Advice for Tranzfuser 2019!
You’re most likely here because you’re preparing your application for Tranzfuser 2019! How exciting. If you’re not sure what Tranzfuser is, it’s a summer competition which sees teams from all over the UK build prototypes in the hopes of being awarded funding from the UK Games Fund to start their own studio!
Who am I?
I’ve been associated with Tranzfuser since its inaugural year in 2016. I took part with the team Cold Sun Studios and we ended up being awarded funding! Since then, I’ve been judging the competition and taken part in the final pitching panel. I've also asked some of the other past contestants what kind of stuff they would have liked to know when coming into the competition. So hopefully you can take our advice on board as experienced veterans in this graduate program.
The things I don’t know about:
Tranzfuser is a little different this year, with teams being awarded £2,500 initially to work on their prototype. I’m assuming if teams have met their intended milestones, are on track and have the beginnings of a good business plan together they will be awarded an additional £2,500 to continue working on their prototype for the final pitching event. This is a different structure from what I’ve experienced before, so I can’t answer any questions regarding what the requirements are to receive the additional funding.
Who can apply for Tranzfuser?
Graduates! If you graduated in 2017, 2018 or you’re going to graduate in 2019 and you want to start an indie studio, then Tranzfuser is the competition that will help you see that dream through.
What do you need to apply?
Technically you can apply as a team leader and a great idea and hope everything else falls into place later. Your chances of being selected are far greater if you’ve got a team who are diverse, with a range of skill sets who can fulfill the needs of the project.
Who should be team leader?
We’ve seen a lot of “this smash-hit game idea is mine which means I should be the team leader!” but here’s some thoughts for you to consider before you appoint yourself:
Is there someone on the team who has proven to have better organisation skills than me? (In game development, in class or in their jobs)
Is there someone on the team who has shown more initiative than me? (Taken part in other competitions, game jams, even Duke of Ed or something!)
Am I willing to take on a project management and biz dev role? (There’s a lot of spreadsheets involved and very little working on the game)
It is not beneficial for you to say “I’ll learn these skills by being part of Tranzfuser!” because you might be making a promise to your team that you can’t fulfill. Everyone on the team is a core member with a very important role to fill. A team leader is not “the boss” they’re the support structure who are there to take care of and inspire the members of the team and ensure everyone feels heard and valued within it.
So ask yourself if you’re really the best fit, as you might be hurting your application by dismissing someone who fits the role better.
Here’s an industry wide fact. Diverse teams make interesting games. If everyone on your team has the same skills, the same backgrounds and you all look the same, you might not be making anything we haven’t seen before. The main things I see from teams who are not diverse are Shooter games and PT remakes. Take a look and see if your team are offering up something we don’t see all that often.
However, please make sure you have a range of skill sets on your team. If you’re all programmers, that’s usually warning flags to the judges that the team don’t have the specialties to make a game stand out in the crowd with interesting aesthetics. Not to say it’s impossible, but certainly difficult. Make sure you have programmers, designers, artists, animators, sound people and of course, the producer. It’s okay if people take on multiple roles, but you’ll need to have proven experience within your team to convince the judges.
The absolute best aspect of this competition is the fact that you’re going on a big adventure with your friends! You’re all making the dream a reality and making a game together. Relax, enjoy every second of it and be a team player.
However, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to bump heads.
Every team functions differently. However, you all need to be on the same page. If you have a team member who is disruptive, or won’t communicate properly throughout the competition, they’re not going to be any better when you go off to start a company. You need to know when to let people go if they’re putting themselves ahead of the team.
If you’re annoyed that a team doesn’t take your idea on board, or you think your vision is the best direction for the game, remember that everyone is just as attached to the game and the company as you are. Be considerate, compromise on decisions and ideas. Understand that in a team, not everyone can get their way all the time.
Finally, communicate. The team should be able to talk to each other constantly to define the goals the team are aiming for and to keep everyone accountable. If you feel like you’re letting your team down, don’t hide away. Talk to them about it.
Also, teams that work apart from each other struggle the most. Utilise your hubs as much as you can!
This is a big topic, so I’m going to split it into a few core parts.
Suitability for Showcase:
You should understand what a showcasing environment is like and decide if your game fits an area full of bustling people. How visible are the mechanics of the game. If someone stopped and looked at your game being played for 5 seconds, would they see what is happening?
Take a look at the previous winners of the competition. For our own game, Tome Travellers, people could see they were silly characters with limited control over their arms. For Moo Moo Move, people could see they were herding cows. with Beat Guru, people could see a striking rhythm game. You could notice all of these mechanics almost immediately.
People should be able to sit down and understand what your game is within 15-30 seconds. This means clear feedback loops and something striking for passersby to queue up and have a go.
