The League of Geeks, a video game development collective from Australia, has come up with a radical new business model with the hopes of breaking through the restrictions the traditional development process places on independent developers. The League may be here to simply make the best possible games they can, but their different take on development may pave the road for some AAA quality independent titles in the future.
I was able to chat with Trent Kusters, the founder and director of the League of Geeks, about the collective’s hope for their first major release, some of the ins and outs of their curious plan for development, and some of their future aspirations.
Armello, the first game the League of Geeks will release, is currently in development. The basic idea of meeting friends in a café to play a game evolved into the deeply engaging tablet experience they hope Armello will be.
“Basically we all sort of sat down a year and a half ago and we were just like we want to make a game, we want to work together again. We ended up deciding we needed to do something for tablet,” Kusters said. “We used to do the table-top RPG games all the time from back in the day, and as developers, we were kind of just disgusted with tablet board games.”
“It basically started off as a little mobile card game but it blossomed quickly to something in between a card and a board games,” he continued. “You quest out across Armello, indirectly competing with each other. You can be the scheming rat running around the board playing trickery cards basically slowing others down. There’s combat too though.”
This game seems like an interesting experience, maybe even an idea so intriguing it was what inspired the League of Geeks to form in the first place. That’s just not the case. Actually, the idea arose later, and the League came to be for other reasons.
“It was kind of a cataclysm of a whole heap of different things. It just reached a point where I just wanted to make my own games and I really wanted to control my own destiny,” Kusters said.
“I thought indie games had to be either small and manageable or something you sunk 10 years into. We have a team of professional experienced guys who cannot be hindered by this standard indie scope,” he added. “All of a sudden it just clicked and I realized there was a way to make big indie games for pretty much next to nothing.”
Kusters’ big idea was a unique business model, which has worked fantastically for the development of Armello. They based their model on profit share rather than salary, and that gave way to a simple, yet elegant system of accountability.
“We really needed a system that didn’t tie people down. It was just a matter of making sure everyone was protected,” he said. “We got some of the best lawyers we could and created this point system.”
“There are points assigned to a specific task, and if you complete that task up to whatever we feel the industry standard is, you get the full amount of points. A lot of it works on the honor system and trusting that everyone’s not out to screw anyone,” he continued.
When the project is done, the percentage of points any given person working on the project contributes to the total represents the percentage of profit they will receive at the end.
Eliminating some of the costs that come along with full time employees and their salaries began to drive down the overall cost of development. Beyond this, monetary issues still linger. The directors decided to shoulder most of the excess burden when necessary.
“Small things like licensing start to creep up. So what we do is, between the five directors, we try to take care of any high cost. We laid the money down for legal right away. We also get government grants to cover some of these high costs. The whole points model, support through local grants, and thinking on our feet to save some cash have all helped. Like, we used the unity engine [for development] because it was free, but it also fit our needs,” Kusters said.
The League of Geeks has put in some serious framework to support developing Armello with their special model. Even though they will be transparent as possible and will offer their plan to other indie developers, they also don’t want to give the impression they found the holy grail of independent development.
“It’s kind of a dangerous thing as well. We’re constantly evolving how we handle things; it’s very reactionary. This is very fragile and takes a lot of care,” Kusters said. “We’ve overcome many hurdles to get here. A lot of it comes down to how you interact with people.”
“At the moment, it’s sort of like a roadmap and nothing else. You gotta walk the journey. We’re hoping to get some sort of package together to show what worked for us. Hopefully at the end we’ll have a retrospective of the project to make something useful for the community,” he added.
Just because it’s currently working for the League of Geeks, Kusters stresses the fact that they have had to deal with plenty of issues along the way.
“One of the big things with working externally is that the communication is horrendous. It’s kind of hard becoming accustomed to how slowly it goes when working out of hours. The pace is really different,” he said.
The League of Geeks hopes to work on other projects in the future utilizing their new business model, but for the time being, they really are focused in on Armello.
“We might have some big announces for next year, but we really want to focus on our community. We need to build games for them, those who believe in us. We’re building games we want to play and finding those who want to make it,” Kusters said.
“I think we’ll put our heads down and get back into the game [now that the announcement trailer is out], focus on really looking after the people who want to be a part of what were trying to achieve,” he said.