IGF 2023 is right on course, and it has a new captain at the helm. Shawn Pierre has joined the Independent Games Festival as our new Chairperson.
Shawn Pierre is an Assistant Arts Professor at the NYU Game Center and an independent game developer. Through his work as a developer, he has explored creating new ways to play—including installations, physical interactions, voice-controlled experiences, interactive podcasts, and more. As a member and project director of Philly Game Mechanics, Shawn also works to build a community where local developers meet new people and share their creative work. He has also served on the Audio jury for the IGF Awards.
Shawn is taking over for Kelly Wallick, who stepped down from the position after IGF 2022. We chatted with him over the phone about his plans for the Independent Games Festival in 2023 and beyond, why he loves Trombone Champ, and the advice he'd give someone thinking of entering the IGF Awards for the first time.
Speaking of the IGF Awards, submissions for IGF 2023 open this Friday, Sept. 30! We'll be posting details on how to submit in the coming days. Be sure to follow our blog and subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates.
Below is an edited, condensed version of the interview with new IGF Chair Shawn Pierre.
Beth Elderkin, GDC: What was your reaction to finding out that you would be the next IGF chair?
Shawn Pierre, IGF Chairperson: I thought it was pretty cool! It's exciting to be able to find additional ways to contribute to the overall independent game community, because there are so many different ways to contribute—whether it's through teaching, whether it's through hosting things locally or on a larger scale, whether it's making games and then sharing that information about the games that you worked on. There's a lot that you can do, a lot of different ways you can contribute to the game community.
I just want to thank Kelly for all the work she did as the IGF Chairperson. During her time as chair, she pushed the IGF forward creating an environment that showcases the strength of the indie game community on a global scale—including during a pandemic! I am hoping to continue all the great work she started as I begin my work as the chairperson.
GDC: What are you hoping to bring to the role?
Shawn: I mean, the easy answer is just a different perspective—not necessarily a reflection on anything in the past. Kelly did a great job, and I want to continue everything that she did. I really want to take a look at everything she started, everything she did, and find a way to continue that. But also bring in my own take and spin and personality into the equation.
Everyone who has a chance to contribute to something like this has lived a different life experience. So they're able to incorporate something different and bring in something that someone else just hasn't experienced. It'll be a learning experience for me, and it'll hopefully be a positive learning experience for me and everyone.
GDC: What do you love about indie games?
Shawn: One thing that independent teams seem to do more than the AAA genre is they're able to take more risks. They're able to take more risks and pursue something that is a bit closer to the heart. Of course, I'm not saying that the makers of Assassin's Creed and GTA are not doing things they're passionate about. A lot of them are. But there are a lot of times where there are things they have to not do in order to make sure that the game sells properly and the company stays afloat.
While independent developers do have the same things they need to be concerned about, sometimes they're able to take more risks and they're able to try and do things that might put a bigger company in a worse position.
I mean, there's that trombone game that came out not too long ago, Trombone Champ, that I've just been seeing on Twitter. I can't imagine a big AAA company putting that out or thinking, "Hey, let's just go ahead and just do this!" I'm sure if they wanted to it would be great, but it's probably not something that's on their radar.
I was just playing it before this call. I was very good—[laughs] nah, I was terrible.
GDC: We have seen a lot of growth in indie games lately. At this latest GDC, Inscryption won the IGF and GDCA grand prizes. The indie game field is starting to merge and blend with the larger gaming community. Where do you see the future of indie games going?
Shawn: That is a good question. Indie games are already growing on a global scale. We're seeing developers from around the world showcase even more than we've seen in the past, which is great because we're all connected to each other... I think I see even more of that happening, in terms of being even more connected to people all over the world and learning more about the types of games that people are making all over the world, and seeing how those games better reflect their culture.
Games are also becoming a lot more personal, I would say. There are games in the past that have been fairly personal, but I think people are feeling much more comfortable doing that too, which is really great.
GDC: We're getting ready for the submissions process to open on Friday, Sept. 30. What are you excited to see with IGF 2023?
Shawn: IGF has always been—whether I was on the outside seeing what was nominated, or whether it was during the judging process and going through a ton of different games—it's always been a great place to see the future. What is happening, what new takes, new spins, new perspectives are coming into the field.
I'm excited to see the future. I'm excited to take part, actually, in the future too. And to hopefully encourage people anywhere and everywhere to become part of that future too.
GDC: Speaking of the future, I'm sure we have some developers out there who are thinking about submitting their games to IGF 2023, maybe even for the first time. What advice would you have for them?
Shawn: Make a giant checklist of things that you think you'll need to do, and then prepare to add a bunch of things that you didn't know that you needed to do.
Read over your submissions multiple times before you submit. Make sure you have enough codes for people to play. You don't want the judges to be looking for codes, you don't want judges to want to play your game and then not be able to access it.
Make sure that you can present your game in a way that showcases why you feel it's special, why you feel it deserves to be a finalist. Every game has a different way of doing that, so you're going to need to think about what works for your game. Just because a game that won two years ago might be similar to yours doesn't mean that you need to follow exactly what they did. Everyone's processes are a bit different, and people's feelings change from year to year.
Do your best to showcase what you feel is special, what you feel is important about your work. That's not even just for IGF, but just in general when you're showing your game to people and the public.
And if the game doesn't make it, that's not a reflection of you being a bad developer. It's not a reflection of you having a bad game. There are hundreds of games submitted every year. There are so many, so many, so many good games, and there's a limited number of spots. Consider submitting again next year, and use all the information you learned to help your future submissions.
You can follow Shawn on Twitter @ShawnPierre. Don't forget to submit your game to the IGF Awards starting Sept. 30—and be sure to keep an eye on IGF 2023 at the Game Developers Conference, happening in San Francisco next March!
GDC returns to San Francisco in March 2023, and registration opens soon! For more information, be sure to visit our website.