Every team falls into the trap of making something that is far too big. Even if you think you’re keeping things small, you’re probably not. Your goal for the end of Tranzfuser should be a minimum viable product. So stick to something small. Singular mechanics or systems usually do well in Tranzfuser. Crazy AI systems or satisfying combat can take a really long time to get feeling good, so the simpler you can keep your game the better.
Even people with single mechanics scope far too big in the early stages, but your team’s ability to be dynamic and cut down on content and limit the amount of feature creep will carry you incredibly far in the competition.
Target Audience & Testing:
This prototype is your stepping stone into the indie development world. It can help you gain a publishing deal or some contracting work. People might be so interested they’ll invest privately and you can self publish. So keep focus on making sure you always know why people want to play your game.
In the beginning you might have an interesting elevator pitch or hook that tells us why people want to play the game, but as the prototype starts development, you need to understand what hooks people onto your game with continuous testing. If your game has never been tested on an external audience, you’ll not be able to convince the judging panel that your game is something any audience wants.
Test your game as soon as you have anything to show. I mean anything. It doesn’t matter if you’re just getting your little sister to see how something feels for 30 seconds. The amount of information you gain from watching how other people react to your game is the most valuable gift you can give yourself throughout the competition, try and have people test your game every week.
Keep it low risk:
One thing I’ve learned from the last few years is to keep this game idea as low risk as possible. This means:
The development of the game after Tranzfuser will be finished within 12 months (even better, 6 months)
The core idea has been fully realised by the showcase, all that’s left to do if build some more levels.
You’re already talking to a publisher about the game.
You’ve got contracts already that can finance the game’s development.
Production and Business Development
Tranzfuser is not all about making a game that will be fun at the final showcase. While having a fun and engaging game which stands out is valuable and integral to being successful, the judges are looking for people who have thought about the business side of game development.
So, how are you going to sustain yourself? How are you going to make sure the team don’t run out of money?
You need to understand how much money games cost to make. £25,000 is not a lot of money, and yet every year we see teams who think they can squeeze the development of the whole game into this amount.
Think about it this way: You have 5 people in your team who are working full time and are hoping to earn an actual living wage. Think £18-20k a year. After paying everyone’s salaries and tax you’ve spent at least around £9,000 in one month. Most likely more. This means that £25k isn’t even going to last 3 months and if you learn anything from the competition, a full game ready for release is going to need a lot more than that.
So you need to assign someone in your team who’s going to figure this stuff out. How much is this game really going to cost? Who’s going to go out there and pitch to more investors, publishers or get some contracts?
A business developer who understands the money side of things will quite often fill the role of producer as well. Establishing how to keep the game in budget, defining what needs to be ready at each milestone and defining the team’s primary focus throughout development.
Remember, the UK Games Fund give you a prototype grant. Which means what you make with that 25k is what’s going to be used to get the company started and attract further investment. Looking for that investment is a full time job.
Use the money on important events.
£5,000 is not a lot of money. I know it’ll be tempting to pay everyone a little chunk to keep them sustained throughout the competition, but I’ve seen people miss out on a lot of opportunities throughout the course of the competition that can be valuable towards their final pitch. So I recommend using your part time jobs or your savings to feed yourselves, and save the money for events.
A few things happen before the final showcase that are really worth thinking about. Develop happens in Brighton, where you get to meet developers and publishers who have loads of advice to give and deals to sign to help get your company off the ground. If you’ve met a publisher at Develop who you can maintain communication with until the final pitch, the judges will believe your business has legs and a chance at a publishing deal. If you want to save some money, you don’t even need to buy a ticket. Just be in Brighton when Develop is on and reach out to people you want to talk to on Twitter or via email. Catch their interest with a GIF or video of the game.
Insomnia Gaming Festival in Birmingham is also a good opportunity to have a “practice run” before the final showcase. There’s a free indie zone there where you can showcase your game ahead of September and get a feel for what the final showcase will be like, as well as gain some mass QA testing and valuable feedback for your game which you can spend a few weeks taking action on.
So, nominate some members of the team and send them to events. There’s loads of local events too that you can head to like monthly meetups or smaller showcases. Get to these any chance you can! You’ll be able to get in touch with the right people who can mentor your team or even get you the contacts that help you create a sustainable business.
Finally, relax and have fun
I see people freaking out over this competition all the time. As though it's their only route into the industry and no other opportunity will ever come up. Relax! This is not the be all and end all of portfolio building and it won't be your only chance to build a company. You're all graduates, which means it's only the beginning! So please, don't go being jealous or falling out with your friends if things don't work out. This is such a minuscule part of your careers, have fun and be kind!
If you'd like any more advice, feel free to DM me on Twitter!