Tim Cullings is a video games industry veteran and the Executive Director of Global Game Jam, the world’s largest game creation event empowering individuals worldwide to learn, experiment, and create. Tim is also the Executive Director and Board President at Seattle Indies, a nonprofit organization championing independent gamers who wish to pursue game development as a hobby or profession. Before joining GGJ, he was a Systems Engineer at Oculus and a QA Test Lead at Airtight Games.
An experienced community builder, Tim serves as a chapter lead for the International Games Development Association (IGDA), the world’s largest nonprofit network fostering game creators. He also helped found GUILD, a support group for indie game developer community organizers and Games for Our Future, a multi-city jam gathering client science researchers and game developers to create games about climate change and other social impact themes.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Tim Cullings gives an overview of Global Game Jam and Seattle Indies
- What attracted Tim to a career in the gaming industry?
- Tips and tactics for entering the gaming space
- The evolution of Global Game Jam
- The most inspiring success stories of Global Game Jam participants
- What does the future hold for Global Game Jam?
- How to become a mentor or mentee for the Seattle Indies’ mentorship program
- Tim shares how his job experience at Oculus prepared him for his gaming career
- Trends in game development
In this episode…
When the first video game, Spacewar!, emerged in 1962, no one probably predicted it would evolve into a $100-billion global industry. Since then, popular consoles like Atari, Sega Genesis, Nintendo, Playstation, and Xbox have become household staples. Along with being a favorite pastime, the gaming industry is a top employer. In the US alone, nearly 300,000 people work in the video game industry, a 3.5% increase since 2018. With an expected growth rate of 73.8% from 2020-2027, there’s a demand for video game developers.
That’s why passionate industry leaders in the video game space like Tim Cullings are committed to creating safe spaces for gaming enthusiasts. Game development competitions, known as game jams, allow hobbyists and aspiring gaming professionals to experiment and create games from scratch. These events provide community, networking opportunities, mentorships, and job opportunities.
In this episode of the Here’s Waldo Podcast, Lizzie Mintus welcomes Tim Cullings, Executive Director at The Global Game Jam, to discuss the positive influences of gaming communities. Tim shares his career journey into the gaming industry, Seattle Indies’ mentorship program, and the evolution of Global Game Jam and its success stories.
Resources Mentioned in this episode
- Here’s Waldo Recruiting
- Lizzie Mintus on LinkedIn
- Tim Cullings on LinkedIn
- Global Game Jam
- Seattle Indies
- International Games Development Association (IGDA)
- Games for Our Future
Sponsor for this episode...
This episode is brought to you by Here’s Waldo Recruiting, where we pride ourselves on keeping up with the latest trends in technology. Because we understand the particular needs of the tech industry, we’re able to engage with top-tier candidates in the field.
The industry evolves. The market changes. But at Here’s Waldo Recruiting, our commitment to happy candidates and clients does not.
We understand that searching for the best and brightest talent can be overwhelming, so let our customer-first staff of professionals do the leg work for you by heading over to hereswaldorecruiting.com.
Welcome to the Here's Waldo podcast, where we sit down with top visionaries and creatives in the video game industry. Together, we'll unravel their journeys and learn more about the path they're forging ahead. Now, let's get started with the show.
Lizzie Mintus: I'm Lizzie Mintus, founder and CEO of Here's Waldo Recruiting, a boutique video game recruitment firm. This is the Here's Waldo podcast. In every episode, we dive deep into conversations with creatives, founders, and executives about what it takes to make a successful video game. You can expect to hear valuable lessons from their journey and get a glimpse into the future of the industry.
This episode is brought to you by Here's Waldo Recruiting, a boutique recruitment firm, specializing in the video game industry that prioritizes quality over quantity and values, transparency, communication, and diversity. We partner with companies, creatives, and programmers to understand the why behind their needs and provide a white glove experience that ensures a win -win outcome.
