Tech Innovators: Megan Fox, CEO Glass Bottom Games
August 13, 2021
There's a bunch of tiny companies, working on their own smaller games, and then when we want to make a larger game, we’ll all kind of Voltron together for that one larger projectThere's a bunch of tiny companies, working on their own smaller games, and then when we want to make a larger game, we’ll all kind of Voltron together for that one larger projectThere's a bunch of tiny companies, working on their own smaller games, and then when we want to make a larger game, we’ll all kind of Voltron together for that one larger projectMegan Fox, founder and CEO of Glass Bottom Games, has a history of putting animals in games. And while cats are the creatures that have made appearances in past projects Megan worked on, for the next feature project at Glass Bottom Games, the future has to be birds.
After seeing a GIF of an actual, real-life skateboarding bird, the game guru had a “lightbulb” moment, and this is how SkateBIRD was born.
Megan’s company, Glass Bottom Games, has a simple but inspiring mission statement: “Make absurdly cozy games about animals doing people things.” If these games sound like an amazing way to pass the time, it’s because they are.
“Absurdly cozy isn’t just weird, but also absurd and unexpected,” says Megan, who admits that mission statement pushes the Glass Bottom Games team in interesting directions.
Before the birds
One doesn’t simply fall into creating their own gaming company, however.
“I taught myself to code when I was like 11, and I was making games when I was 14,” the Seattle-area professional says. She then worked on a few projects with several different companies before settling on the idea of starting something completely new.
“I'm not much for straight lines,” Megan says, “I see that.” She decided on Glass Bottom Games for a company name as a riff on glass ceilings. “We're not at glass ceilings; we’re glass floors. We look up from there,” she explains.
The origins of Glass Bottom Games
The tech company has worked on a number of projects since launching in 2011. One example is Hot Tin Roof, a noir side-scroller where you solve crimes with your cat sidekick Franky (fedora included, of course). There’s also Spartan Fist, a strangely satisfying, first-person puncher game that includes the cast and crew of Hot Tin Roof and takes place in a punk world of vibrant colors.
Jones on Fire is a blocky, vintage-inspired beauty that puts players through the paces as they fight fires alongside – you guessed it: cats – and become the everyday heroes we all want to be.
The themes of Megan’s projects are similar in that they feature animals of all kinds. Each game has its own distinct aesthetic, however, and every button press scratches a kind of itch that gamers yearn to scratch, no matter their level of play.
The games are adorable and accessible, something that’s clearly needed in the market. Adding a tiny, kick-flipping “birb" to the lineup just made sense. And with the larger theme of SkateBIRD built around friendship and music, it’s likely to hit the right note with players of all ages.
To all the kids who want to make games
Society holds game developers and designers up as cultural icons these days, with young gamers often making big plans about what their life would be like as a game creator. Megan has advice for these dreamers.
“If you want to be a game developer, then be a game developer. If you want to make games, then make games. There is no magical knighting process or any such thing,” Megan says. “A game maker is someone who makes games.”
That may seem like simple advice, so where do enthusiasts go to get their start? Megan shares that there are a lot of good tools for it, including Unreal Engine and Unity, with Unity being an easier point of entry. Other options include Roblox and Fortnite, which allow you to mod and dig into the code while also being very beginner-friendly.
Working within these pre-built worlds is often more accessible than trying to build a full game from “hello world” on C or Java. This method also lets you learn over time, and opens up the doors of making your first original game.
“Try to make your first game not be an MMO (massively multiplayer online) Battlefield or Call of Duty thing,” Megan stresses. “Just make Pong. Then make Pong, but prettier, and then maybe two-player Pong locally, and then maybe make Pong where your paddle has a sword.”
By building up slowly toward achievable goals, Megan says you will get the sense of making a whole game instead of a chain of completely unfinished ideas. And what you make doesn’t have to be for sale. You can make it for yourself and for the experience of creating an entire game.
“It’s then that you can call yourself a game developer,” she says.
Achieving work-life balance as a gaming professional
While Megan has demonstrated what it takes to get into the field, what happens when you’re actually at that level? For many in the indie gaming industry, it leads to burnout.
“It's super important to establish work-life boundaries and try to keep a regular schedule,” Megan explains. “It's really hard, but it pays off, and you won't die in a ditch on Sunday, overworked and horribly tired.”
Megan takes weekends off and only works them during occasional crunches, trying to leave at least one weekend day for a personal life.
Create separate spaces
There’s another trick that she credits for achieving balance. Establish a workspace or routine that's just for work, while leaving something just for enjoyment. Since many game industry professionals only have one computer and also play PC games, this approach is antithetical to setting boundaries. It may also contribute to repetitive stress injuries (RSI).
“I became a console gamer so that I had an excuse to get up and go sit on the couch,” Megan says. “It won't work for everyone, but I only game on the couch. I do not use a mouse and keyboard for gaming. I use a gamepad. That created the gap for me.”
What if you aren’t a console gamer or don’t have access to one? You’re not completely out of luck. Megan explains that even those without the extra space or equipment can create the mental space needed to separate work and life.
One tip she recommends is turning your chair 180 degrees and working while facing a different wall than when you game. Or buy a different keyboard, so you have one for your career and one for your hobbies.
Take time away from your screen, too
Ideally, your personal life will include time away from the screen. “A lot of us tend to just turn into people who play games, and we work on games, and the two bleed into each other,” she says. “And then you can't tell if you're having fun, or if you're doing research.”
In addition to adding stress, this will probably affect your game output. Work that looks “really, really boiled down” may be a symptom of not separating personal life from game life. It just doesn’t work.
This is why physical hobbies are crucial, such as walking, biking, or anything that works your body in a different way than at the desk. However, Megan says that anything, including just getting out and window shopping, has incredible benefits.
The future for Glass Bottom Games
Megan is working hard to launch SkateBIRD in Summer 2021, but like most creatives, she’s already planning for what comes next. Assuming this game does well, another bird title is likely to be on the horizon. Just don’t expect it to be SkateBIRD 2.
When talking about why she isn’t excited about a direct sequel, she says, "I only have so many more games. Especially if the games take two years apiece, I don't want to blow that on a game I already made.”
Collaboration between Glass Bottom Games and other indie studios has made SkateBIRD possible, with freelancers and studios, such as Strange Scaffold, joining forces to make sure all of the pieces of the project come together. With this game, like each indie game project, talented individuals and studio teams form one unified group – just for that game. She compares it to the classic cartoon Voltron.
“That’s just kind of how indie works. There's a bunch of tiny companies, working on their own smaller games, and then, when we want to make a larger game, we'll all kind of "Voltron" together for that one game. And then we disperse and go do something else, by ourselves or with other people, making a different Voltron.”
For now, Megan’s Voltron is a bird – definitely a bird.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP Tech@Work. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.
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