How GDC help build indie hit Poly Bridge

Guest post by Patrick Corrieri of Dry Cactus, developers of hit indie game Poly Bridge. Dry Cactus is also sponsoring one of the NZGDA $5,000 travel grants for GDC 2016, after receiving a similar grant last year.

It’s been a pretty intense year, what with working hard on Poly Bridge, dealing with its popularity and success as well as starting a family with the arrival of our baby son.

Going to GDC 2015 in San Francisco, which was an opportunity that the NZGDA and the NZ Film Commission travel grant made possible, was a huge eye opener and made me steer the game in a very different direction – a decision that certainly paid off.

I released Poly Bridge onto Steam Early Access in July, and it soon climbed its way up on the global Top Sellers list, gaining lots of exposure on the Steam front page, Reddit, YouTube and Twitch. Much of its popularity was due to the animated GIF replay sharing feature, which prompts players to share their ingenious and funny moments on social media.

GDC 2015 was pretty awesome. So many things happen at the same time and I felt like I spent five non-stop days in the Moscone Centre meeting people and learning loads from lectures and workshops.

Your first year at GDC is a lot about “navigating” how GDC works and I missed some outside key events that would have been very useful for me, such as lots of stuff in the indie dev community which hovers outside the main event and is kept on the low.

I went to GDC while in the middle of developing Poly Bridge, so I had an almost-finished game to show.

Originally Poly Bridge was going to be a smaller scope smartphone and tablet game, but at at GDC many experienced developers were very kind and took the time to look at the game on the iPad, and the general consensus was go PC, go bigger in scope and emphasize the community and sandbox aspects.

I got to speak with developers from many big and small studios, and also talk to publishers and distributors such as Apple, Devolver, Chillingo, Indie Fund and many others. As well as going to parties and events, you have to be proactive, I would go to a panel I thought was interesting and then hang out afterwards, and ask for five minutes of people’s time. GDC is a very safe space and people are there with the intention to share. Naturally I didn’t get to speak to everyone – the more popular speakers can be stuck with a queue of people for two hours after their talk! But you shouldn’t only speak with big name developers – everyone there has similar experiences and from many different points of view. Ultimately you have to make your own mind up with all the feedback you are given.

Player community was a strong topic at GDC this year. People discussed things like making your game entertaining on YouTube, making choices to allow players to share easily and in an entertaining way. I realized as a result that none of the other bridge building games were handling community or social aspects very well, they didn’t have replays or level building and sharing. This advice built on my own observations of the competition, and it’s fair to say that the GIF sharing feature in Poly Bridge was a huge part of its success this year.

It was also funny meeting so many New Zealand developers there, at the pre-GDC dinner organized by PikPok, as I don’t always get to attend the monthly Meetups.

Thanks once again to the NZGDA for the awesome experience, it undoubtedly opened up many opportunities for me and my family.

Apply here for a NZGDA GDC 2016 scholarship and/or travel grant.