I have Tim Cullings, he, him, here with me today. He is a Seattle video game industry veteran, champion for game development, climate science. He is currently the Executive Director at Global Game Jam and Executive Director and Board President for Seattle Indies. Prior to Global Game Jam, Tim worked in DevOps at Oculus, helping ship everything between Rift and Quest 2.
Let's get started. Thank you for being here today, Tim. Can you give us some background on the Global Game Jam and Seattle Indies?
Tim Cullings: Yeah, thanks for having me here. Global Game Jam is a non -profit organization based in California and we run the world's largest annual game creation event that happens every year around the end of January.
This past year, we had 40,000 people participate in 108 countries around the world. They made 7,600 games on the theme of Roots. Global Game Jam itself is not a competition,; it's mostly meant for community and collaboration and bringing people together to help create pathways for people to find their way into the industry or into a community of game developers in their area. If that's just a hobby that they're pursuing or something they want to make into a profession, Global Game Jam provides that opportunity for people with little to no experience to come and try and learn about making games in a safe and welcoming environment. Seattle Indies is also a nonprofit. We're based in Seattle, Washington. Of course, we service the greater Puget Sound area, focusing on hosting events and creating networking spaces for independent game developers, professionals, students, anyone who's in the games industry, trying to make games. So we host networking, social events, attend conferences where people get the opportunity to showcase their games to the public and we host our own expo every year called Seattle Indies Expo, which we're in the process of getting ready for and we'll be coming up in a little bit less than 2 months, right alongside PAX West, which happens here in Seattle every year. We're a free event that happens on the Sunday of that weekend at Motif Hotel, where we showcase 25 of the best locally made games from the Pacific Northwest for free to the public. You can come and play those games and meet the developers who made them.
Lizzie Mintus: Who will be there this year? Can you give us any teasers?
Tim Cullings: We just started judging yesterday, so we don't really know exactly. We had 56 applications this year and we have 25 spaces for games. Every year there's a wide variety of every genre that you can imagine. And usually at least one or two tabletop or card games. It's a really enjoyable time. People tell us every year that it's their favorite event of Pax Weekend. So we're looking forward to it.
Lizzie Mintus: Feels so good to create and put on. What led you to join both of the organizations?
Tim Cullings: Well, I started my career in the industry in 2010 at a company called Airtight Games, which was in Redmond, Washington and was the reason I moved to Seattle from upstate New York where I grew up. In 2013 we worked on a game for the OUYA console, which was like a micro Android console that was kickstarted back in that time and it was very indie. We were not really like an indie studio. So I was starting to connect with indies in the area to learn more about them and be more connected to that community as well as IGDA Seattle, which I was also a chapter lead of for quite a while. IGDA is the International Game Developers Association. In 2014, Airtight closed. I was looking for work and was able to stay connected to the industry and felt supported by the local community here, like Seattle IndiansIndies, especially as you IGDA and wanted to give back to those communities and help create that space for more people. So their paths to the industry might be a little easier than mine was. Mine was very long and circuitous and went through the days when things were not as easy to find your way into the industry. That's mainly my goal. Try to make a welcoming space for people to meet and network and have a built group of friends that they can just plug into when they move here, if they're game developers. We hear that from a lot of people- they move here because of our community to Seattle and they instantly just have a community that they feel part of. That was another thing was the Seattle freeze is a thing here that takes a while for people to get past if you're not from here. It took me like four years to find like my friend group and so helping create that space for people to just show up and have a group already. It was like something that I was passionate about as well.
Lizzie Mintus: I love that community is so important and finding people that are having the same problems as you- same highs and lows. It definitely makes you feel not alone. I'm curious about your long path to get into the industry. That is everybody's question. How do I get into the industry? So will you tell your story?
