Anya Combs, Games Outreach Lead at Kickstarter, is dedicated to helping game developers reach success and has the knowhow to help this happen. Recently Anya shared some of her insights and background with Gamesauce in an interview that revealed her passion for the game industry and for working with creators.
Gamesauce: Tell us about the tasks you perform at Kickstarter. How did you come to work there?
Anya Combs: I am the Games Outreach Lead at Kickstarter, which means I work with game creators who are interested in running projects on Kickstarter along with creators who currently have live projects.
I started working in games roughly eight years ago at Addicting Games-Nickelodeon in developer relations, mainly focused on licensing, but also produced a bit here and there. When Addicting Games was sold, I shifted my focus from Flash to mobile full-time, working on native apps and mobile browser games, concentrating on the content development side.
Gamesauce: What is your favorite thing about your job?
Anya: Without a doubt it’s working with creators. While I myself have never been interested in making games from a creative standpoint, the process is incredibly fascinating to me. When I work with a creator who has a super unique and fun game idea, it’s the absolute best!
Gamesauce: How have your past career experiences been helpful to you as Games Outreach Lead?
Anya: I think it’s not just working with a wide range of game creators in Flash, online and mobile, but also wearing multiple hats at my previous job that has helped. Shifting from a person who licenses games, to a producer, to a mobile publisher, all in a year and a half was incredibly educational, so being able to see a situation from multiple viewpoints has been invaluable for me.
Gamesauce: What inspired you to pursue this career?
Anya: I’ve always wanted to work with creative people and thought for a very long time I would work at a record label. I tried to do just that back home, but I found it to be miserable, so I accepted a job offer to work in games in 2008 and haven’t looked back since.
Gamesauce: How exactly did you make your start in the game industry? What do you find to be the most fun part of this experience?
Anya: I honestly just fell into it, which is kind of funny as games were banned in our house growing up. I went to music school at a classical conservatory straight out of high school and very casually played games here and there, but mostly focused on music. I wanted to work in A&R for a record label, but the music industry crumbled the year I left school, so I found myself pretty lost, needing to try something different. I applied for a job at Addicting Games doing basically A&R for Flash games, and just kind of fell in love with it. I have been incredibly lucky to work with some awesome people, so I’m very thankful and happy to be where I am in my career.
Gamesauce: What are some of the challenges you have faced in your current position? How have you overcome these challenges?
Anya: I think time management can be pretty tricky as there is a total of two of us on the games team at Kickstarter. I hate having unopened emails in my inbox (the people who can sit with 100 unopened emails baffle me! Teach me your ways…) so managing time to respond to emails, take the Skype calls and look at projects can be a little overwhelming. Thankfully Kickstarter is full of creative and kind people who always want to help out!
Gamesauce: What do you do in your free time? What are your hobbies?
Anya: Music is probably my biggest hobby. I’ve played the saxophone for over 20 years and I currently play in three groups in New York City, which is a pretty rewarding creative outlet.
Aside from that, I really enjoy running and practicing yoga. And if I’m not doing any of that, I’m probably catching up on far too many television shows. I’m so excited Mr. Robot is back!
Gamesauce: If you were not in this industry, what would you be doing?
Anya: Hopefully still working with creative types, whether that be music, television, movies, etc. I like representing the creators so they can focus on the cool stuff they are making.
Gamesauce: What was your dream job as a child?
Anya: I was one of those kids that had a different career path every week, so it varied anywhere from working with animals to being a therapist. Once I discovered you could work in music in a variety of ways I was pretty determined to figure out a path for myself in that field.
Gamesauce: What has been your proudest moment during your career so far? What led to that moment happening?
Anya: I wouldn’t say one specific moment, but when I meet creators face to face for the first time, and they are thrilled I helped them in some way, I consider that a proud moment.
Gamesauce: What do you think will be the next big trend in the industry in the next three to five years? How are you incorporating this trend into your future plans?
Anya: With Pokémon Go, I think location-based games are definitely a huge trend we’ll be seeing more of. I’ve also been a pretty big supporter of AR the past couple years, so I wouldn’t be surprised if AR dominates conversations more than VR moving forward.
We’re always talking to creators and keeping our ears to the ground looking for what the next surge of excitement will be in games.
Gamesauce: What is something you have always wanted to talk about in the game industry but were never asked?
Anya: I think the similarity between games and music. My music friends all want to be game developers and my game developer friends want to be musicians. The lifestyle and creative challenges both face are shockingly similar, so I would be super interested to have those two worlds combine a bit more.
Gamesauce: Crowdfunding has become an increasingly popular way of funding the development of a game. Why do you think this is so?
Anya: Kickstarter lets game creators speak directly to the public and say, “This is what I want to make – do you want to be a part of it?” They are allowed a level of creative freedom that isn’t always possible in a traditional publisher model. Kickstarter doesn’t necessarily work for every game creator but allowing people to make their own path for their game in this way provides a bit more freedom.
We’ve seen some top notch games come out of Kickstarter from indie creators, like Omnibus, Volgarr the Viking, and The Banner Saga. Through Kickstarter they showed there was indeed a demand for their game ideas, and publishers took note. We’ve also seen a large number of purely indie titles come from Kickstarter over the past year, including Hyper Light Drifter, Superhot, and everyone’s favorite, Undertale. That’s a pretty rad shift to not only see but be able to participate in.
Gamesauce: How would you say Kickstarter differs from other crowdfunding platforms?
Anya: Kickstarter is the largest crowdfunding platform for games, with a strong community returning again and again to back new tabletop and video games. We’ve had more than $520 million pledged to games and 8,300 projects funded. Luke Crane and I are Kickstarter’s games team and we’re dedicated full-time to the success of our games creators.
Gamesauce: Are there any disadvantages to using a crowdfunding platform compared to more traditional ways of funding a game?
Anya: If you aren’t able to devote the time and resources to running a campaign on Kickstarter, you run the risk of not reaching your funding goal. Some creators would rather focus exclusively on their game and nothing else, which is fine. But we do tell people, if you aren’t able to spend the time generating interest before the campaign, running the campaign, and fulfilling rewards, maybe you aren’t ready to run a Kickstarter project.
Gamesauce: How can a developer make their creation stand out when so many projects of different types are also attempting to use crowdfunding?
Anya: There are so many ways! One of the very best is to start your outreach process early. Let your friends, family, colleagues, your neighbors, etc. know you’re planning to run a project on Kickstarter. Ask for feedback, talk to people. Reach out to YouTubers who focus on games and see if they will play or talk about a demo you have. Line up demos for Twitch streamers or create your own Twitch account to stream throughout the duration of your project. Outreach is really key to running a campaign, so doing it early and doing it often is best.
Gamesauce: Are there mistakes developers often make in using crowdfunding? How can these mistakes be avoided?
Anya: Aside from not doing outreach early, we do see campaigns that launch with an underwhelming project page. It’s important to have a project page full of mages, gifs, and a two to three minute video explaining why you’re coming to Kickstarter and what you’re hoping to do with the pledge goal you’re asking for. We’d love to help you avoid mistakes and put together a great project – reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.