Indies Helping Indies

The Behemoth helps fellow indie devs find success without pandering to big publishers.

The monumental rise of indie games in recent years has broken down many barriers and empowered smaller studios to find success outside of the grip of traditional publishing models. An eagerness to collaborate and lend a hand to kindred spirits has always been a defining element of the indie developer community. As the game publishing landscape continues to change, well-established indies like The Behemoth—the studio behind Alien Hominid, Castle Crashers and Battle Block Theater—are stepping up to support their comrades in intriguing new ways.

Over the past decade, The Behemoth worked its way from scrappy upstart to success story through the power of digital distribution. That critical shift has opened many doors for indie developers in recent years, says studio co-founder and producer John Baez.

“There was a time when to make a game you had to have the capital (or access to capital) to print the game disks, and you also needed the relationships in place to get dev kits and, ultimately, to get those disks distributed,” says Baez. “That required a tremendous amount of money. But now that is all gone because of downloadable titles. There is no need for publishers.”

Opportunities are far more plentiful for game makers these days. With a strong DIY spirit, the right team, and a great idea, a small studio can go far in the industry. Still, some challenges remain, says Baez, which is why The Behemoth recently rolled out two initiatives designed to help fellow indies with some of the important aspects of the process they find difficult to do on their own.

The Research Centaur

Built on a desire to share its resources with like-minded studios, The Behemoth recently create two new subdivisions within the company to help colleagues in the industry. Perhaps the most innovative of the two branches, The Research Centaur is a QA and user experience lab that’s available for outside indie studios.

“Back when we were developing Castle Crashers for XBLA, Microsoft offered us the use of their Usability Lab, and after a few sessions we realized that it was really something pretty cool,” says Baez. “It kind of mimicked our use of trade shows as a user testing ground but in a much more convenient venue. Once development on Battle Block Theater was solid, we realized that the game would benefit from consistent user testing, so we built our own UX lab and integrated it with our existing QA team.”

The Research Centaur has become its own little world within The Behemoth, he says. After wrapping up work on the recently launched Battle Block Theater, the team decided it’d be best to offer its services to other independent developers on a limited basis rather than disband the project. So far, studios like Alientrap (Apotheon), Supergiant Games (Transistor and Bastion), and Capybara Games (Super time Force) have made use of the lab for their current projects.

The Golden Egg

Searching for alternative ways to fund independent projects has been gaining popularity thanks in part to platforms like Kickstarter and Indie Fund. The team at The Behemoth has concocted its own streamlined funding program to help give a big boost to smaller studios whose work it feels strongly.

Unlike other funding programs, The Golden Egg Project doesn’t take requests or have a formal application process. It’s based solely on games and developers that catch the studio’s eye.

“What we are interested in are the quality games out there that need some extra support,” says Baez. “We’ve been there, so we understand the financial burdens and risks it takes as independent developers.”

The project originally spawned from a conceptual discussion after an awards show at the Independent Games Festival one year, he says. At the time, the studio didn’t have the financial stability to support outside projects, but it was something of interest it wanted to pursue in the future. With more resources and experience under its belt, the studio eventually revisited the project and helped to fund its first Golden Egg recipient: Closure by Tyler Glaiel and Jon Schubbe.

“Tyler was a long-time friend of ours, so when he was chosen for the PAX 10, we thought it would be good to support him,” Baez recalls. “His game has a unique mechanic and we wanted to see how far he’d get with developing it. So, in his case, it was basically trust and knowing the game was unique.”

More recently, another PAX 10 selection caught The Behemoth’s fancy. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime from Asteroid Base became the second Golden Egg recipient. After meeting the team at PAX, Baez says he liked their vibe, and in the months following, they got to know them better and determined the game would be a great fit for the program.

“The titles we back though Gold Egg are generally from smaller developers who have unique IP, a playable prototype, and want to release the game they want to make without being hindered by requirements from hardware manufacturers, publishers, or outside investors,” he says.

A helping hand

Far from acting like a publisher itself, The Behemoth isn’t interested in owning someone else’s IP, locking exclusivity, or generally telling a developer how and what to do, Baez explains. The idea is to simply offer the help smaller studios need to find success and see their project through to fruition.

Though most indies don’t need much help, it’s fun to offer a hand to those who need it, he says. Another big impetus behind the project was the realization that, in today’s changed industry, publishers don’t really do anything that game developers can’t do themselves.

“We got tired of seeing publishers pitching themselves to devs with nothing much to offer,” he says. “As for why independent developers help each other, I suppose it is mostly because we’ve been grist in the publishing mill before and now we are free of that. Helping each other keeps us all out of that dark place.”

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