Tim Cullings: I just wrote that all out in a keynote speech that I did at a conference called GDUX out in Columbus, Ohio a couple weeks ago. That was an hour -long talk that I gave. But basically, I was trying to change my career in the mid -2000s, and wanted to move out to the West Coast because there was not really any type of games industry where I was living at the time in upstate New York. Tried for a couple of years to get jobs in San Francisco because I had friends there. I still do and am looking to be closer to them. And I just liked the city at the time, which was pretty like the tech boom, San Francisco. I still like artists and stuff and it has a cool vibe there. So I was trying to move out there and get into games, but wasn't really having a lot of luck. Applied for the job here in Redmond. I applied for that. They just happened to be looking for somebody who had my exact qualifications, but I just had no industry experience and like being on the outside, you don't like to realize how important that is to a lot of people who are trying to hire in the industry. And now I see why it took so long and so hard to get into. I'm grateful that they took a chance on me because I had some skills that they needed. The person who was going to be my boss at the time was a huge hockey fan. And so we connected on that level and talked about a bunch in my interview.
Once I got there, it took me a little bit to find my footing, but then they were super supportive and welcoming and gave me the opportunity to grow and learn a bunch about different parts of the industry. Like I broke in and as an IT administrator, that was what my career background was like at the time, over 10 years, 10, 15 years as an IT administrator. That's where I started in the industry and did a lot of work in that for the last 10 years, and they let me branch out from that and contribute in other ways, as like a QA tester - running their like websites and social media presence, learned about being a producer. That's also how I got connected to the communities, and was going to like PAX to talk to the media and stuff about our games. And my manager at the time introduced me to people at the Indie makeup booths and that's where I discovered those were the people that I identified with and connected with and wanted to be closer to.
Lizzie Mintus: Kelly Wallach's company, right?
Tim Cullings: Yeah. I just got lucky that my first manager in the industry was Kim Swift, who was one of the people who created Portal. I didn't really know who she was at the time when I first interviewed, which was probably for the best, because I would have been unreal nervous. But just getting to work with her and on her team was like super fortunate. She really just welcomed me no matter what my background was professionally and let me contribute to the team and taught me a lot of what I know about the industry. I've been just super grateful for her and what she enabled me to do being the constant like nudge in my career when I need it.
It's like I was working at Oculus still in 2019 and I got with her at GDC and we were talking about all the community stuff that I do like on the side. And she was like, you need to be getting paid for this. You should be doing this professionally. That was when I took it a little more seriously and a year later, I was working at Global Game Jam as the director of operations.
Lizzie Mintus: Tell me about your transition from Oculus to Global Game Jam. Where was the organization when you came in and where has it grown to today?
Tim Cullings: I was coming in and taking over for my friend, Joe Summers, who was the executive producer. I worked under her as a regional organizer at Global Game Jam.
And then was on the executive committee, which she was the leader of. And she received an offer from Unity, where she is now. Back in mid -2020 and recommended that I take her role as director of ops and it just lined up because my contracted Oculus was coming to an end at that point.
So I had like a week in between and stepped in to Global Game Jam in late October of 2020, which times were fairly tumultuous at that point. We were a little over two, three months away from launching the first -ever, fully online version of global game jam because up to that point, it had always been an only in person event and it was very much a part of the ethos of the organization and the events to bring people together in person to meet and form community and have bonds that way. We would make exceptions for certain people to be able to jam remotely, but, typically we would require people to be in person. A large percentage of our organizers who are all volunteers around the world have never run an online gleam jam or virtual game jam and I had done like one or two prior to that point. So I wouldn't say I was an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I had a little bit of experience, so we had to quickly pivot, rewrite all of our documentation, come up with a whole new process and strategy for how we were going to have people host their jams virtually because there was even a question of if we would even do it that year, because we weren't sure if people wanted it, but we heard enough feedback from the community that people did still want to do it and try to do it virtually. I had to pretty much hit the ground running from late October to the end of January when we finally had the events. I don't know too many other people that could have built it off of the way that we did. Not to toot my own horn too much, but I just kind of had the right combination of years of experience working with GGJ as a volunteer and understanding how the event works and then understanding virtual events a little bit and having run a ton of game games.
Lizzie Mintus: That's quite the pivot. So you started doing everything online. And from that, how did the organization evolve? Is that still primarily how you run things or do you have in person and virtual?
