Friday, March 22, 2013

Interview: Australia's newcomers Loveshack Entertainment; bringing experience to a startup

Joshua Boggs
If I was to mention that developers behind the following games: SPY mouse, The Movies, Populous, Theme Hospital, Syndicate Wars (as in, the Bullfrog one), Rolling with Katamari and Real Racing 2 and 3, had come together to start a new studio, you'd be pretty excited about the potential, right?

That's exactly what Australia's Loveshack Entertainment is. The minds of Adrian Moore, Joshua Boggs and Ollie Browne have come together to bring their collective experience to kick off a new development company. The company has announced its first project, Framed (see below for the first proof-of-concept video), and is well into development on what has shot right up to one of our most anticipated mobile game projects this year.

The team's experience has helped to land it some Government funding, which has allowed them to focus on making the game, rather than chasing down investors through Kickstarter and the like. They've sat down to talk to us about getting the studio off the ground, where Framed came from, and what we can expect from the team in the future.

This is a new Aussie developer well worth keeping an eye on.

Digitally Downloaded (DD): What are your priorities for the next year?
Adrian Moore (AM): Our focus is on Framed. We want the game to realise its full potential, be everything it can be. So, apart from the obvious things involved with running a company we're really spending all our time and energy creating Framed.



DD: What inspired you to set up your own development team?
Joshua Boggs (JB): We wanted to get back to the core of what it meant to make games. Where the foremost concern for the game is its soul - how it feels and plays, without forcing a particular business model on it.

Ollie Browne
DD: You've got a wealth of experience between you - what help will that be with getting your first project off the ground and running?
Ollie Browne (OB): Of course, at the very least you can say you worked on such and such and it makes it easier for people to take you seriously. But we're not gurus by any means and there's always so much more to learn. We're having to skill up in areas that were outside of our direct areas of knowledge, as well as take our overall scheduling and budgeting and business stuff very seriously. But, given we make games, we can make all that boring stuff fun too. Our next game is going to be a side-scrolling budget-breakdown MMO called Cash Flow (not really).

DD: How are you funding yourselves in the early stages and what kind of business model are you aiming for in the medium term?
OB: At this stage, we're funding ourselves via an investment from Film Victoria and a grant from Screen Australia, as well as some in-kind contributions, but in the longer term, we'll have to consider some other options (or sell some games!). We'd like to continue to make standalone games that don't nag for In-app Purchases (IAPs) (though we're not against that model if it's done right). We're open to anything, but a standalone, premium game experience is king for us.

DD: Your first game, Framed, seems like an interesting idea. How did it come about?
JB: The concept from Framed came from the idea that context that an event happens in is more important and interesting than the action that takes place in that event. It's easy to throw a lot of options and actions at a player, so we wanted to subvert that by giving the player the power to change the context of their actions.

DD: In the longer term, what kinds of games will you be developing?
JB: We want to continue to push ourselves creatively, so it's hard to answer that question in a concrete way. The best response I feel is the games we design strive to instil a sense of wonder in the player, and keep you thinking about them when you walk away.

Adrian Moore
DD: Australia is a challenging market for game developers. Where do you see the greatest opportunities?
OB: The greatest opportunities Australia has is that it has somewhat labyrinthine, but very generous funding platforms. We're lucky to have a forward thinking culture that takes interactive entertainment seriously and government bodies that back that up. Aside from that, there's a lot of talent here and people across the development scene are very supportive of new endeavours and ideas, and are quick to offer comment, help out, or just have a beer and talk about games.

JB: While digital distribution has helped greatly lower the bar in breaking in to the marketplace, the biggest problem is discoverability. Therefore, the best investment you can make is standing out from the crowd.

DD: The games industry is splintering with more and more development platforms appearing on the market. How is a small development team going to be able to select the ideal platforms to work on?
AM: Currently we're targeting the platforms that have a strong audience and also really suit our first game Framed. PC/Mac, tablets and phones.

JB: I don't necessarily think small is bad. Quite the opposite. It allows us to focus on the most important platforms, and aspects of development. So in that respect, we're making smart decisions and approaching Framed as multi-platform game, and taking advantage of the tools available to developers today to lighten the platform-specific load.

DD: How do you see the games industry evolving into the future?
AM: I have no idea what will actually happen but I am hoping that more and more independent game developers find their own successes on their own terms. Personally I'm not a fan of large companies designing games with a cynical cash-grab mentality ('not really free to play' for example). Players are not fools and they can smell that a mile away. I am hoping the honourable, truly creative game experiences succeed and force the big guys to pay more respect to both the teams that create the work for them, and their gaming audiences.

DD: Finally, what games are you playing at the moment?
AM: I'm actually too busy right now to be playing any games but actually I am very much looking forward to digging out my SNES and playing Mario Kart with a buddy. We've been reminiscing about that one for a while and when some free time makes itself known, that's what I'll be doing.

OB: I have four on the go: X-Com, Ni No Kuni, Might and Magic Clash of Heroes and Battle of the Bulge. I haven't played through much of any of them, haha.

JB: Kentucky Route Zero, FTL, and I just finished Telltale's The Walking Dead
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