VGU.TV talks to Co-Founder of Greenfly Studios, Stephen Morris, for a look behind the curtain of UK indie games development.
With the recent closure of industry giant, THQ, to studio closures such as 38 Studios and the UK’s own Studio Liverpool it is clear that the economic downturn has taken its toll on the video game industry. That said, the UK currently has the third largest video game industry in the world with a thriving community of indie game developers.
One such indie developer is Derbyshire based Greenfly Studios, founded in 2011. The studio’s first title was Ski Solitaire which unfortunately slipped under the radar however their luck changed in April 2012 when the game made it to Apple’s ‘New & Noteworthy’ and ‘What’s Hot’ for Cards section. It also received welcome praise and publicity when it featured as Eurogamer’s App of the Day.
We asked Technical Director and Co-Founder of Greenfly Studios, Stephen Morris, on whether he thought the current economy has had a significant impact on UK independent game developers:
“It’s an interesting question, primarily because you can separate indie developers into two separate classes: hobbyists & full-time. The hobbyists (those who dedicate evenings and weekends) still have their back-up jobs to fund development. It’s the full-time demographic that will see the greatest change.
On the plus side, the current economic impact is causing a greater focus on smaller, more dynamic teams. Closure of the bigger studios tends to see an increase of the indie presence in the area and across the UK.
The harsh reality is that for the smaller indie studios (both micro- and individuals), an established network of clients is key. It is becoming increasingly difficult to source potential Work-For-Hire (WFH) projects that are necessary to fund games currently in progress.”
With the proliferation of smartphones a wider and more ‘casual’ audience has emerged. With the help of the low barrier of entry to the platform this new audience has initiated what is essentially a digital gold rush. The app store is full of entrepreneurs hoping that their app becomes the next Angry Birds, not to mention the cynical apps that outright copy successful titles for a quick buck. For an indie developer without a large marketing budget it can be a difficult to stand out from the crowd. Talking from experience Mr Morris tells us of the uphill struggle when trying to ensure your app is successful:
“This is a constant problem and something we struggled with for our very first release Ski Solitaire in November 2011. Although we began promoting it a couple of weeks prior to release, Ski Solitaire was buried due to a combination of bad luck (Apple backdated the release) and not establishing enough connections with journalists.
After building up these relationships, we re-released Ski Solitaire in April 2012 and it was a great success. It really underlined the importance of regularly promoting and talking about your game.
Looking forward to our release for ‘Drop That Candy’, we are heavily invested in cultivating our relationships to make sure that we are noticed by both press and the gaming public. Granted, it still requires an excellent game and we have set high standards but that is no guarantee – we’ve seen great games go under the radar simply because they haven’t managed to promote themselves enough.”
Greenfly Studios’ current project Drop That Candy, a game for iOS devices and PC/Mac, is expected to release this summer. We asked about the unexpected costs that the gaming community generally don’t consider during the development of indie games:
“Drop That Candy has much higher production values than previous titles but we’ve been exceptionally careful with our spending to make sure we don’t go over-budget. I think the surprise to us was travel costs! Although a lot of communication today is digital based, there is nothing that quite beats talking to people face-to-face. This has meant a lot of travel but it has opened a lot of doors we wouldn’t have otherwise known about.
Rami from Vlambeer talked about the importance of attending both developer and public facing events – this is something we have been experiencing a lot more first hand. With us being based in the North West of England, it has meant regular trips to Liverpool, Birmingham, Nottingham, Brighton, and London to attend important events and meeting people. The next step is Europe and, of course, the US for GDC, Indiecade and PAX – all important events.”
The Independent Games Developers Association, a union in the UK which represents the video game industry, successfully lobbied for the reintroduction of a tax relief for the video game industry. The tax relief is expected to be re-introduced by Chancellor George Osborne in the coming months. We asked Mr Morris whether his studio would be able to benefit from this:
“We certainly will be applying for the tax relief and is a welcome nod to the games industry. We’re currently working alongside UKIE (The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment) to explore how the tax relief can be best utilized to help the indie sector.”
The indie scene has grown dramatically since the rise in popularity of the smartphone but the PC still houses a formidable amount of indie developers, many of which started creating mods for existing games such as the Half Life series. The question though is which of these platforms holds the favor of indie developers.
“This is an interesting one and is highly dependent on which audience you’re looking for. We’re seeing great strides by Sony (Shahid Kamal has been a fantastic ambassador) and talking to fellow indie devs, SCEE (Sony Computer Entertainment of Europe) have been fantastic to work with. We’re expanding into both Sony and Nintendo development and they have both been incredibly patient and helpful.
Mr Morrison leaves us with a piece of sage advice for those intending to become a part of the gaming industry:
“The best tip I could give is to network. It still very much “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” The games industry is incredibly friendly and vocal so they are more than happy to give advice and praise your game if you come across as a lovely person with a perspective to share.”