GDC 2009: EA Play head explains indie advantage

Executive by day, bedroom coder by night, Rod Humble takes time out from his double life to deliver an Independent Games Summit keynote.

SAN FRANCISCO--At first glance, the keynote speaker at Tuesday's Independent Games Summit lineup doesn't fit in. Considering that the biggest names in the indie-focused miniconference tend to be names such as 2D Boy, Metanet, and Stardock--responsible for World of Goo, N+, and Galactic Civilizations II, respectively--starting the day with Electronic Arts' executive vice president in charge of the megapublisher's Sims brand and Hasbro games was unexpected.

EA Play head Rod Humble

However, the choice makes more sense when considering that the EA Play head is Rod Humble, a former indie developer who spends his spare time plugging away on experimental indie projects such as The Marriage. Having seen the industry from both sides of the indie/corporate fence, Humble gave advice to struggling and aspiring developers in a half-hour presentation spiked with wit.

Acknowledging straight away that "I do represent the face of the great Satan," Humble established his credibility on games running the spectrum of genre and quality, from The Humans on the PC to the Sega CD furry fighter Brutal and The Sims 3. He also touched on his indie games such as The Marriage, Stars Over Half Moon Bay, and his upcoming project, Perfect Distance, which he described as "My Ishtar."

Humble drew upon his wealth of experience to offer some advice, starting with something that he acknowledged was pretty simple and self-evident. "Just go out there and do it," he said, telling the audience to make the game they want to make however they want to make it, keeping what works and tossing the rest.

The Sims 3 is the sort of game Humble makes for EA.

He emphasized that developers need to be making their games for the right reason: out of a love of games. Other acceptable motivations for Humble include making the world a better place by bringing joy, and doing it for the glory, which he acknowledged might be controversial.

"It's OK to want to see your name in lights and say I achieved something," Humble said, although he cautioned that you shouldn't expect recognition.

Finally, Humble said that getting into game development because it's literally your only marketable skill is another valid motivator. But above all else, "Don't do it for the money. If you want to blow $50,000, this is a fantastic way to do it." Humble points to his own upstart studio, the unfortunately titled Harmless Games, as an endeavor that ate up his life savings and left him broke.

For those who actually want money, Humble suggests a life of crime, given that most criminals are stunningly dumb, or buying some blue-chip stocks (he suggests Electronic Arts) and waiting for the economy to rebound. But, he cautions, money will never write an e-mail thanking a developer for making a great game.

Humble told the crowd that indie developers could benefit from concerning themselves a bit more with business matters because the lack of financial pressures and debt leaves developers with more stress-free development time. Things they shouldn't worry about so much include getting into legal fights with publishers, fretting over message-board posts, and making chart-topping games. Developers also spend too much time worrying that the publishers are out to get them.

"Believe it or not, your publisher doesn't hate you," Humble told the crowd. "They look at you like a commodity and a way to turn $100,000 into $1 million."

The Marriage is the sort of game Humble makes for himself.

Humble said that developers should be much more concerned with "grown-up metrics," such as creating accurate sales forecasts for games and keeping their research-and-development spending less than 30 percent of the project's total budget. And even though it gets mentioned time and again at conferences like these, Humble emphasized sticking to the game's development schedule, even if it means cutting features.

Advice aside, Humble began listing the advantages that independent developers have over their corporate counterparts. First off all, they can take risks. It's significantly easier for indie developers to make a play at a new or unproven market and have a breakout hit than for the major publisher investing $20 million into each project. They also have creative control, Humble said. Although he has to make Harry Potter games and compete in certain genres year-in and year-out, indie developers aren't working with those constraints.

One particularly important concept that Humble tried to convey is that failure is just part of the game.

"You're going to fail," Humble said. "Even if your first game is a big hit, your second game might fail. Be prepared for it. If there's one thing I admire about all great game developers--Peter Molyneux, Will Wright, Shigeru Miyamoto--they've all fallen flat on their face and been written off at one point or another, then came back."

For more from the conference, check out GameSpot's complete coverage of the 2009 Game Developers Conference.

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Discussion

20 comments
Koi-Neon-X
Koi-Neon-X

Face of the great satan?! whoa dude! nothing great about satan. I do like EA though;)

thekatcan
thekatcan

Games like movies is art. Art should never be rushed or it will more then likely end badly. Too bad hitting a deadline is more important than making a good game. For most developers, not all but most.

megafitch
megafitch

EA's annual rape of football/soccer/golf/ sports in general is dire..

Adam_the_Nerd
Adam_the_Nerd

I think this Rod Humble just needs a new haircut. Everybody seems to be hating on him, ha.

Pete5506
Pete5506

lol who cares, EA is still bad

denicola_a_god
denicola_a_god

ea is pure evil in my eyes!! lol nahh jp i love ea games especially madden

Nihmmoh
Nihmmoh

rod humble is an ugly person

mrhuntin
mrhuntin

EA got a lot games to get to the streets,they seem to have no problems

Mikethechimp
Mikethechimp

I dislike his advice about getting things done in time no matter what. This is something that EA has been suffering a lot from lately - setting impossible deadlines for games then dismissing all the glitches with "eh.. we'll just patch it later". It's also a bit ironic considering he's the developer of The Sims 3, which got delayed recently for this exact reason.

PumpkinBoogie
PumpkinBoogie

@ ax23000, Yeah, it does sound like he gave pretty good (and humorous) keynote....it kinda blows just reading (though it is a good write-up) though since it probably takes out the essence of the whole atmosphere of him speaking. @ duo_mtl, ...good point, but I don't think it makes either (evil or stupid). Probably just makes him a guy happy to still have a job (unlike other developers in the industry)....and I'm sure he's thankful of that.

setonj18
setonj18

damn rod humble is sexy as hell. I would tear that ass up

raahsnavj
raahsnavj

In short, if you don't absolutely love making games for just that, get out now... EA is coming for you...

duomtl
duomtl

@ the real vip and incobbux who cares if he works at EA? does that make the man evil or stupid?

Inconnux
Inconnux

Still include Securom malware in you games? yes? Thanks but no thanks, I have better places to spend my money than on EA malware.

ax23000
ax23000

Rod Humble has developed some really amazing games. The Marriage has even been used in marriage counseling if you can believe it. And Stars Over Half-Moon bay is easily one of my favorite games. Just brings back that feeling of staring up at the stars making up constellations... I really wish I could have actually heard him speak, as this write-up leaves something to be desired (no offense intended to the writer, it's a fine write-up...just not the same as actually hearing him speak).