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Philippine Game Festival 2015 Talk: Surviving Indie Burnout

This is a guest post by Beatrice Lapa or (DocB). Managing Director of senshi.labs 


 

When I was invited by Ms. Shelly Kero of Eqela to become one of the speakers for the Philippine Game Festival, I remember asking her, “What should I speak about?” She then told me, “Well…you were one of the speakers of 2014 and you talked about crossing over from mainstream (employment at Level Up and Anino Games) to indie (building Senshi.Labs). Maybe you can tell us about how your studio is doing, now that it just got past its first year.”

To be honest, after releasing 6 games during Senshi.Labs’ first year, I was feeling a little bit burned out. Starting the studio from scratch with only myself, an outsourced artist and two outsourced composers to begin with, I was overwhelmed by the amount of tasks involved in setting up a studio. Half of the stress does not even come from the process of game development itself, but from other business-related factors. I told Shelly, “Maybe I could talk about surviving burnout.”

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So the talk began with what happened after the release of the first ever game I designed. Prologue: A Guardian Story wasn’t pretty, and I sheepishly admitted that it’s the highest selling Senshi.Labs game despite the fact that it was probably the least of my favorites among all of our titles. To say “least favorite” is, in fact, an understatement. I hated this game with a passion I cannot even describe and yet it continues to fund all of our other projects to this day. Prologue made the production of the next five games possible.

Our team temporarily grew to about 30 at the end of 2014. Since then, we have released Mathoria, Adarna, Song of Pisces, Zenaya, and Anemone. With this quick growth spurt, I had to revert from my new enjoyable role of designer back to the role of producer. It wasn’t as simple as going back to being an employed producer, though. Running a start-up meant that there would be other roles to fill: marketing, human resources, customer service. Thank goodness, accounting had been outsourced.

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One of the things I had learned to do was use my background as a blogger and research scientist to turn myself into a brand, DocB. Initially a moniker given by my first game development students, I used that brand to push the Senshi.Labs network and culture. We are now currently doing the same thing with many of the individual members of Senshi.Labs, who are working their way across various communities. An example of this individual branding that we’re working on is Ishify by Cherish Socro.

Below: Senshi Representatives Jamaica Balbin and Dyle Ouano, flanked by Chris Morrison and Cherry Boase, at the IGDA Booth.

Senshi Representatives Jamaica Balbin and Dyle Ouano, flanked by Chris Morrison and Cherry Boase, at the IGDA Booth

The main highlight of my talk was about dealing with the sudden onslaught of heavy responsibilities:

  1. Force vacations into your schedule. People seem to be so proud to announce that they’re so busy they forgot to sleep, when they actually do need to let loose once in a while.
  2. Get into relaxing activities, like “adult” coloring books.
  3. If #2 makes you feel guilty about wasting your hours, make sure that you listen to audio books while you’re doing it. My recent recommendations would be: Delivering Happiness by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh, The Alliance by cofounder and chairman of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman, and The Virgin Way by Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson.
  4. Get into martial arts to bring out those happy chemicals.

Lastly, the talk covered how to limit the number of projects any team member had to work with. Although none of our games had ever been delayed — and had been, in fact, pushed back to give each game enough time in the limelight — many of us ended up with very little energy to spare. If 2015 had given us a life lesson: it was on how to be a little bit more chill even when we thought we already are.

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The morning session of the PGF talk had three other speakers in it: JD Abenaza of Zeenoh Games, Russell Tomas of Dreamlords Digital, and my former boss, Niel Dagondon of Anino Playlab. We were asked to come to the stage together and had a panel discussion moderated by Magoo Del Mundo of Soundmind Music Pro. Guests asked interesting questions, many of which had been about starting their own game development studios. The most common takeaway? Start from employment, so that you’d know the process inside out and so that you will be the kind of studio owner who understood the people that help grow your company.


 

About senshi.labs

senshi.labs, is an incubation ground for the research and development of multimedia & game projects.

More details can be found here senshi.labs.