The story of how a game development company grew out of a student gamedev club

Hi, my name is Anton Skudarnov, I’m 23 years old. This year he graduated from the Innopolis University, in parallel with his studies, he led the student gamedev club and developed games. In this article I want to tell you how the student hobby for games has grown into their own company.

I was born and raised in Kazakhstan, where after the ninth grade I entered college as a software technician. Programming was not particularly taken into account there, so I dropped out two years later and decided to enter a Russian university. For this, he had to graduate from evening school in order to complete his primary education. I chose Novosibirsk SIBSUTI, but a year later I changed it to the Faculty of Computer and Engineering Sciences of the University of Innopolis, where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

I got to the University of Innopolis by accident, seeing an advertisement in the “Typical Programmer” public. I decided to take a look, filled out an application, and they called me from the department of attracting applicants. At that time, I did not want to lose a year of study in Novosibirsk, but I still went to the selections. He suggested to his girlfriend to look at Innopolis live, and then decide. Since then, I tell everyone that I have never regretted my decision to lose the year.

In the University

The origin of the student club

In Innopolis it is difficult not to get into a crowd of interests. Now the University has more than 40 student clubs – active and not very active. In 2016, when we entered, there were 5-6 people in the gamedev club. The guys periodically got together and sawed their projects, sitting in the audience. It was an interesting get-together of people with common interests, but I wanted something more.

Having gained some organizational and managerial experience, my friend Yegor and I decided to open our own student game development club. We proudly called ourselves indie developers, therefore, without hesitation, we called ourselves Indie GameDev Club.

We formulated the main goal of the club as – the development of the gamedev industry in Innopolis, Russia, and in the world as a whole. Ambitious for sophomores, but the high bar helped keep things moving forward. For ourselves, we saw this path through the educational process, as we felt the lack of game development programs in universities and in various courses. The idea to open my own studio came later, one might say, it became a logical continuation of the club’s activities. At that time, commercial projects were not even on the horizon, every week we gathered in the audience, made presentations and sawed our games.

Community development and first projects

Club meetings were held weekly. First, we focused on theory, each participant had an assignment for a year to give a lecture on an arbitrary topic: programming, game design, art. For a while, this approach worked, but in the process we realized that most people do not really want to prepare reports and not everyone succeeds in presenting material in an interesting way. As a result, fewer people came to the meetings. It so happened that due to too strong an emphasis on theory, people began to lose interest in the gaming industry. Everyone wanted to make games, not listen to lectures.

Later we changed our approach and started creating project teams. We tried to alternate educational material and meetings with mentors. The teams worked on their projects, but another problem arose – a lack of experience and a weak level of knowledge. As a result, many participants dropped out, and projects remained unfinished.

The unsuccessful experience of the first projects helped us to develop an approach to the educational process so that people would not fall off during the learning process. We began to compile full-fledged courses of lectures on topics, set deadlines and regularly collect feedback from teams. We tried to emphasize the importance of the tasks, this helped to improve discipline in work. To prevent people from burning out, focus on games that can be done in a short time and quickly see the result of the work.

The first concepts of games within the framework of a gamedev club

Our approach really kicked in in 2019, when we formed six teams to produce hyper-casual games. Usually, hyper-casual projects are done for a week or two, but in our case, we gave the guys (mostly freshmen) four months. The lecture material was prepared in advance, the project plan was formed, and team leaders were appointed. In the development process, there were milestones with project presentations, including at the University student clubs fair – Club Fest. The final task was a project submission to the DevGAMM Minsk 2019 conference. Two of our projects went to the showcase – it was an incredible charge of motivation.

In addition to working on projects, we continued to develop the community and get to know industry representatives. We have organized several events to popularize the game dev: IGD MeetUp, Global Game Jam, IGD Con conference.

Company establishment

It’s good to make games, train staff even better, but where to work? There were no game development companies in Innopolis, we solved this issue simply – we opened our startup Indie GameDev Club.

In order to reach self-sufficiency as quickly as possible and not depend on external investments, we decided to focus on what we did best – hyper-casual games. The first team was formed from the “graduates” of the gamedev club, who showed themselves excellently in the work on student projects.

At the start, it’s important to have the right to make mistakes. It helped us a lot that we didn’t have to make money from the very first projects. The main thing is to go through the full development cycle of a commercial project, it took a month for each product. Two months later, we found the right rhythm, and the concept development time was reduced to two weeks. But these projects were still not profitable.

Now we are shifting our focus towards outsourcing orders. We are looking for clients in specialized chats, we work with a formed base. At the same time, we are making prototypes for publishers – this brings a small income.

Despite the common misconception, starting a company is not so difficult, it is more difficult to maintain it. To register an LLC, you need about 30-50 thousand rubles, including the authorized capital. Now the minimum authorized capital is 10,000 rubles, but lawyers recommend making it a little more so that the tax authorities do not perceive you as a one-day company. From additional expenses: state fees, legal advice, accounting for the first time. We chose an LLC, not an individual entrepreneur, at least because of several founders.

Cooperation with the Innopolis SEZ was a big plus for us. After we passed the expert commission of the University, we were given a letter of guarantee for registration of a legal entity. Thanks to participation in the startup studio of the University, we received benefits for renting a coworking space and office. This is not counting useful acquaintances and help in organizing IGD Con.

Juicy Edge gameplay

Team building

What’s the point in a company when there is no team that is ready to endure all the hardships of a startup. That’s right – no. First you need to find people inspired to great deeds and give them the freedom to make decisions, and then everything else.

It is difficult to count on stability in a startup, so you need motivation other than money. It is not uncommon for people to have nothing to pay their salaries with, but if this is a dream job for people, they will support even in the most difficult situations.

I realized that it is important to listen to the command and find out everyone’s expectations, the only way to understand whether your goals coincide. It must be remembered that the need for money is also a need. Any project should be business-oriented, even if it is a work for the future, which will not bring profit now.

The University has become our support – it is a community and a constant stream of new employees. We have the opportunity to train and form independent teams that can make successful projects. As an example, this summer we took over 50 people for internships and formed 10 teams from them. Some made PC projects to gain first experience, while others were hyper-casual mobile phones. As a result, the three teams worked together and continue their projects. Two of them have already joined our main outsourcing development process.

Won student club competition

Competition in game development

Many people ask – they say, the market is overcrowded, it is very difficult to achieve success with such competition. Yes and no. Gamedev is a creative environment where a successful project can be developed by one person, and AAA of an international studio can fail miserably. This is an international business, so there are no “regional” competitors. There is competition in a particular genre, like Match-3: Playrix with Homescapes and King with Sugar Saga. But these are the whales of the industry, they have completely different tasks.

The pie of the game dev market is huge and even a small piece is a lot of money. We try to focus on what we do best and fastest – hyper casual games for the publisher. Perhaps someday we will think about becoming publishers ourselves, and then competition will begin. But this is unlikely to happen soon, now we are focusing on development.

Instead of a conclusion

The main motivation for the creation of the company was the huge number of talented people around. It turned out that many people want to work in game development, but there are no places for that. It was the formation of the community, organization and participation in events, familiarity with the industry that helped to find their way. You should not close in the garage and do something in secret from everyone when there is an opportunity to gather cool people around you.

You also don’t need to be afraid to start new. If I had stayed in Novosibirsk, I would not have ended up in a gamedev club. And if he hadn’t dropped out of college, he probably wouldn’t have learned to program and got involved in game development. Everyone has a chance to repeat the success of the creator of Stardew Valley, who lived off his girlfriend for 5 years and then earned more than $ 16 million. Are you ready to take this risk?

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