Connections and Confidence: Nick Decker’s Journey to the Afterlife


Nick Decker’s passion has always been video game development, but a problematic computer science program and an interest in geology nudged him towards an alternate career path. After three years working for an oil company in Alaska, though, Decker felt the effects of the industry downturn and was laid off.

Luckily, Decker thrives under pressure. Now developing under the moniker Split Hare Games, he is close to releasing his first PC feature, Polter Pals. The game, which challenges players to make friends in the afterlife, was inspired by the constraints of a Game Jam competition.

Although it isn’t typical, Decker’s story is valuable for creative entrepreneurs. Building contacts and confidence are keys to succeeding in the competitive world of game development.

Turning a Layoff Into an Opportunity

Being laid off gave Decker the opportunity to switch careers and begin video game development in earnest. “It felt like the right time to make that jump,” he says. “There are a lot more tools now that make video game design accessible for people to learn on their own.”

Tools like Unreal Engine (which powers Fortnite) make designing a virtual world possible for anyone with a computer. And with several learning and support resources available for free online, video game development isn’t limited to a privileged few.

Unleashing Your Product

Unsure how his innovative concept would be received, Decker submitted a demo to Epic Games — the makers of Fortnite — to gauge interest. Epic offers a grant to indie game developers using their Unreal Engine. “I applied for the grant to see if Epic would consider Polter Pals a viable game,” Decker says.

Exposing creativity can feel vulnerable, but it’s critical for growth. Although he reined in his expectations, Decker knew it was important to share his demo. He strongly encourages creatives to create and share prototypes of their work. “Most people wouldn’t understand Polter Pals based solely on the elevator pitch,” he says. “A lot of the charm is in seeing what’s going on.”

This tactic was validated when, after months of silence, Decker received word that Epic Games was awarding him a $25,000 grant.

Leveraging the Early Success

Decker recognizes the role connections play in his success. With the help of the Tech Park, Decker was able to attend PAX, a national videogame conference. While networking with the biggest names in games, Decker reconnected with Epic.

“I’m in talks with Epic about cross-promoting my trailers and hosting live demos through their channels,” he says. One day Decker hopes to see his game in Epic’s exclusive storefront.

Polter Pals will launch this year, and because of Epic and the relationships he has built at the Tech Park, Decker feels like he is set up for success. But it wouldn’t have happened without putting himself out there. “You need some amount of confidence in yourself before anybody else is going to put confidence in you,” he says.

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