In January 2011, British games developer Bizarre Creations was closed by Activision. Looking through the games that Bizarre were responsible for, it’s no surprise that many fans were hugely disappointed to see its closure. Racing titles such as the Project Gotham Racing series were seen by many as the pinnacle of racing games, with similar successes coming from the retro shooter Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and the cartoony Fur Fighters. Unfortunately, despite the release of arcade racer Blur and James Bond 007: Blood Stone in 2010, it wasn’t enough and Bizarre Creations was dissolved.
What happened next, though? And why am I talking about console games on 148Apps? Because a number of new gaming studios rose from Bizarre’s flames, many of them iOS focused. Recently, I got the chance to see how things are progressing for a few of them.
One of the first to reach the iOS market was Grubby Hands, a one-man studio founded by company director Dr Danny Pearce, the firm released their first title, David Haye’s Knockout in June 2011, immediately topping the charts. A new release emerged in December 2011 with Boy Loves Girl, which garnered similar success. How has Danny found going it alone, however, and why did he consider setting up his own firm?
“At the time that Grubby Hands was founded in 2011, the AAA console market was a volatile place…After Bizarre Creations closed, I was cautious about joining somewhere that may suffer the same unfortunate fate,” Danny explained to us. Much of the temptation also came from the “exciting new market” of the App Store. “Apple had created a suite of cool gadgets over the past few years, and I was itching to start making games for them. Now seemed the perfect time to launch a studio with a new mobile focus.”
Going it alone proved quite beneficial for Danny. He could finally “get [his] hands dirty with design, art, code, sound and music” rather than be forced to specialize. A “fast development cycle” also appealed, although “strict budget” constraints proved tough.
Martin Linklater of Curly Rocket and Curly Square fame, had similar thoughts on the matter. Having been in the AAA game development industry for 18 years, Martin felt that now was an ideal time to go it alone: “It feels like a golden era is upon us again where ‘bedroom coders’ can compete with the large publishers on an even playing field,” he explained, “The AAA console games industry is going through a really tough time at present…Pretty much the only place where we’re seeing real growth is in mobile gaming on iOS and Android. It’s an amazingly exciting place to be right now because developers are still discovering new ways to build games for phones and tablets…”
Similarly to Danny, Martin has found that “time is the enemy” as well as “not having the luxury of a guaranteed pay check at the end of the month…” especially with a young family to support. Echoing thoughts of many “…but in many ways I feel more secure now than when I worked for someone else. At least now I know how much money is in the company bank account…When you’re an employee you can walk into the office in the morning and find that you’re out of a job by 10am. Job security in the games industry is an illusion.”
Mark Craig of Muffin Games, best known for Fur Fighters, had similar feelings when it came to creative freedom. and security: “In many ways it feels more secure because we have a lot more control over our destiny and we aren’t at the mercy of a large company who can shut us down at any time.”
That’s a trend that continued when I asked Totem Games’s Matt Cavanagh how he felt about going it alone. The SpaceOff developer explained that “Creatively it’s great [going it alone] – I have complete creative freedom and I still keep in contact with many of my old Bizarre acquaintances which is useful for getting feedback and help with testing.”
Throughout all these interviews, however, one common plight has afflicted the ex Bizarre Creations developers, and that’s getting noticed.
Dr Danny Pearce explains, “There are so many Apps available to download, it can be very difficult to get eyes on your game.” Martin Linklater has also noticed that “The interesting thing with the App Store is that as far as I can tell the only things which make a big difference to sales are word of mouth and being featured by Apple. Press coverage and advertising can give your game a kick in the right direction, but the vast majority of people…don’t read any gaming press at all, and rely purely on friends and the App Store to see what’s out there.” A marked change in how console game development and success fares.
Matt Cavanagh described marketing as their “toughest challenge” with “understanding the App Store is a challenge in itself”, while remaining determined to succeed.
Clearly, the App Store is a very different beast compared to console development. “The iOS market is broader than the console market. I think it’s possible for many niche games to survive…We’re seeing the iOS market maturing rapidly. There is more demand for well designed games now and much less demand for novelty apps,” remarked Dr Danny Pearce, “We’re seeing that traditional console gamers also play iOS games, but they play very different games on their phone than they would on their console. Preferring games that are similar to a tasty snack, rather than a three course meal.”
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Posted in: Blog, Interviews
Tagged with: Bizarre Creations, Boy Loves Girl, Curly Rocket, Curly Square, David Haye's Knockout, Free Quiz, Fur Fighters, Grubby Hands, Hogrocket, interview, Muffin Games, Space Off, Tiny Invaders, Totem Games