‘Devs Doing It Right’: Carbon Incubator General Manager Catalin Butnariu Brings Indie Game Development in Eastern Europe to the Next Level

Catalin Butnariu

General Manager of Carbon Incubator

What do successful apps and developers have in common? Over the next five weeks we’ll be featuring profiles of successful devs who started with a kernel of an idea, a great team and some help from Samsung, and went on to deliver apps are now being enjoyed by thousands. Hear directly from these devs about their projects, their processes and the things that made the difference between success and failure in our five part series.

To kick-off our ‘Devs Doing It Right’ interview series, we spoke with Catalin Butnariu, the General Manager of Carbon Incubator, a games incubator/accelerator with a mission to grow the games industry in Eastern Europe by helping local independent developers craft beautiful games and build viable businesses.

You’re General Manager at Carbon Incubator, whose mission is to grow the gaming industry in Eastern Europe by helping developers craft their games. Tell us more about it.

Well, independent developers in Eastern Europe have always had a hard time finding funding, marketing, advice and support. There was a discussion between a small group of people from different companies in the area. We wanted to know how we could launch a business that would develop the local indie gaming industry in Romania. And, about six months later, Carbon Incubator was born.

Our mandate is to help developers get their games off the ground by providing services such as mentoring, customer support, publishing support, quality assurance, trade show support, physical working space, equipment, and more. We even offer development grants.

Can you talk a little bit about some of the things you have learned about opening up new markets for games studios and growing an industry from the ground up?

You have to be prepared to do a lot when you’re essentially starting a new industry. Personally, I do a little bit of everything – from finding investors and building the overall game plan to setting up new partnerships, working with teams and getting involved in the daily projects. We’re very much an incubator, and as such, have to take on many different tasks.

We have three full-time employees and a network of collaborators and mentors with industry experience in a wide range of specializations. We’re small, but we’re nimble and we like that. We don’t want to get too big just yet.

What are some of the games you have created?

Last year, we picked up five games in different genres, and plan to find five more in 2017. Our first game was Link Twin. I believe it was the first title ever to launch with the Games for Samsung program (replaced by Galaxy Store Games). Another exciting project is Marble Land, a physics-based VR puzzle game that offers a fun, immersive experience for people with GearVR headsets. We recently released a second game through the Games For Samsung program, called High On Cake. We also have two other mobile titles and a PC game.

What was the biggest technical hurdle you had to overcome when building Link Twin?

One key hurdle we had to clear when building Link Twin was figuring out our tech stack. This needs to be done right at the beginning. Your chosen tech stack can either create or alleviate a lot of problems. Determining your tech stack should ultimately come down to what type of tools and features you want in each part of the game. It’s a decision that you should put a lot of time and thought into. It was a hurdle in our case because we had initially chosen some tools which seemed right at the time, but eventually created a bunch of issues and had to be changed.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for indie game developers in the future?

There’s no magic formula for indie game developers to find success. It always helps to keep your eye on market trends, but the truth is you need to have an interest and expertise in whatever you end up doing. Today, VR and AR are hot topics, but don’t limit yourself to these trends if you don’t have a real interest in them. My advice is to develop games for a platform you’re passionate about and that fits your particular skill set.

As a developer, what new technologies/ trends are you most excited about?

I’m a big fan of eSports and see a lot of room for growth in the industry. But for developers, in general, I believe AR actually has more potential than VR. While it’s obviously great, VR can almost be too immersive because it requires an incredibly focused, dedicated experience. On the other hand, AR expands or adds things to a user’s current context, so it’s easier to use by more people. It offers enhanced interaction without the need for total immersion.

Do you have any words of wisdom for other indie game developers?

Share your ideas. I’m constantly running into developers who don’t want to showcase their games at events because they’re scared someone is going to steal their idea. But anyone can have a good idea. What it’s really about is execution— how is your game to play? Is it actually fun? If you’re an indie game developer, you should be looking to get your ideas out in world as soon as possible. You need that feedback or validation, or otherwise you may waste months or years fine-tuning a game that might not even be that fun to play.

What are your thoughts on the Games for Samsung program?

It has been an awesome experience. When Link Twin was accepted into the program in July 2016, we were all very excited. Being selected by Samsung was validation for our business— we could use it as our company’s calling card.  The Samsung team was also extremely supportive every step of the way. The biggest benefit was in creating visibility for the game after its release. This is gold for any developer. When you’re just starting out, one of the biggest challenges is getting reach for a game, but thanks to Samsung’s promotion we were able to attract those initial users, and Link Twin ended up reaching 200,000 downloads on the Galaxy App store. This was an excellent result for us.

Finally, a question we’re asking all of our ‘Devs Doing it Right’: What features do all great/successful apps have in common?

They have to ultimately appeal to your target audience. This may sound overly simplistic, but the successful games are the ones that are fun to play. I’ve seen a ton of projects from a lot of different indie studios, and while some may have good monetization schemes and/or excellent graphics, their games just aren’t fun to play. At the end of the day, you need to develop something that people enjoy.