Tim Cullings: Yeah. So in 2022, we allowed people to start meeting in person again. And we had about 33% or so, our sites in person. Unfortunately, the Omicron outbreak happened exactly two weeks before when the jam was going to happen. So a lot of people had to pivot at the last second and go back to virtual only. That had a slight impact on our participation numbers. But, this past year we were back up to about 50%, in person. And saw like a huge game from 33,000 people last 2022 to 40,000 in 2023. And jumped up to 800 sites. We're things have evolved into where online participation is something that we're going to continue to allow and encourage going forward, mostly for accessibility reasons. People who can't get out of their house for whatever reason, don't live near the site. People who are audio folks who have a whole audio studio built in their house can't exactly move that easily. So we know that lets them participate easier. We just heard from a lot of people, it's allowed them to work with people that have moved away that they used to jam with or siblings that live on different sides of the world get to jam together. I mean people have opinions about it in relation to our event. The event exists to increase accessibility for people to try to make games. So it's part of our mission to do that. And we've started doing some other virtual gyms. We call partner gyms, where we team up with a company or organization that wants to connect with our community- to have them either test out a new technology and give feedback in a game jam setting or make games about a cause that's important to us. Like mental health awareness or cultural heritage preservation.
Climate science is another one that we recently did. Climate change related issues is another topic that we've done jams on. And those tend to be longer, like there were the in person versions of 48 -hour events that usually happen over a weekend.
The virtual events tend to be like two to three weeks and give people more time to work at their own pace and participate that way.
Lizzie Mintus: That's incredible. You're doing a lot for the industry. I'm curious about the biggest success story that's come out of Global Game Jam. I'm sure there are so many, but what is, what are your top?
Tim Cullings: Yeah, that's a question I get a lot. There's been a lot of them over the years. Probably the most notable game that came directly out of Global Game Jam was Surgeon Simulator. That was a while ago. But every year there's at least one or there's at least a small percentage of the games that go on to be turned into full products. The main success that we have is people meeting each other and deciding they like working together and starting their own studios. Or helping a friend to find, get a job at their studio that they're working at. Basically every conference that I attend these days, I meet at least one or two people, if not more that tell me that Global Game Jam was how they got into the industry. They went to the events and they met people there that helped them eventually get a job in the industry. And that's how they made it to, or at least got their start and where they are.
Lizzie Mintus: There's probably some marriages too. You're just connecting so many people.
Tim Cullings: Yeah, there definitely are. I can't think of any specific ones, but I definitely remember over the years hearing about that and people who, you know, there's babies now that were born from partnerships that formed at GGJ. This will be our 15th year. So pretty soon there'll be like a generation coming up and participating in our events from people from the parents.
Lizzie Mintus: That's special. Where do you think that Global Game Jam is headed? Can you talk to us about the future direction of the organization?
Tim Cullings: Yeah, we have a lot of ideas that we're working on now. We have our director of partnerships, Charlie. Harvard is based in the UK and Scotland. And she's been going to a lot of conferences with all the different people and talking about different jam ideas and programs that we're trying to get implemented.
There's a lot of interest in the cultural heritage type of events that we've been putting on. The first one we did was with the State Department and their community Cultural Antiquities Task Force, the United States State Department. We did a whole jam about protecting cultural antiquities and stopping theft and trafficking and that brought in people from over 70 countries. We just learned a lot of interesting things about different cultures that I wouldn't otherwise know about. We're talking to local governments and tourism boards to create events and jams where people will make games about the local culture and their cultural heritage, and those will be used to promote the Area by the tourism board and also promote the games industry that's in that area that's growing. So that's one of the big initiatives that we're working on now. Growing our other event, which is this main event, which is a global game jam next, which is focused on young creators from ages 12 to 17. There's a full curriculum that people can engage with and teach their students how to make games. In all sorts of different engines and tools, and we ran that this year for the first time we ran that alongside our main events, Global Game Jam. And that will be how we'll do things moving forward. We're looking to grow those events and make educators more aware that it's an option and something they can get involved with and give their students an opportunity to learn to make games and potentially find careers in that industry at some point, or send them on like a STEM path to Engineering or something like that. So those are kind of the main 2 growth areas that we're working on. We're also talking with multiple other partners about some really exciting jam opportunities that will be coming up next year. Then just trying to keep growing the main events back to the pre -pandemic numbers that we had, which in 2020 like right before things shut down, we had almost 50,000 people participate. So trying to grow things back to that level and beyond is something that we're also working on. Just looking at ways we can give people chances to have more opportunity to show their works to the public and get feedback on it from industry professionals. There's a lot we're trying to do. There's only three and a half of us that work here, the rest are all volunteers.
