Akupara Games Interview – CEO Opens Up About Indie Development and Why Publishers Like Them Are Needed

Every week, there are thousands of indie games that are released. Long gone are the days that an indie game developer can simply put their game on Steam randomly, without any marketing and/or PR support, and gain mass buzz and success in just a blink of an eye. If you want more information about this, I highly suggest reading this gamesindustry.biz article by Haydn Taylor.

Regardless of today’s overcrowded indie games market, there are indie game developers and publishers out there that are committed to bringing us special and original indie games, and Akupara Games is one of them. The Los Angeles based indie developer and publisher consists of a collective group of passionate indie game veterans and fans who are all about taking names and making games. In December, they’ll be launching the sci-fi racing RPG Desert Child from the solo indie game developer, Oscar Brittain.

During my time at TwitchCon, I had a chance to chat with Akupara Games’ Marketing Manager, Yoonsang David Yu, and Social Media/Community Manager, Jessica Rose “JR” Fabroa. After hearing a little bit about the incredible work that Akupara Games does, I decided to find out more about the company.

In a Q&A with David Logan, CEO at Akupara Games, I learned more about his start in the gaming industry, the past, present, and future of Akupara Games, and his thoughts about indie game development.

BC: What are your fondest childhood gaming memories?

David Logan: I got my first NES from a garage sale. I remember playing Super Mario Bros. and going to the video store to rent and play games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dragon Warrior.

Ironically, one of my most memorable negative memories is selling my SNES and all of my games for a very low price at my own garage sale when I was a kid. With that money, I bought Pokemon Snap and two off-brand N64 controllers. Probably the worst game trade I could have made.

Not having a lot of access to games as a kid, each game I could get my hands on felt more important than if I could play whatever I wanted. It was through game rentals, garage sale purchases, and being strapped for cash as a kid that each gaming had to really count.

Whispering Willows

BC: How’d you get your start in the gaming industry?

DL: I studied animation and game design at CSU Chico where I created a few games in school. It wasn’t until I left Chico that I created and released my first major title – Whispering Willows. There was an Android-based game console called OUYA who offered an opportunity to be one of the first games on this new generation of consoles. It was enough to encourage me to put together a team of classmates and create the first prototype of Whispering Willows, which was well received. We won an OUYA-funded contest and later went on to get Kickstarter funding, an investment, and build the entire game! Being my first major game out in a professional setting, this is my “first baby” and I look forward to seeing it get love even now, many years later. Most recently we put it on the Switch, and it is still receiving praise and recognition!

The Metronomicon

BC: How and why did you decide to create Akupara Games?

DL: When we created our earlier titles like Whispering Willows and The Metronomicon, we just weren’t getting the level of dedication and support from publishers and marketing teams. We felt we were given very cookie-cutter solutions and that we were just “another project” for them.

We started Akupara Games with the goal to publish titles we were fully invested in – titles that we’d stay up late or working on weekends for. Titles that we could consider our own. We wanted to be a publishing team that invested as much time into games as the creators did.

We saw this as a sign to step in ourselves to fill in what was lacking in our experiences, and provide developers the experience we would have wanted.

DesertChild

BC: Can you tell me a bit about the company’s upcoming games?

DL: A game we have coming out through the publishing pipeline is called Desert Child by Oscar Brittain. Oscar is an Australian one-man dev team who left his pursuit of an Architecture degree at the University of Western Australia to finish work on Desert Child. His visual style is greatly influenced by his studies and he attributes much of his design knowledge to his time in college.

Desert Child is a hoverbike racing RPG for consoles and PC. Players will race on vintage hoverbikes in an effort to make enough money to get off Earth before it blows up and escape to the Red Planet. In between races, players can sell gun parts for money, repair and customize bikes, and eat ramen to fill up. Desert Child is set to release in December of this year.

DesertChild1

BC: What do you think makes an indie game truly special?

DL: First off, I think it’s important to note some similarities of a lot of indie games – many are breaking the molds of current gaming trends put forth by AAA studios informing us what we should be playing or where our interests should be. These gaming trends are very much on a horizontal trajectory in terms of design, graphics, and gameplay as it leaves behind some older assets. However, I believe many indie games are actually on a vertical trajectory and in a way, perpendicular to the horizontal trajectory set forth by major developers. In working in this way, we are able to see a wider breadth of bold ideas, design choices, and unabashed creativity.

