The League of Extraordinary Gamers – A Conversation With…Matt Holden of The Indie Game Alliance

I’m pleased to have Matt Holden of The Indie Game Alliance on Go Forth And Game this time. I asked him to be my guest because I wanted to learn more about IGA. IGA is a very interesting idea but I’ll let Matt tell you about it.

Tom: Hi Matt, tell us about you.

Matt: I’ve been trying to get into the game industry full time since I was about 8. Amazingly, Capcom and Konami weren’t really interested in my design documents, no matter how carefully I colored the pictures. When I got old enough to realize there were actual skills involved in pulling this off, I went to Full Sail University and got my degree in game design and development.

Finding work difficult to get in gaming here in Florida, and being unable to leave the state due to family matters, I’ve spent most of the last ten years at marketing and programming day jobs. I live near Tampa.

Tom: All right. Indie Game Alliance. What is it and where did the idea come from?

Matt: When I was a marketing director in the corporate world, some of our clients were co-ops: groups of similar small companies that joined together to buy in bulk to get better prices. I remember one was something like 300 independent bicycle shops, and we gave them a discount because there were so many locations.

Looking for something I could do in games from Florida, I found a couple of larger publishers that had volunteer demo programs, and joined one. I found the act of demoing the games to be a blast, but ultimately found that there was too much red tape where I was and it wasn’t working out.

I reached out to Brotherwise Games in March 2014 about launching a program for them, based on the good and the bad I’d learned at the first gig. While they were willing to work with me, the stumbling blocks were expense — travel and giving away that many free games can be costly — and incentives. If a volunteer demoed Boss Monster for 200 hours, she could rack up a ton of reward points and use them to buy… more copies of Boss Monster, because that’s all Brotherwise had to sell.

Then, that bike co-op light bulb hit to me. If there were more than one studio in the program, then each could help recruit their biggest fans as volunteers. Each could contribute games to the catalog, and each could contribute funds to the convention booths and the travel, creating a megaphone for the collective that was greater than the sum of its parts. Brotherwise, Meltdown Games and Portal Games joined in the first week, and it was off to the races. We’re at over 150 member designers and publishers now with no sign of slowing down.

Tom: I’ve been to the website and you have an impressive list of member game companies. Could you name a few of the Allies?

Matt: Our members range from large indie publishers like Asmadi Games, Portal Games, Level 99 Games and Tasty Minstrel, to teams with one or two solid hits, like Brotherwise, and down to folks working on their first titles, like Kinsoul Studio, Medieval Man Studio, and so many more.  We were especially thrilled to have Gamelyn Games, creators of the Tiny Epic series, join us halfway through the Tiny Epic Galaxies Kickstarter campaign.

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Tom: There are several others involved besides you. Who are they and what do they do?

Matt: Credit first must go to our 120-person strong team of Minions, volunteer men and women based all over the globe. We absolutely could not do what we do without them. They’re the ones out there hitting the small conventions, the game stores, introducing people to our game catalog each and every day. I wish I could list them all, because they’re all indie gaming superheroes in my book.

We’ve had a couple Minions who have been huge helps in the development of our new website: Billy McCann, Forrest Evans and Ken Grazier come to mind. We’re thrilled that one of our closest friends, Daylina Miller, is moving back to Florida and has taken over much of our social media activity and writing duties.

Tom: It’s a very good idea. Congratulations on the success you’ve had. If someone wanted to become a Minion, what do they need to do?

Matt: The only qualifications needed are good communication skills and a love of games. Anyone interested in signing up can fill out the quick and easy join form at www.indiegamealliance.com/minions.

Tom: If I’m a designer / company, what can you do for me?

Matt: We do our best to be a one stop game designer incubator. We provide the demo reps, which naturally fed into retail distribution, which naturally fed into convention sales and demos. Since we are already at conventions, organized play became a great thing to add. We also do game design and Kickstarter consulting, artist and publisher matchmaking, and so on. We offer services like manual copy editing and are working on a translations department.

Broadly, we try to use economy of scale amongst our 150 member studios collectively in order to offer the same kinds of promotion, sales and development resources that a huge single company would have, whether that be preferential treatment from manufacturers, larger convention booths, or space on retail shelves.

Tom: I’m quite interested in this. I’m heading over there right now. I’m back. You might see my name there soon.

Matt: We’d love to have you.

Tom: I’m back. Any future plans for expanding your influence? Publishing? Game Design?

