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Meet Chris DeLeon of Gamkedo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chris DeLeon.

Chris, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up making freeware games since the late 1990s. It started as something fun to do and share with friends. I didn’t think about it as a business. In the process of making games, I gained experience with programming, making content, and team planning, which proved useful to me in school and work life. I established my company, Gamkedo Club, to help others discover and enjoy those kinds of benefits. Gamkedo Club is a combination of three parts from my background.

In 2004, I co-founded Game Creation Society at Carnegie Mellon. In 2010, I founded another club at Georgia Tech, VGDev. Alumni from the college clubs went on to industry work at a couple dozen game studios. A number of club alumni said their experiences making games in our clubs were a more impactful factor in their job interviews and professional work than what they learned in classes. These two college clubs were, in a way, prototypes for the approach we now use in Gamkedo Club.

Secondly, I established a private online training business for game developers in early 2009. I freely shared materials from that work as the HobbyGameDev blog, with a new article added weekly for five years. I rebooted this company in late 2013 under the name “Gamkedo,” supporting dozens of training clients around the world and providing more than 1,500 hours of one-on-one private training. I created textbooks and video courses based on my Gamkedo training curriculum, now used by more than 175,000 people.

Lastly, I started a free podcast as a way to share stories of connections I made across 15 years of professional game development in AAA games, academia, and independent games. Originally titled “Game Devs Like You,” the objective from the beginning was to feature people in a range of roles, backgrounds, and career stages to increase the odds anyone can find an episode they relate to.

I combined these three parts of my background in 2015 to form Gamkedo Club. It started under the name “LAGameDevs,” a local Los Angeles club based on my prior two college clubs. All members got access to Gamkedo’s private training resources and support calls, so nobody would need prior experience. I changed my podcast to be audio from Gamkedo Club’s guest speaker interviews, involving members as the live audience for questions, in this process rebranding the podcast to Gamkedo Community. Former long-distance clients of Gamkedo’s online training soon became involved remotely to gain team experience. As support for remote involvement improved, even members in Los Angeles found online meetings more convenient. We stopped holding local in-person meetings, switching to operate purely online. No longer only for people in Los Angeles, I renamed LAGameDevs to Gamkedo Club. We’re still proudly based out of LA, often bringing in monthly guest speakers from the Los Angeles game development scene.

As Gamkedo Club continued to grow in the years since, I brought on a Collaborative Mentor-in-Residence, Christer “McFunkypants” Kaitila of OneGameAMonth, Twitch gamedev streamer Starlight Skyes as a weekly meeting host, and independent training specialists to help members with questions about game programming, art, audio, level design, UI design, and careers.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
In a way, Gamkedo Club is the result of continual experimentation I started in 2004, and continues to evolve in the face of new challenges. When we began as a local Los Angeles group, the greater LA area is so enormous that for many members to attend the weekly in-person meeting required an hour or more of driving each way. I hadn’t faced anything like this in the two prior clubs. To ensure they could still participate, we recorded each meeting, managed team progress and schedules online, and collaborated between meetings with internet forums. We made it so smooth to participate well without showing up at meetings, that our live attendance soon dwindled from our initial crowd down to very few attendees – even though productivity was continuing to climb. Many LA members were increasingly choosing to also participate online rather than make the drive.

It felt like we were failing, since attendance was so low. Seeing only a couple people in meeting made it seem like the experiment was over, and that fear made it hard to keep going. However, our mission was and is to help members learn how to make games together, not to put butts in seats. I realized this was a signal of our next step in growth, as we then made the scary but virtually overnight pivot to doing everything online. This opened up participation to members around the globe. We’ve carried on the communal energy from our live meetings into the weekly group video gatherings, to help more people worldwide benefit and interact directly with the creative industry attitudes and network Los Angeles is famous for.

Gamkedo – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from others?
Gamkedo Club is an online training community where game developers gain practical experience building games with teams. Anyone 18 or older can become a member. No prior experience is required.

Although members practice every type of skill involved in game creation, we specialize in technical game design: the overlap between applied programming and decisions about gameplay which are mindful of required production tradeoffs. Our training resources, one-on-one support calls, and team project structure focuses on learning by doing, in real application and team situations, rather than abstract assignments or testing. Participating does not feel like taking a computer science course, but instead like taking part in a hands-on woodshop program.

Learning is entirely project-based, and flexibly self-paced, designed to fit alongside a day job or classes. In addition to members earning their place in credits of multiple released freeware games, we’re proud that every collaborator learns to work remotely, manage their own tasks, and adapt dynamically to hit deadlines even on long-term team schedules. These are skills which will be essential in the future of work for our generation, even outside the digital games industry.

Gamkedo Club teams have released more than 65 games since October 2015. Every project started gets released, and on the release date planned from the day of the pitch. Releasing every game and doing so on time are both rare in the game development community, even among commercial studios.

What were you like growing up?
I was an imaginative nerdy kid. I tended to be off in a corner during recess, playing pretend with one or two friends. We’d make up mutant powers to fight robots and dinosaurs on alien worlds – in hindsight, mostly copying or remixing whatever we saw in cartoons, movies, and games. I started programming in late elementary school. Due to not knowing any mentors or professionals in the field living in my smallish Midwestern home town, and the internet being in less useful shape than what we know it for today, I mostly self-taught from already-then-outdated books, in the process picking up old optimization tricks and approaches from the 1980’s. I continued making 4-5 games every year since.

A common part of my high school experience was friends coming over and playing the latest game I was in the middle of working on, chatting about ideas of what else I might add or change before their next visit. I read in a book about game design that people interested in making action games could benefit from combat sports experience, so spent years doing wrestling, mixed martial arts, and in college dabbled in fencing and boxing. Training approaches and attitudes from my coaches over the years have, in turn, found their back into how I teach team game programming.

Pricing:

  • $59/mo online club membership, includes intro material, team projects, support calls (click “Join” at https://gamkedo.com )

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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