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Behind the scenes at the Indies Workshop, the $250-a-month office for indie developers

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Seattle now has a coworking space designed for small teams, and it's wonderful

What is the value of leaving your house and going to an office? How much would you be willing to pay to work alongside people in the same business, struggling with the same challenges you face?

The Indies Workshop allows even small teams to find out.

The pricing structure is simple: $250 a month gets you a desk, a locker, a fast Internet connection and use of the conference room. That's the full-time rate, giving you access to the space 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also pay for a part-time desk for $150 a month, a desk you'll share with one other person. For $20 you can work for a day and grab one of the communal desks.

I was able to visit the space during a recent trip to Seattle. This is what I found.

How this happened

Seattle is a bit dense with game developers; the Facebook group for local indies has over 1,900 members. Yet The Indie Megabooth's Christopher Floyd, who moved to the area around two years ago, felt frustrated by the few ways indies had to work together.

"This feels like it's our space, that's what we love about it."

"I wanted to find out how I could help get people together," he told Polygon. "Seattle has this weird thing where there is Lake Union in the middle of it, and some other weird pieces of water, and people are terrified of crossing bodies of water."

He wasn't the only person dealing with this issue.

"It turned out that my joining Amazon and moving to Seattle played a part in the origins of Indies Workshop. As happens when you move, friends help a lot with making a soft landing. In my case, many of those are in the indie game dev scene and in particular, 17-Bit," erstwhile game journalist and current Amazonian Garnett Lee said. "They had setup a monthly get together at their studio that I started going to. However, they also were in the process of moving the studio to Kyoto, Japan."

"At one of the meetups Raj [Joshi from 17-bit] and I were talking and he shared this vision they’d had for creating something beyond the meetup — a coworking space to foster indie game development around Seattle and it just so happened that the warehouse space next to their studio was opening up."

They linked up with Christopher Floyd, who would ultimately head the space. "After that it came down to the process of getting our pitch together, showing key folks here at Amazon what a great scene there was looking for a home, and then setting it all up."

The entire process took around a year of planning and logistics, with the doors of the Indies Workshop opening in late 2015. "This feels like it's our space," Patrick Morgan of Galvanic Games, one of the first teams to move in, told Polygon. "That's what we love about it."

The space itself has an open design and a comfortable, lived-in feel. The furniture is more makeshift than expensive; one gets the sense that as long as you avoided laptops a spilled coffee wouldn't hurt much.

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The space exists in large part because of that initial financial support from Amazon. "Amazon recently started moving into the game area and figuring out what they wanted to do there," Floyd said. The Indies Workshop has allowed Amazon to invest a bit into the local scene, and the company also offers meetings where it can pitch its services to indie developers.

"It’s as simple a case as supporting this makes sense," Lee agreed. "There’s no strings attached. For instance there’s no expectation that developers in the space will make their games available on Appstore. Sure, we hope they will and offer support to make that happen but first and foremost this space is for the game developers."

indies workshop meeting

The space is currently bit of a "loss leader" for the community, as Floyd describes it, but its needs are modest even as it relies on the initial Amazon money. If the Workshop gets to 16 members paying the full-time price along with the existing desks supporting two part-time members each, it becomes self-sustaining. "If that all maps out, the whole thing pays for itself," Floyd told me. They also host a variety of meetings and talks for the local development community, one of which is shown above.

"We’ve developed a good relationship with the Seattle Indies Group who let us partner with them on the monthly meetup," Lee explained. "As part of that we helped put together a speaker program as part of the meetup. For instance, last month Mitch Gitelman, co-founder of Harebrained Schemes, came in and talked about crowdfunding and building an indie studio. Also, Indies Workshop members both full and part-time receive an AWS Activate Membership that includes promotional credit for $5,000 valid for a year along with training and support benefits."

Floyd himself doesn't make any money from his work organizing the space and keeping it running. "I don't care about the bit that I do; I care about what other people do with the space," he said.

The people that work here

"At the moment my main project is Thimbleweed Park, a point-and-click adventure game by Ron Gilbert," Jenn Sandercock told me when we spoke. "I'm doing coding for that, as well as helping out with all the other stuff that needs to get done, because it's a small team."

The team, in fact, is everywhere. There are members in Spain, Canada and the U.K., while Sandercock and Gilbert are in Seattle. The commute to the Workshop adds an extra two hours to her workday, but she treks in three times a week to work next to other people.

"Oh my gosh, I need people," she explained, laughing. "I can't cope without people. For me to get here is, like, an hour each way; it's a pretty killer commute. But it's totally worth it to talk to other people, particularly game developers. I've tried working at home and I go crazy pretty quickly. I like my animals and all but I need social interaction."

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Before setting up shop in the Indie Workshop, Sandercock struggled with her work environment.

"I suffered a bit, and did some coworking spaces where it wasn't games people, but I just … they're nice humans, but I always felt like I was interrupting them or didn't necessarily know how to interact with them," she explained. I spoke with other developers in the space, some of whom worked in other environments, and they all agreed that it wasn't as enjoyable, nor as helpful, to work near others who weren't working games.

"The cost is the main thing in the column against it, and it's a lot harder to get here than my living room, but the reason I'm here is to be in a creative environment with people facing similar problems," Alex Schearer, one of the developers making the game Tumblestone, told me.

They have "feedback Thursdays," where developers share their work and pick each other's brains. They discuss the platforms they're working on, and the strengths and weaknesses of each one. There is a Vive development kit in the conference room, and they sometimes play a version of Pictionary using the VR painting program Tilt Brush.

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Before the Indies Workshop, Galvanic Games worked out of an incubator downtown.

"It was a lot of people building applications, building technology services, running studios of their own," Morgan said. "There was a small section that was for game studios … we felt like outsiders. Everyone was super professional." The incubator was a quick bus ride away, and very convenient. The Workshop is a two-mile walk. To the team, it's worth being in an environment with other developers who work in the gaming space and share a set of ... perhaps more fun-oriented values.

Many of the people who are paying for space are part of larger teams that are spread out around the U.S., or even the world. But there's value in being around other developers who aren't working on the same thing, and modern tools make remote collaborative development much easier. "A lot of stuff is on Slack. Slack solved a lot of problems," Sandercock said. "A lot of it is done over Skype calls."

indies workshop 2

Many of the studios I visit look like museums, where you're scared to move for fear of breaking something or knocking over a row of beautifully arranged action figures. I never felt like I was in danger of breaking anything there; the entire space had the feeling of a much-loved hand-me-down couch.

Plus, Sandercock loves to cook. She hopes more developers move in.

"I really like baking cakes, but there's just not enough people here," she told me with a laugh. "If I bring in a cake there's not enough people to eat it, or we eat too much of it."

I spoke to many developers who had a lengthy commute to the Workshop, and did it anyway. I spoke to developers for whom the already affordable $250 is a significant expense for their small team, but they paid it anyway. Working alongside others, and sharing in their success and frustration, has value that can't be measured in purely financial terms.

The Indies Workshop is a special place.