Matt: We’re pushing into distribution in another month or two, and we’re hoping to massively ramp up the number of conventions we’re at in 2015. Our new website is almost finished, and when it’s done, it’ll unlock a bunch of new and exciting features to make it easier and more rewarding to be a Minion, and put a lot more power and information in the hands of our member designers and publishers.

Tom: Distribution? That seems to be a trend. I know Greater Than Games has started this. What is your reasoning for doing this?

Matt: We found that lots of our members were struggling to get into retail. Many don’t have the quantities, or the name recognition, to entice traditional distributors to pick them up. We do small quantity distribution on consignment. This eliminates our risk and allows us to take any and all games. Plus, once we have stock on hand, it also becomes easier for us to fulfil requests for games from our Minions and take games to conventions to sell.

Our Minions will already be in game stores running demos, and we will give them commissions in reward credits for encouraging FLGS owners to carry out member games. We realized it would be a pain for store owners to have to track down 150 different ordering mechanisms introduced by a single IGA rep, so a centralized ordering apparatus for IGA games became kind of a no-brainer service to offer.

Tom: New website sounds great. I can’t wait to see what’s those cool new things are.

Matt: We’re working hard to secure partnerships to get our members discounts on printing services, opportunities to interview with sites like yours, and any other advantage we can find for them.

We’ve considered publishing, but ultimately decided we don’t want to get into a situation where we’re competing with our members. We’d rather refer great game to publishers that have similar visions, and let things flourish that way.I personally have two games in very, very early development, but you likely won’t see much of them in 2015 as I’m completely focused on the Alliance right now. We’re also looking at creating a content-driven news site that wouldn’t be limited to just Alliance members, but instead cover the tabletop industry as a whole.

Tom: That make sense. It really sounds like a win / win situation for a game company. You guys help out with the marketing end and networking. The minions program is a real boon. IGA takes on some of the roles for that company. You take some of the work off the game designer / company. Is that what you’re shooting for?

Matt: Basically. Our team has experience at things like marketing, manufacturing, team building and logistics. Most independent designers don’t, and that shouldn’t be a handicap to them. They have day jobs just like us, but they are cops and teachers, artists and programmers, and the most important full time job title you can have, parents. Big game companies can hire people to do that stuff for them. My hope is that IGA affords smaller, mom and pop designers that same opportunity on a level playing field.

We try to give them the tools they need to realize their dreams and put more great game options out there for families and friends looking to spend some social time with each other again and put down the smartphones for a bit.

Tom: Anything else you would like to talk about?

Matt: More than anything, I just want to emphasize what a great community IGA is becoming, and necessarily must be for it to work. The Minions work their butts off for the love of the game, studios pitch in what they can in terms of time and treasure, and everyone helps spread the word. We’ve seen members publish other members, and designers offer Minions a couch to surf during a convention. We have pictures of minions holding publisher’s babies. It truly has become an alliance, as opposed to a company with employees and customers. I can’t stress enough how awesome a feeling, and how awesome a responsibility, it has been to have planted and cultivated that seed.minion1

I couldn’t be prouder of every Minion who matches a player to her new favorite game, every designer who funds on Kickstarter the first time, and every artist whose talents make a designer’s lifelong dream come to life before their eyes. The alliance and the community at large could not thrive as it has without them all, and my respect, gratitude and admiration for them knows no bounds.

Tom: Were can people interact with you?

Matt: You can find us at indiegamealliance.com. We are on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/IndieGameAlliance and on Twitter as @IndieGameAllies.

Tom: I’m planning on attending Origins this year. Will I see you there?

Matt: I sure hope so. We are still finalizing our convention schedule for 2015. I know we are vending and demoing at Gen Con. Our Minions are already lining up events at Origins and several other shows, and we will attend as many as we can in person to support them.

Tom: Thanks Matt for your time and the information about Indie Game Alliance. It’s a really cool idea and I’m glad you are out there helping the independent game designer.

Here are a few of IGA’s members:

Nine Kingdoms  Asmadi Games  Black Oak Games  Devious Weasel Games  Foxtrot Games  Gamelyn Games  Grey Gnome Games  HABA USA  Letiman Games   Matt Worden Games   Pandasaurus Games   Robert Burke Games   Tasty Minstrel Games   Van Ryder Games

That’s just a small portion of the memebers of IGA. Please visit their website to find out more about Indie Game Alliance.

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