Lizzie Mintus: You are busy. And tell me about the mentorship program. How can people get involved who might want to mentor in Global Game Jam?
Tim Cullings: That's still a work in progress. I have some ideas on how that's going to work, but we haven't really rolled that out yet. We're in the process of getting our new website ready to launch. And hopefully some of that's going to include an option for people to be like game reviewers or game mentors and not have to dedicate like a full weekend of their time. Something we get a lot of feedback on our jammer survey every year is they want a way to get feedback on their games and with 7,600 games, it's impossible for the four of us to go through all those in any kind of meaningful way. So I'm hoping to distribute that work and give people the opportunity.
Currently at Seattle Indies, we have a mentorship program that's been going for a little over a year now. Every six months we open up the registrations again. I'll post up like a Google form in our discord and people could sign up to be mentors and mentees. And then we go through a matchmaking process where we prioritized people from marginalized communities or backgrounds and matched them up with mentors. That's been going really great. We have over 150 people, I think maybe matches right now. I can't remember the exact number, but over 100 matches and they meet at least once a quarter, I believe. And the feedback has been great so far. People have already moved on in their careers and found the courage to get jobs or go back to school or just continue on and stay motivated. So, yeah, that's been.
Lizzie Mintus: Everybody needs a mentor. I'm sure you have people you can call to that you mentioned and say, Hey, I have this problem. Will you talk me through it? But that's truly invaluable. And is that just for Seattle specifically? Do you need to be in Seattle to be in that program?
Tim Cullings: No. People outside of Seattle are welcome to apply. We tend to prioritize local people. We have some folks who are in the program that are not from Seattle and they just meet on zoom remotely once and that's fine.
Lizzie Mintus: Is Seattle Indies part of a larger organization or it's just Seattle or Puget sound.
Tim Cullings: Yeah, we're just local. There are a lot of other similar groups around the country in the world that we're friends with and partner with. There's like pig squad in Portland and there's a group in Vancouver and a group in San Francisco. We have friends in Pittsburgh that we do a GDC event with every year that we do a roundtable for people who organize communities like Seattle Envies or BitBridge is the one in Pittsburgh. We bring all those folks together to talk about what their concerns are or just get advice from those of us who've been doing it for a long time. We always get some really veteran people coming to that event to not only ask questions, but to help answer questions that we don't have to ask. They just show up every year and provide and say, so it's a great time and we have a not very active discord, but that's like a way that we connect those folks and keep them in touch. As I travel to different conventions and communities, I try to connect with those folks who are doing the same types of things in those areas and talk to them about what their communities are like, and give them advice based on my experience.
Lizzie Mintus: I'm glad you have that group. I have that group too. I have a recruiting group and we talk and people that are on the same page as you are incredibly helpful, but in a parallel.
Tim Cullings: Yeah. And then separately, I have an executive directors and games support group that we started in the last year. So folks who are in the nonprofit space and games, which is a very small and select group, give each other support and advice and feedback on things and figuring out ways we can work together.
Lizzie Mintus: Tell me more about that. Do you meet monthly? I love that it's called a support group. I'm in a CEO support group too, and we go over our biggest issues and things that we're stuck on and all brainstormed together. And I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am today without that.
