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Misfits Attic: An Interview With Tim Keenan

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The world of indie game development continues to be an option for talented artists and developers everywhere today. However, just like any business there are risks involved that may discourage one from truly heading down that path. Ultimately, if you’re a believer that passion can turn into profit and you have a great product or service to offer then you owe it to yourself to explore the possibilities.

Recently, I sat down with Tim Kennan of Misfits Attic to talk about his game A Virus Named Tom (http://www.aVirusNamedTom.com). He was willing to answer a few questions about how he got started and give some insight on the market as a whole. Are any of you interested in indie game development? Do you think this game would be a great addition to Xbox Live or PSN? Feel free to check out the interview and leave your thoughts below.

1)From an Entrepreneurial point of view, What is Misfit Attic, and How did it first get started?

The story about how we got started is a long one with less explosions and car chases than I’d like. So let’s just say I was working at Dreamworks Animation and a friend told me about XNA, and the fact that you could get a game running on the Xbox using a retail console instead of a dev kit.  Suddenly I had the chance to make video games with a small team, on a limited budget, and still reach a large enough audience to possibly keep a studio afloat.

Then I looked at all the other tools that were out there. I saw a perfect storm of digital distribution, accessible development tools, and a handful of amazing indie titles that have blazed the way into the mainstream gaming consciousness. From there it was just a matter of convincing Holly (my wife) that I should quit my good job and not make any money till launch (hopefully). Ironically, later when we found out she was pregnant, it was her convincing me to still go through with it.

2) How did you come up with the idea of A Virus Named Tom? Is acquisition a key component of your business or are you looking to remain independent for the long haul?

A Virus Named TOM was born out of the ashes of my over-reaching ambition. I constantly hear stories of indies biting off more than they can chew and I was no different. I got so fed up with my trail of shelved projects that I decided to make an incredibly simple game just so I could get a game out.

Originally, the game was a simple variation of a pipe-puzzle game, but of course the game designer in me couldn’t just not design, and over time I integrated a dexterity mechanic and evolved each aspect of the game to create a more elegant experience. I’m also a story teller by heart, so adding a world and atmosphere was inevitable. Most games that have a lasting impression on me have an interesting context and so I felt it necessary to add that to A Virus Named TOM.

The question of acquisition is an interesting one. Being in the bay area I definitely get a full dose of the “startup” mentality. There are lots of entrepreneurs here that see the growing social/mobile game market as an opportunity to make a lot of money, and I can’t argue. However, I realized that most of the time I don’t belong in the room. I go to countless events where I’m the only person that doesn’t have an exit strategy, or that’s looking for rapid growth to attract VC’s.

It’s like the small back-yard party of game developers has been crashed by a flood of people who speak of games in terms of monetization schemes and addictive mechanics. I love making video games, and as such I’d be happy if I could simply make enough money doing it that I didn’t need another job to make ends meet. Not exactly a strategy conducive to acquisition, so I guess that means we’re looking to remain independent for the long haul!

3) How long did it take to create the game, A Virus Named Tom? What stage of development are you guys currently in with the game?

How long is an interesting question. Technically the game started during a Sabbatical I took in 2008, so we’re going on 3 years now. However I’ve only been working on it full time since January 2011.

We’re currently post Alpha working towards Beta. We’re hoping to have it out this Spring, depending on platform etc.

4) What are some of your favorite game studios currently in the market today? Did you draw inspiration from any of them when developing a Virus Named Tom?

I not only drew inspiration from other game studios, but actual advice. Studios like Vector Unit, Halfbrick, and Naked Sky were all willing to chat on the phone with me about their experiences and help me try to avoid any mistakes they may have made. It’s a pretty amazing industry when successful developers will take time out of their days to help new studios like ours. Just another reason I love being in independent game development.

5) What advice would you give to any artists or developers who are thinking about going the independent route with their game concepts?

It’s hard to give general advice since every indie is different, and also everyone’s experience will be slightly different. However, there are two major walls I see indies constantly running into.

Business: I’d tell them to think through the next two years. It’s amazing how much soul searching there is in trying to start anything. What are you trying to do? Who is your audience? Do you understand the spaces you’re trying to sell your game in? How long will it take and how much will it cost. These aren’t easy questions to answer, but just asking them is a start. Then start asking people who have done it. Don’t let pride get in the way. Having to listen to things you already know is worth it if you also get some new nugget of information. There are also a lot of articles out there full of the experiences

Scope: In general I’d say: take your idea and boil it down to something small, and then it can grow back out from there. So many games start simple and before the first design session is over it’s trying to do too much. I believe the game should start as a simple collection key game mechanics, and everything added should build on those key mechanics. It’s so easy to get excited and say “oh then it can do this!” If you’re an indie, I’ll tell you right now, you probably don’t have time to make the game you’re trying to make right now. Think about it.

6) Between Social/Mobile & Console games, which market do you feel has the highest growth potential and why?

Well this is a tricky question. At the moment Social/Mobile is exploding because it’s new, and the install base is huge (anyone that has a phone or web browser). However my hope is that players introduced to games through those mediums become gamers that enjoy console games as well. People want to play games in a variety of circumstances, it just that those circumstances may dictate the type of game they want to play.

What we call “console” games may end up being thought of as simply games you play on your living room TV. As more sophisticated TV’s enter the home, perhaps the barrier to entry (buying a console) will come down for these types of games and therefore more gamers will enter the space. Hopefully growth for one market turns into growth for another. I think there’s plenty of room for games in all markets to grow.

7) What are the benefits and pitfalls to starting up a gaming studio?

Ha! Volumes are written on this subject. Benefits and pitfalls it is, ups and downs. Stress, exhilaration, doubt, affirmation: you’ll never be as bi-polar as you are when you’re starting up a game studio, unless you are, in fact, bi-polar. But even then I bet your bi-polar-ness will level up.

8)What do you see as the long term goals for Misfit Attic? Are you looking into making more IPs or building spinoffs of this game or universe, similar to what was done with Angry Birds?

I think the long term goal is to be self-sustaining and making great games. From my experience in entertainment I’d think it’d be a mixture. We love making original IPs, but we also love the worlds we create so much that we wouldn’t mind re-visiting them. That and from a business perspective, a known quantity is a great thing.

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Pre-orders for A Virus Named TOM now available HERE

You can also visit the official game website and pre-order HERE

About The Author
Richard Bailey Jr. Editor-In-Chief
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