As for what makes a game truly special, which is different from successful, mind you, is one that allows for its players to experience something that can’t be expressed in other media. Games that bring your attention to something greater than the game itself, have you asking questions, or having an emotional response and release. Truly special games aren’t about making money or making games for the sake of it. Rather, they are risking a lot on the line to share something a developer or creator feels like what they are presenting needs to be shared.

ChickenAssassin

BC: What are some of the biggest challenges in indie game development, publishing, and marketing? How do you overcome those challenges?

DL: Development, publishing, and marketing are three different areas that are working together towards the success of a project, but they each have their own processes and challenges. However, money and time definitely challenge all three share.

Overcoming money problems has become easier thanks to crowdfunding like Kickstarter, but of course, this adds to the problem of time by adding yet another deadline you have to meet in order to produce the best material and assets for your pre-campaign. To help with meeting deadlines, you really need a team in every department who are passionate about the project and willing to go the extra mile because they feel that the project is just like theirs.

As an indie developer, another common challenge is getting enough exposure. It is important to build and maintain your community through social channels such as Discord and Facebook, as well as create mailing lists that you have people at conventions you meet to sign up for. In addition to forming relationships with fans, you should also form and grow your relationships with distributors, partners, and press. Schedule times you can meet with key partners at each convention to maintain their knowledge of your products.

KeepInMind

BC: What are three quick tips or pieces of advice that you would give to indie devs?

DL: 

  1. Do your homework of knowing the market you’re working with – research your predecessors, both successes and failures, and analyze trends/factors lending to its performance.
  2. Build your audience earlier than you might think to do so; get people pumped about the game and have them burning to know more.
  3. Be open and receptive to criticism despite how much you love your work – people want to see you succeed as well, so take their words into consideration.

DesertChild5

BC: With crunch development time being a major issue in the gaming industry, how does your company avoid crunch?

DL: In order to mitigate crunch development time, we try to not have it in the first place by planning in advance and budgeting the time for any potential mishaps or problems that may occur along the way. Through investing time earlier in the timeline, we are saving ourselves cost, time, and stress in the long run. There are instances when there is a lack in consistent communication resulting in late feedback – sometimes that feedback turns out to be crucial and sets you back further than you might expect. To prevent this, one of our practices is to schedule weekly calls to ensure awareness and maintain a consistent outlook.

Crunch can become unavoidable even in the best-planned scenarios though, so we try to be as flexible as possible in regards to release dates and major milestones, never being afraid to move them back, if the game just isn’t ready.

SVF

BC: How does Akupara Games stand out compared to its competitors? What does your company do differently and/or effectively?

DL: With “Indies for Indies” as our slogan, we make sure indie developers feel that their concerns are being heard and addressed. We strive for them to feel like they are not just seen as clients to benefit us, but as partners with a mutualistic rapport. As a company, we earn revenue through other means beyond just game investments. It’s because of this we are able to accomplish our mission of putting out solid marketing and distribution campaigns for our partners. We believe that because of this practice, we have more freedom to try marketing strategies that we wouldn’t be able to if we were restricted by strict budgets.

As we see ourselves as allies to the indie gaming community, we align ourselves in a position to be able to do anything that’s needed in making a successful game, including development, marketing, and of course publishing. When working with us, we offer our expertise while clients retain their choosing power for any services they need to be performed so they won’t need to address it in-house themselves. It’s because of our position as allies that we have been able to maintain good relationships and rapport with indie developers, even if we don’t end up working with them.

UFOAGOGO

BC: What does the future hold for Akupara Games?

DL: As of right now, we have a number of projects in the work, with Desert Child on the horizon. We’re always on the lookout for a few key titles to publish on PC and console. We will also be continuing our commission work for Development, Porting, and Marketing. In between projects, we’ve been experimenting around with physical board/card game, and have our upcoming title UFO a Go-Go in development at the moment. We’re also really excited about a big project we’re working on that will be revealed early in 2019… There’s not much we can say at the moment on it, but make sure to keep tabs so you don’t miss out on the details!


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Brad Crespo

Editor-in-Chief - On a quest to play as many new games as possible while trying to finish an endless backlog.