Tim Cullings: Yeah, we try to meet monthly. It's kind of informal. It's just a few notable folks from the industry that I've known for a long time and that I've been doing it longer than I have a lot of great insights and are just like, keep my head up and positive. It's just good to feel like I'm not doing this by myself because other people are going through similar experiences.
Lizzie Mintus: Absolutely. And my group for a while, we had to say, what was the most messed up thought that crossed your mind that month? I need to read it. And everyone would say, I've definitely had that thought too. Yeah, same page and then you think, hey, I'm not alone and everyone's dealing with the same issues. Highly recommend that question, very entertaining answers. Tell me, so you said that Seattle Indies really helped you land at Oculus, right?
Tim Cullings: To a certain extent. I mean, it was more like just making me feel like I was still connected because it took me a year to go from Airtight to Oculus. So there were a lot of places I applied to in between. It was good to feel connected to people that are in the industry in some way and just have those like people to talk to, to get advice from as I was like going through different interviews and just not getting too down about the whole thing. In the end, I ended up mostly getting in there because the guy who was the audio director at the last company I was at ended up being the audio director at Oculus. So he gave me a recommendation there when they really needed somebody who had the skills that I had to be able to support the growing content team at our Seattle office. That was mostly how I was able to learn.
Lizzie Mintus: I don't remember the stat, but I feel like most people find jobs from knowing somebody or knowing somebody that knows somebody opposed to just applying online, especially these days where there are so many applicants every day. I love that. How big was the studio? It's pretty early Oculus days, right?
Tim Cullings: Yeah, when I started, there were probably less than 100 people between the three offices we had at the time, which like the content team was in the Facebook, old Facebook office downtown on Minor Ave. And then we had the hardware team that was spinning up, that was formerly Carbon Games that Facebook acquired at the same time that Oculus was acquired. And they were like our industrial design and hardware design team that was in the U district. And there was, and then we had our research department that was spinning up in Redmond, which is now reality labs that only had 20 or so people when I started there and we all ate around the same lunch table. And so that grew. There's a couple thousand people that were working there.
Lizzie Mintus: What was it like to experience that growth and just see the company of all throughout your years there?
Tim Cullings: It was pretty intense. They hired me to do IT Support again there because they had no local people. Other people were based at the headquarters down in California and the Facebook IT folks were all Mac -based. Like everybody that worked at Facebook worked on MEX and the games people were all working on PCs. The experience that I brought with me from Airtight of supporting game teams working in a PC environment. I was mainly for the first two plus years, just constantly setting up new computers for people that were getting hired just because it was like explosive growth and just like building desks and putting monitors on desks and making sure everybody had all the software that they needed to be able to do their jobs and building out the whole help desk support infrastructure that we had here locally, to be able to support everyone and have all the gear on hand that people might need, to fix any problems they had and help build tools for the developers. Like after a couple of years, I've pivoted more into a systems admin and engineering role where I was building more of the backend tools instead of doing direct user support. Constantly we're growing and building more and more to support more and more people. For a while it was just myself and two other people who are like the entire infrastructure team for all of Oculus and we were just like pretty slammed for a couple years in that role until they started growing that team more and realizing they needed more help and more support. I think when I left there were at least 10 people on the team. But I had mainly been doing it myself for a while. It was mainly just the amount of people over there. There were 300 people across all of August when I started and in the thousands by the time I left. So it was like the culture certainly changed. In the early days you could know pretty much everybody and have a lot of say in things. It was a very tight -knit group. But we also had to burn ourselves out pretty badly to do what we were able to do with shipping products and so definitely having more people and more support was necessary to get the company to where it is today.
Lizzie Mintus: That is a wild ride. And so was Oculus already acquired by Facebook/Meta when you joined?
Tim Cullings: Yeah, I joined about six months after the acquisition, but it was still a pretty like hectic transition time trying to convince the internal Facebook people and why we needed certain things and what our developers needed to build like a game platform and a hardware piece of hardware that was totally different from people who are building a web interface and website, basically in a mobile app, like completely opposite directions.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, what do you think your biggest learning experience was from your Oculus time?
