UK Indie Game Developers

January 2023: DunDev

By Spike Foster

January 2023 was an exciting month for Solar Flare as we spent the month in Dundee as part of DunDev. This was an awesome opportunity set up by the UK Games Fund where 4 indie teams travel to Scotland to develop their games in a communal office. Once we arrived we dropped our bags and went to explore the area a bit. It wasn’t long though before we were all exhausted and ready for bed. The next day was our first day in the office and the first opportunity to properly meet the other teams: Alarming Ladder, JFI and RAA. Over the course of the month we got very close with these other teams and we really look forward to keeping in contact and seeing how each of us grows. Throughout the weeks at Dundev the UK Games Fund invited some industry professionals to talk with the teams. The talks were on everything from Biz-Dev and Accounting to Social Media, Marketing and Publisher Relations. These talks definitely provided interesting and invaluable information which we will take forward with us and will undoubtedly help us grow and become a stable company. In week one we had talks on Community Management with Tom Hardwidge (Tall Story Games) and Tech Resilience with Mike Herron. I took part in the talk on community management which was really eye opening for me. As a small studio where no one really uses social media too much, running a community is a very alien thing. However Tom was brilliant in sparking ideas we hadn’t previously thought of. Coming out of this I was inspired to try out different platforms that might work better for us than our current main platforms. I was also enlightened to the importance of a social media plan as with social media consistency is key when trying to build an audience and consumer base.

On the first weekend we decided to stay close by and see what Dundee had to offer so after breakfast we headed out for a day of exploration. Firstly we went down to the shoreline and walked along to the V&A museum, stopping off on the way to have the biggest smore of my life. 

The second week came around with more talks and events. This time on Taking Our Product To Market with Gina Jackson (SKILLful) and Paul Kilduff-Taylor (Mode 7), and a really interesting activity on what it means to be a good Founder with the UK Games Fund. The talk on taking our product to market was very eye opening for us as a team and individually. As a team we had the pleasure of being reassured that the direction of the game and our biz dev plan was good, achievable and the team dynamic is effective. But also on an individual level they really helped us to set personal goals and identify key weaknesses. For example, Gina worked with Del to help find her an art mentor and further helped me identify what needs to be done when it comes to marketing and community management. Overall this talk helped greatly with identifying what needs to be done for the team to progress. 

The other talk about what it means to be a good Founder was interesting in a very different way. It’s never really something we have thought about and never really even considered what it means to be a Founder. But here we each identified our individual skill sets and the areas we excel, fortunately we found out that we pretty much cover all the bases. 

By this time we had spent a substantial amount of time with the other teams both in the office and outside of work. We had developed a strong working relationship with each other and were now helping each other out wherever we could, offering advice on how to do certain things or our opinions on design choices. It was great to have some other voices that weren’t in the team as everyone can sometimes get tunnel vision and having that outside voice is a huge help.

On the weekend when we hopped on the train and headed to Edinburgh. Here we spent a little bit of time taking it all in. We had a short list of things we wanted to get done so started off by heading to Bread Meats Bread for some lunch. This place was amazing. The burgers were fantastic. The highlight was certainly the Luthor which was a cheeseburger stacked between two glazed doughnuts and it was great! After lunch Del and I wanted to see the Royal Botanical Gardens. The gardens were wonderful, each section was dedicated to fauna from all over the world and the peaceful vibes was just what we needed in the middle of a busy day. Max and Jake at this point wanted a different change of pace so they went off to visit the Camera Obscura, a museum full of illusions and mind bending things to do. They loved it and said it was the best thing to do in Edinburgh so it’s one I’m definitely going to check out when I go back one day. 

Week three came around so quick it felt like we were still in week one. Scattered throughout this week were some talks on Publisher Relations with Paul Farley (Firestoke Games) and Venture Capital Relations with Mark Hogarth (TechStart VC). These both provided useful advice on fostering and maintaining good relationships with these types of contacts. This week we had an exciting opportunity to showcase Fools Gold in the nearby McManus Museum and Gallery to local game devs and publishers! So the week was spent updating the prototype, implementing Wwise and adding some new core features. Everything was going smoothly until the night of the exhibition, all the sounds were working, all the features were great, but when we got set up in the museum we discovered some problems around the player controllers. To fix this Jake ran back to the office to hot fix the issue. When he returned it unfortunately still wasn’t working, luckily we had some old builds on hand so we could still show off the core elements of the game. People still enjoyed what we had so all in all the night was a success. The other teams’ games were also fantastic. We had Alarming Ladder showing off Mauled (A first person Survival Horror), JFI flaunting The Great Smog (A multiplayer Co-Op Horror Hunter) and RAA presenting Sinbad (A 3D sandbox platformer). Alarming Ladder’s Mauled even made Chris of JFI scream out loud in the middle of the event. 

The weekend of week three was a special weekend, it was Del’s birthday! For this weekend we had some people fly up to visit and spend the weekend with us in Dundee. We spent the day at the Camperdown Wildlife Park which had some very cute and rare animals and ended out the evening with some drinks with the other teams. The night for most people ended in the Brewdog but not for Jake, Max and Dan (from Alarming Ladder) who stayed up till the early hours of the morning to watch the WWE Royal Rumble.

Going into the last week we were all a bit on edge as at the end of the week was the pitch for funding from the UK Games Fund. The week went fairly smoothly but there was an air in the office, people were anxious for the pitch but I think by this time everyone was also looking forward to heading back to their own homes. In the middle of the week the UK Games Fund had set up a “Meet the Publishers” event where Max got to talk about and pitch Fool’s Gold to a wide range of publishers. This event was great as it expanded our pool of potential contacts and got Fool’s Gold to be considered by some publishers. Very soon though it was pitch day, we were all extremely nervous. We spent the morning in the office working, trying to keep our minds on something else, but quickly it was our turn to pitch so we headed to the venue. The meeting felt like it lasted an eternity and when we emerged I for one was not confident. We were definitely grilled on our weaknesses and realized a lot of places we needed to improve. Returning to the office none of us could sit still and nervously waiting for the results was torture. At the end of the day they gathered all the teams, this was either a good sign or it was about to be humiliating. After some kind words from Paul we all let out a sigh of relief, it was very good news, all the teams were successful and received funding! With this news we were all over the moon and even now I can’t quite believe it, we have full time funding to get us to June where we take the next step in our journey. 

Very soon it was time to head home. It was a sombre moment to say goodbye to the other studios who we had come to know so well and would consider them to be our friends. But we returned to London full of pride and ready to take on the next few months. Fortunately February is looking fairly quiet, but March is already looking busy. We will be returning to WASD with the rest of the DunDev teams and we will be showcasing at Insomnia i70 to show everyone what we’ve been up to at DunDev. So catch us at these events, see you soon!