OddBird Studio was competing in the annual Level Up gaming showcase downtown Toronto when they learned an invaluable lesson.
The team made business cards for the event, leading showcase goers to a contact page on its website, complete with a submission form. As the event began, the team noticed it’s websites contact page was broken. Pressing the send button did nothing.
So they fixed it. After retrieving Ben’s laptop from the car, and tethering a phone to the computer for Wi-Fi (since the event had none), the team’s submission forum was changed to their email address and a simple message:
CONTACT FORUM IN PROGRESS.
Three members of the six-man team were fixing the contact forum problem, the other half of the team was fixing a new bug they had discovered on the show floor.
It was tense.
While Level Up is a gaming showcase for students, it is still an important competition for young studios to get some industry attention. Despite the mishaps, OddBird won Level Up’s pitching competition. They also learned a simple lesson.
“We don’t know what we don’t know,” says Cody Romphf, one of the team’s level designers.
OddBird is made up of six Sheridan college students. Benjamin Scott and Joshua Cappeli are the programmers, Shae Humphries is the 2D artist and Brendan Muir takes care of 3D. Zach Wolfe and Romphf work on designing the levels.
The team has faced many hiccups during their time of building their own studio. They started developing their first game, Arrowheads, one year ago when they started the studio.
Arrowheads is an isometric multiplayer archery game, originally conceived from Wolfes love of Archery, and the game Towerfall Accession.
During their time at Level Up, PAX West and E3, the team has come to terms with not knowing what they don’t know. This has taught them some valuable lessons, like being open to feedback, and understanding that more content doesn’t always mean better.
The biggest lesson they have learned is to ask for help.
They have accessed the SparkCentre in Oshawa for business and legal assistance as well as pitching. This is what lead them to win the Level Up pitch competition in 2016.
The SparkCentre is one of 18 not-for-profit, government funded Regional Innovation Centres (RIC) in Ontario. They focus on working with people with ideas for tech. Whether that be hardware, like a new computer, or software like a video game.
Ashlin Milley is the first access point at the SparkCentre in Oshawa, and deals with ideas that are in the beginning stages. What struck Milley as odd was the assets that OddBird team had at their disposal, such as coders, artists, designers and a makeshift audio engineering.
Milley has worked with OddBird for about a year, and has since put the team in-touch with lawyers and other business people.
Unlike most businesses that come to SparkCentre, OddBird had a wide range of tools at their disposal.
“What is unusual about OddBird is a lot of people come to us with ideas or really early stage ideation businesses but they don’t have the team that’s able to execute their vision,” said Milley. “OddBird is like a small village, they have resources within their team that make them very self-sufficient.”
The SparkCentre has given the team a mentor to help them with pitching their ideas, to not only Level Up, but publishers like Microsoft and Sony. According to Milley, it is not typical for early stage ideas to go out and win competitions immediately after visiting the SparkCentre.
“Not typical,” said Milley. “But they’re not the first.”
That’s not the only atypical thing about OddBird. They are also coming out of a relatively new program in Sheridan’s Bachelor of Video Game Design. This program has not even seen a graduating class yet, but has seen OddBird showcasing Arrowheads on the show floor at E3 and PAX West.
Jeff Pidsadny works at Sheridan and teaches the team 3D level design and architecture lighting and design. Pidsadny has a Bachelor of Architecture design from the University of Waterloo, but switched gears to work in the gaming industry. He worked for Rockstar Games and Radical Entertainment of titles like Midnight Club, Max Payne 3, Red Dead Redemption and the two Simpsons games.
Pidsadny says the teams focus on process is a very strong asset.
“Here at the school there is no shortage of desire to make things, but sometimes how we make things and focusing on designing things, people don’t want to investigate that as much,” says Pidsadny. “Whereas I think these guys were really successful with having a process.”
Angela Stukator is the Associate Dean of animation and game design at Sheridan College. She has worked with the OddBird team by providing them administrative support as they started to pick up more steam.
OddBird has brought new ideas to their faculty such as an on-campus incubator, and revisions to their co-op system.
“They became, sort of stars in the program very early on quite to our amazement,” said Stukator. “Because they are only second-year students and they were doing such superb work.”
Stukator also says that the school has been thinking very hard about changes the school can make to the program based on OddBirds success.
Still, despite all the conference floors, the private meetings with executives or the numerous awards from pitch competitions, the team remains humble.
“We try to not speak about it as much as possible,” says Muir.
The team is not afraid to ask their professors questions, or to visit local resources the help finesse one component they’re struggling with.
As young entrepreneurs, the team feels that their biggest shortcoming is themselves.
“No one has really told us we’re too young to do this or anything like that,” Romphf says. “It’s our own unknowing, it’s the things that we don’t know that are our biggest adversities. We came in, not as business experts, we came in as a bunch of guys who wanted to make a game.”
Romphf added that learning about business is very important for the team.
“We need to become business really quickly, and we need to learn about these law deals and contracts and really quickly.”
OddBird plans on releasing Arrowheads on Steam, PS4, and Xbox One some-time in April.
The team will continue working after the release of Arrowheads. Post-launch support will be coming for Arrowheads, but the team is aiming to start prototyping for their next project in September.
“It all depends on how people are receiving it and how fast people go through the content that we have,” says Cappeli. “We’ll be in a frantic rush to make new content.”