Tim Cullings: In the beginning, it was just being scrappy and getting things done with whatever way we could because we were moving super fast to try to get our product out the door and be the first to market with consumer VR. And a lot of times we're moving faster than what the Facebook infrastructure could support. So we had to just figure out how to get the job done in the best way possible. And that's still what I do a lot with indies because we tend to not have a Facebook style budget.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, even Facebook doesn't have that anymore.
Tim Cullings: Yeah. That was definitely a different experience where you'd ask for one thing and they'd be like, why don't you get 10 of them? Different.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. But at least you had had the small kind of company mentality previously. They feel like it's always a shock to go from. Small to large and just the operation scale, the perks and...
Tim Cullings: for sure. I learned a lot about hardware production, which I've never really been involved with before. And there's a whole different world that goes along with that. Those are super interesting.
Lizzie Mintus: Where do you feel like the industry is headed? What are your insights or analysis from seeing so many games made all the time and your background in the industry?
Tim Cullings: Just like the games industry as a whole?
Lizzie Mintus: Games industry as a whole trends what you think about new hardware coming out especially since you worked at Oculus.
Tim Cullings: Yeah, I mean on the VR side, it's still hard to say. Quest 2 certainly got a decent amount of adoption and consumer interest and so it seems like people are starting to get it and engage with VR at that level more. The Apple product announcement was interesting. We'll see how people respond to that, given the price points. The content that they've announced for it is in my mind, it's more about, is the Apple brand able to move a product like that then about like, do people want that? We'll see how it goes. In terms of the games industry, like you just see it getting more open and diverse. Like it's still not the most diverse industry at the top levels, at least, but on the working ground levels, things are getting better and getting more diverse, and there's more opportunities for more people to be involved and be developers and have a say, lend their voice to the stories that are being created and the experiences. Which hopefully will make things more interesting and give people more options when they're with the games that they want to play. We're kind of in a contraction phase a bit in the industry right now. There was like the huge boom during COVID where people were just hiring like crazy and stuff, and a few different factors have contributed to why things are going the way they are with the whole crypto craze didn't pan out the way people thought it might. Even though I still see a lot of companies getting funding to make Web3 games. It's hard to have a real good sense of how things are going to turn out there. And then AI is the new buzzword that people are gravitating towards. And people have a lot of feelings about that one way or the other.
Lizzie Mintus: Yes. Both Web3 and AI, very polarizing topics.
Tim Cullings: Incredibly. I see AI being useful in certain aspects and helpful in optimizing workflows. It's already implemented in a lot of places. It's just becoming more mainstream now and more accessible to anyone to really get their hands on it for better or worse. I just hope people like to use it in a way that's sensible and adds to what the industry's trying to do, rather than just gravitate towards it because the money is going in that direction. And it seems like it's the hot thing and everybody wants it.
Lizzie Mintus: It's definitely a buzzword and in recruiting people always tell you, Oh, I want to work on whatever the buzzword is generally. But I haven't heard a lot of people really desire to work for a company that's using a ton of AI.
Tim Cullings: Yeah. Unity is making a pretty hard push for it. So we'll see what happens in that regard. Cloud gaming is kind of like the big space that people are trying to make. At least the big players are trying to make their mark in. That's where I see things getting more robust and available in the next few years.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, big studios are spending so much on games. The budgets are wild, but then there are also these indie games that are runaway hits and doing so well. They're not polished or anywhere near the level, but just as popular sometimes.
Tim Cullings: Yeah, there's a lot more opportunities for people to get their games out in front of people. You don't just have to go to every game expo in the world and you can get things on streaming platforms and find somebody who is into your game there and boost it that way.
It's still like a battle for indies to find their players and find your audience and have that breakthrough hit. But it's more attainable than it ever has been.
Lizzie Mintus: What do you think the recipe for an indie breakthrough hit is? Question of the day.
