Monday, April 1, 2013

Interview: Trickstar Games on taking Cricket globally through games

It's a big year for Cricket. The great Ashes conflict between Australia and England happens this year, in almost back-to-back timeslots - first England and then Australia a few short months later.

This won't mean much to a lot of readers of Digitally Downloaded, but Cricket is a growing sport on the world sphere, with 101 countries now officially playing the sport. It's got a long way to go before it's a truly global sport, but it's getting closer.

Trickstar Games in Australia was responsible for the genuinely entertaining International Cricket 2010. Despite being laboured with a tiny budget compared to the baseball and soccer games, Cricket 2010 offered a really good game of cricket for fans.

Trickstar is back for Ashes Cricket 2013. Recently announced, we don't know much about the game, other than it is being built from ground up and promises significant enhancements over the previous game. It's also coming to the Wii U, and any Wii U game announcements is worth celebrating at the moment.

Trickstar Studio Head & Owner, Tony Parkes, sat down with us to discuss the development of Ashes Cricket and the opportunities for the studio into the future.

Digitally Downloded (DD): What are your goals for Ashes Cricket 2013?
Tony Parkes (TP): I guess it would be to make the most realistic cricket game ever! We want to take cricket games to the next level and build upon our critically acclaimed International Cricket 2010 game. So to that end, we have created a brand new Ashes Cricket 2013 game from the ground up, which I hope will hit the cricket fans for a six!

DD: Trickstar has been around for a few years now, and has grown into one of Australia's largest developers. What do you attribute the success too and how do see your success continuing into the future?
TP: I think we have a long way to go before reaching our dream of becoming a world-renowned game developer. Even though we have been prolific producing eight games in just under four years, we still have a long way to go. Our ultimate dream, like many other developers, is to be our own publisher. To take total charge of our own destiny and only be beholden to our loyal gamers who spend their hard earned cash on our games.

I believe the next 18 months or so present a great opportunity to achieve this goal. I think the next console transition is going to be really tough for a lot of developers, but will also create great opportunity as new game platforms emerge on a global scale. Also, from a geographical perspective we are in the right place. I believe major growth from games will come out of Asia-Pacific or as we like to call it Australasia, which has already surpassed North America in terms of market size for online gamers and continues to grow rapidly. The one big lesson I've learned from past experience an that is you can never, ever take your foot of the accelerator in the games business or you fail!

DD: You've produced a wide range of different games, from sports to flight and naval combat. How do you decide on which projects to chase?

TP: At Trickstar Games we like to play to our strengths, so we normally only chase projects that suit our skill sets. We find most publishers tend to be risk averse, so we need to be able to produce the game they want in the time frame and production budget they require. Over the years we have produced numerous sports and flight games, which I guess are niche titles, but we know we can compete with anyone on an international basis. We have a reputation of always finishing the project no matter what, which has sometimes been to our financial detriment - one day I will tell you some great war stories - but we have always honoured our development agreements, and will continue to do so. Because of this history we are approached on a regular basis by publishers to produce games in sport or flight genres.

DD: As an independent developer, what opportunities do you see in download platforms to potentially self-publish or take on more experimental projects?
TP: Most of the work we do tends to be contract for hire agreements. We know reality is the market is changing and we need to adapt and push into self publishing our own projects from next year on. I believe the next 18 months are going to be the most opportune time in the games industry evolution to self publish on current and emerging digital download formats. As they say, content is king, and all independent developers need to move up the food chain.

I believe Trickstar Games is in a good position to do exactly that. I made a decision a few years ago to move away from experience proprietary technology and convert the whole studio over to a Unity3D. That decision is already starting to pay dividends and the Ashes Cricket 2013 game is the first beneficiary. Also the Australian Federal Government recently announced their Screen Australia $20M Game Fund. This fund gives established Aussie development studios the ability to produce their own IP games on the platforms they wish too, which not only sustains their business through predicted turbulent times for the industry but ultimately significantly grow their businesses on an international scale.

DD: You have a wealth of experience at EA, Midway and other major publishers and developers. How has that experience helped make Trickstar a success, and how have you seen the games industry change over the years?
TP: There are a number of us here at Trickstar Games that you might call veterans; others might say dinosaurs! Some often reminisce about the 'good old days' when life was much simpler in some regards. To be frank I don't really subscribe to this as a few things have never changed in my experience. You are as only as good as your last game and it still takes a lot of really hard work to produce a game you can be proud of. At Trickstar Games we run lean and over recent years have adopted a total variable overhead with our business which allows us to change quickly as the market dictates and not be encumbered with a huge monthly burn rate. This has proven to be the undoing of many great development studios around the world.

