SPOTLIGHT: Freeplay International keynote Mare Sheppard

Leigh Harris
SPOTLIGHT: Freeplay International keynote Mare Sheppard

At the Freeplay Festival, N+ creator Mare Sheppard gave the international keynote, stressing the importance of dev communities.

Sheppard began: “Toronto and Melbourne are very similar cities, in part due to their relative size and population. It’s easy to get in touch with the people you want to hang out with, just because they’re not really that far away.”

Sheppard helps run the Hand-eye Society in Toronto, which attempts to bridge various gaps between developers offline. She likens each indie or lone developer as a single boat in a stormy sea, positing that by banding many together, the community as a whole becomes more like a floating city, with each component stabilising all others.

“It’s a way to make the city smaller. It’s a way to connect people and see what each other is doing. If you think about all the indies, creative people and arts organisations as ‘nodes’, what HES does is not create more nodes, but connect the ones that are already there.”

“Freeplay is connecting people and communities. We really need events like this because they facilitate those connections, and they have a distinctly beneficial impact on the community.”

Taking a cue from Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s talk at ACMI (wherein he gave the eager crowd his story from beginning to end) Sheppard then outlined the way she and her cohorts created N, posted it to abandonware site Home of the Underdogs, eventually caught the attention of Microsoft and worked its way onto Xbox Live, but it wasn’t all roses.

“If you look at the surface version of that story, it seems like everything just kind of fell into place for us. We made N in 6 weeks, people liked it, Microsoft liked it, they emailed us and said ‘You’ve gotta get this thing on XBLA’, so we did and it worked out and people loved it. It might seem like it’s really easy, like it’s been really smooth and straightforward.”

“We’re not really good at sharing the struggles, the hard times that we go through. We don’t want to look like failures. But the reality is, all of this stuff is really hard to do.”

Sheppard’s story took her on the road from an 8 month loan from the Canadian government to cover the initial setup right the way through to becoming one of the first great success stories on XBLA.

Now, through the Hand-eye Society, Sheppard helps cultivate the development community in Toronto. The society pioneered the Difference Engine Initiative, which focuses on bringing minority voices into game development (an example with a focus on women can be found here), and helps people build and house ‘tron’ indie arcade game stations (not dissimilar to the Winnitron at the Mana Bar in Melbourne). The society also focuses on holding bi-monthly ‘socials’ at bars and other small events to keep the community talking and supportive.

Ultimately, events like these “…mitigate the negative effects of this chaos and amplify the positive ones. We can’t really escape this chaos … but we can prepare for it.”


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Tags: indie development , Freeplay Festival

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