Tim Cullings: I don't necessarily know that there is one. Just sometimes you get lucky and hit the right trend if you just find a niche that people are looking for a game that fits. Or people spend years of their lives working on these indies. If it's just them or a really small team or it's like a hobby project on the side while they're doing a full -time job... it's hard to say like you start a game and then release it six to eight years later and who knows what the industry looks like. The entire industry changed two or three times over in the amount of time.
A lot of times it can just be a stroke of luck, a lot of it is building your own personal brand as a developer, getting out there and meeting other developers, making a name for yourself, and finding your artistic voice through your games and building an audience that likes that. And you can be lucky and get a hit right out of the gate, but other people just work their way into it and just are consistent about the games that they produce and serve their audience that are looking for those types of games. But I would say as an indie, it's hard to chase trends. Like, you'll just always be behind if you're trying to go that direction.
Lizzie Mintus: Maybe that's a metaphor for life though, right? You should do what you want to do and what makes you happy in the game that you honor, the life that you want, and not worry about really what's trending. I feel like authenticity is key and passion.
Tim Cullings: Absolutely.
Lizzie Mintus: People see through the trends or they don't. I have one final question for you. Who has been your biggest mentor throughout your career and what was the best advice that they gave you?
Tim Cullings: I've had a lot of different people that I've looked to for advice. Um, that's a good question. I don't know if I have one specific person. Early in my career, it was definitely Kim, who was my manager and team lead at the time. Just her encouragement to not be hung up on what my official role was on the team or on the title. And just be free to contribute as somebody who has a lot of experience in the games, or playing games. Understanding what players want was helpful to make me feel welcome and open in that regard. There's a lot of people who've given me a lot of good advice along the way. I don't know that I've always listened, but it's always helpful to have people that you can lean on and have that support network because it's definitely not an easy industry to be in. Things are always changing and sometimes it's good and sometimes it's great and other times it's not so great. Getting into social media trouble can be a thing that could happen. That happened to us a couple years ago at Global Game Jam with a certain sponsor that we had that was web3 based and people were pretty upset about that. And just having Kate Edwards, who was my bot manager at the time, the executive director, had been through issues like that and she just had a very calm demeanor about it. This is a thing that might happen sometime and you just have to ride it out. What's more is how we should respond to things and all. So, yeah, those types of things were helpful in my career.
Lizzie Mintus: What's the answer there? People are really upset, just. Just accept them, them being upset, validate their feelings. I feel like everything goes back to having a kid. Like, I see you're upset. I mean, it's kind of the same, but is that sort of the take on it? Acknowledge it?
Tim Cullings: Yeah, it was more validate it, and treat it as an opportunity to have a conversation. Rather than just trying to be right, you know? Things kind of boiled up on Twitter, and it was not really a place to have a discussion. So we invited people to our Discord, and just had a longer discussion with more in depth there rather than just shouting at each other on social media. That was helpful and brought things to a better conclusion.
Lizzie Mintus: Being open to feedback is huge and saying that you're willing to have the conversation.
Tim Cullings: Yeah, just things that stick with me are just like staying humble and being open to feedback. You never like to always just listen to people like you never know. Who the person you're talking to today is going to turn out to be in the next three to five years in the industry or in your career and how they might have an impact. So always be respectful to people that you interact with in the industry and that'll help you get further.
Lizzie Mintus: Everyone will always circle back with you, you'll find them again, somehow, some way later in time. And it sounds like Kim taught you to be T -shaped, which is from Valve, right? If people want to hear more about Seattle Indies or the Global Game Jam, how should they get in touch with you or get in touch with the organization?
Tim Cullings: You can find our website, globalgamejam.org, which has all of the information about how to connect with us, and seattleindies.org. Similarly, has all of our information.
Lizzie Mintus: Thanks so much, Tim.
Tim Cullings: Yeah, thank you.
Thanks so much for listening to the show this week. To catch all the latest from Here's Waldo, you can follow us on LinkedIn. Be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes. We'll see you next time.
Share this story