On the other hand the new digital download platforms have now opened up a whole new global audience that we can speak to directly and the old game publishing paradigm has been turned on its head. With this new era of digital content upon us it is now up to the old guard to help pass on their expertise to the new breed of game developers who already absolutely embrace social networking and must go on to create new genres of games as well as break new creative ground to cater to the what I would call the third Generation of gamers who use multiple devices for interactive entertainment.

DD: Ashes Cricket 2013 has been announced for all the major platforms. How have you found each to work on, and more specifically, how has your team found the Wii U? How are you taking advantage of the Wii U's unique features?


TP: At this time I can't rally say much about the Ashes Cricket 2013 game as that is the role of publishing partner 505 Games. 505 Games really impressed us with its World Cup Rugby game so we know we are in good hands here. I have no doubt over the coming weeks, 505 Games will be releasing more information of the Ashes Cricket 2013 game including existing and exciting new game platforms that will hopefully satisfy our loyal cricket gamers and cricket game fans alike. I will say that 505 Games will be launching this game on an unprecedented range of game platforms never offered before on any sports game released to date.

DD: Cricket has a limited audience compared to other sports, as it's not a major sport in the two largest games markets in the world - Japan and the US, and yet you offer Cricket fans a similar thrill that FIFA fans enjoy with the soccer games. How do you manage to achieve this with limited budgetary resources?
TP: This is always a challenge to build a quality cricket game experience with a fraction of the budget of a FIFA game, or have the available staff resources and team continuity that a successful global game franchise like this enjoys. Therefore, we have to take it back to basics and focus heavily on the three fundamental game play elements which are the essence of actual cricket game, batting, bowling and fielding. With our all new motion-capture data coupled with our brand new animation system we believe we have created very realistic cricket gameplay in Ashes Cricket 2013. Whatever time and budget we have remaining goes straight into more peripheral game elements. We also get great support from our publisher 505 Games and especially Cricket Australia and the English Cricket Board as well as all the major kit manufacturers and major stadiums to make the game as authentic as possible.

DD: You've had a limited license to use real player names in the past, and this has been a point of contention for some fans of the sport. What has been the challenge to gain the full license like we see in other major sports titles?
TP: You are right as this has been a challenge in the past but with Ashes Cricket 2013 the Ashes license from Cricket Australia and the English Cricket Board allowed us to faithfully create both the Australian and English team players to a high level, for what is one of the oldest sporting rivalries between these two great cricketing nations. For the first time, we have gained support from ALL the major cricket manufacturers, stadiums and sponsors as they all want their brands in the game. This obviously helps our cause to bring the cricket fans the best game to date. Also don't forget for the first time ever we have back to back Ashes tournaments in England this summer and then down in Australia for our summer, so the cricket fans are literally going to get up to nine months of cricket combat starting on the 10th of July.

DD: There are 101 countries in the world that have Cricket associations. Do you think we will ever see a cricket game that, like FIFA, will give me the chance to show the Australian cricket team how it's done while playing as Japan?
TP: At Trickstar Games we are passionate about the game of cricket and our studio is literally five minutes away from the mighty MCG stadium which hold 104,000 people. To hear the roar of the crowd on the first ball of the Ashes Boxing Day Test, when the bowler comes pounding down the crease, is really something to behold for any sports fan. There are many countries that already support cricket and huge ex-pat communities in North America as well as real push on to grow the sport in places like China where the cricket game itself can only get bigger.

One our goals here is to produce a cricket game that can be truly played on a global basis, with all countries involved to build a worldwide online cricket community. We also want to be able to play our game at all levels, from grass roots district cricket to international Test series, for both men's & women's teams too. We will keep working hard to achieve this goal as we might never reach the heights of the successful FIFA game franchise but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try… We know the audience is out there and growing.

DD: Finally, what games are you playing at the moment?
TP: The awesome Walking Dead series from TellTale Games. Love the TV show and love the game. Also the latest "Ashes Cricket 2013" build which looks awesome!
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