

Robot Loves Kitty

Alix and Calvin of Robot Loves Kitty

Alix Stolzer of Robot Loves Kitty believes it’s a recipe for success. She and her husband Calvin Goble have been creating games together for over seven years and have a strict work-split to ensure maximizing productivity and harmony. The Robot Loves Kitty website sums up this division of labor quite well, listing Calvin’s title as “Game Dev,” while Alix takes care of “Everything Else.” As she says, “The programming is all Calvin, and the business and marketing is all me.” It’s an arrangement that clearly works well; their project pulled in almost $33,000 USD on Kickstarter back in mid-December of 2012, well exceeding their funding target of $5,000. The key for Alix throughout? “Coffee and communication!”

Sparkling Labs

Emilia and Paquale of Sparkling Labs

Emilia Ciardi, of Sparkling Labs, agrees that bespoke roles are necessary: “I’m a developer and graphic designer, while my husband is a strong coder,” she says. Their first game together, Liv’s Cupcake House, was one of 100% Indie’s first 30 Indie Heroes, promoted at E3, GDC and Develop. The couple have ‘day jobs’ in the games industry and are already working on two more titles, both of which they plan to launch as Samsung Apps through 100% Indie as, being a small company (“We’re just a team of two”), they found themselves somewhat lacking on the marketing side. “It was helpful to work with a third party like 100% Indie, who can advise on any tweaks and help you get self published as opposed to just getting lost,” says Emilia. “Marketing the games and showing them off is so valuable, as share of revenue streams can be useful only if the games themselves are visible and have actual chances to be discovered. This is a learning curve that we’ve found incredibly valuable.”

She sees herself as the creative force while her husband Paquale is the practical motivator, keeping things focused and energetic – and with day jobs as well as the odd creative slump, motivation is a key factor in game creation, as any developer will testify. “We try to be an inspiration and motivation for each other,” says Paquale. “As a real life couple, we should be pretty accustomed to that, shouldn’t we?”

Ville Mönkkönen of Instant Kingdom agrees that working with your partner can really help in a slump: “My biggest development enthusiasm only ever lasts for about two weeks when I start a new game,” he says. “After that, it’s mostly work, and I have to force myself to it daily. To me, it’s tremendously important that I get to share ideas with Anne in the evenings, watching a movie, or when taking a walk. She always finds a way to encourage me.”

Ville started making games in 1998, but Anne, a trained psychologist, came to the game world a little later. The Finnish couple’s Driftmoon took seven years to complete, and they admit it was a challenge at times: “It’s not very easy, that’s for sure, especially with two little kids,” says Anne. Ville agrees: “Much of the time during those seven years, we managed to only get about one hour per day to work on the game. Fortunately, I received the Sammon Tekijät Award, which enabled me to take some time off my regular job. That extra day per week did a lot for getting the game done, as Anne was also at home with the kids during the last two years of development.”

Ville and Anne of Instant Kingdom

Ville and Anne of Instant Kingdom

“Working and developing games is an incredible challenge,” agrees Alix of Robot Loves Kitty. “It’s very hard to motivate yourself to do something when you’re tired after a long day of work.” She and Calvin had a unique solution: “We decided to live in a tree house for a few years, not only was it a massive adventure, but we could both stay home all day.”

“I honestly think we still have to do some work on our life/real work/indie dev balance,” says Emilia of Sparkling Labs. “As professionals of the mobile industry in our real work, we can have very hard days. Of course, this is what pays our bills, but it comes with a price – some days we just don’t have enough energy to devote to our indie games. I think in the future we could be looking for funding.”

The rewards are clearly worth it though, as Anne from Instant Kingdom says: “After all the work, love, tears and sweat we’ve put into Driftmoon, it’s been extremely rewarding to read the lovely messages we’ve received, and notice that we pretty much hit our goal of making a game that would brighten up its players’ days.”

So for any new game developing couples, the advice from others in the field is to stick with it and enjoy it as much as possible.

So for any new game developing couples (I’m going with Decoups), the advice from others in the field is to stick with it and enjoy it as much as possible. Emilia says: “You should try to bring together the best of each of you and start this new adventure with a playful and open mind.”

Anne agrees: “Always remember to keep your relationship (and any possible kids you have) first. Be supportive, constructive, honest, persistent, and merciful towards each other, and remember to take regular breaks off working as well.”

Alix advises: “Learn how to criticize and take criticism in a way that lets you both be completely honest about the state of the project. This is an amazingly valuable strength that often requires a stronger bond than most. Communicate.”

And finally, Ville’s top tips: “Start small, make your first game something that you can finish in a few months! And definitely find an idea for the game that both are eager to do. If you’re in game development to become a millionaire, start thinking about a change of plan!”

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