Ben Lee, Blowfish Studios
Ben Lee, co-founder and Managing Director of Blowfish Studios, talks about running an indie studio and publisher on the latest High Resolution podcast.
Ben Lee is the co-founder and Managing Director of Blowfish Studios based in Sydney. He's been a games and software developer for over 20 years and Blowfish has been producing games for nine years – and recently they also started publishing games too.
They're best known for their Siegecraft games but have a super diverse range of games across consoles, PC and mobile. Lee is also particularly insightful on running a game studio as a business, and what you can learn from other businesses of all stripes, not just other devs.
Big thanks to IGEA for helping to line up this interview, and Byteside will be working with them to do a lot more developer interviews throughout 2020.
Full Transcript Also Available
Can you set the scene by explaining who you are and what this wonderful studio is?
My name’s Ben Lee, co-founder and managing director of Blowfish Studios. We’re an independent game development company and we’re also now a game publisher. We also do work for hire, making games.
I started Blowfish studios just over nine years ago with my business partner, Aaron Grove, and he’s from the visual effects industry so he had 15 years working there, I’m from a software engineering background, and I was working in games and 3D graphics for 15 years as well before starting Blowfish Studios. Neither of us have worked for a AAA games company, but just working in the relevant industries for 15 years.
I’ve always been a game developer, even in early Primary School, I would be making and coding games, just designing things. And so Aaron, back 15 years before we started Blowfish, we’d met at university and just doing it as a hobby, making games. I wrote my own 3D graphics engine, or game engine using OpenGL and DirectX and he was doing art and Maya, and we were just making a game there. Then he moved overseas for work and we just went our own ways, still catching up and stuff.
My whole life, I’ve always wanted to just make a game and get it out to the public and sell it and publish it and that’s how Blowfish started. I was even doing it with my wife before Blowfish, we were working on something together. It’s always been a part of my life.
That actually leads into one of my questions really nicely, which is, what do you feel like the difference is between just making games, and then running a business that makes games? Because it feels like there’s a whole different layer of making sure this thing succeeds or is profitable in some sense...
Yeah, yeah definitely. When we started, we were just making games. We made the first game, made a nice little bit of money that told us we could keep going, and then we were just concentrated on ourselves, we worked for the first year without pay rises. And then we had Siegecraft which wasn’t a big success but it was still a success, so it did very well for us there.
During the development of Siegecraft is when we brought on our first employee to help with that and that’s kind of where it started. We needed to support ourselves as well after that first year. We gave ourselves a year and we could have just stopped there and said, ‘oh, you know, we made back some money that paid for our year that we took off’ but no, it was good.
What happened then was that a company came to us, Scholastic, the children’s book publisher and they said they had a job, did we want to make some games for them. And we said yeah, we were having a good time and wanted to keep making games and if someone’s going to pay us to make games as well, then why not?
So we had to go through a whole tender and pitch process up against a few other companies but we won that. So I guess that started the journey to becoming a sustainable game developer. I’m managing director and that’s always been my goal, or where I’m trying to go, sustainable game development.
So we’ve kind of always grown organically, when I knew that what I’ve got lined up for the next one or two years was enough to bring on some more people then, you know, we’ll do that and we’re coming into our 10th year now, started at 2 people and now there’s 30 people here in Sydney and a few more overseas as well, always just expanding out when able to and that whole sustainable part means you’ve gotta really think about how the people we’re employing, and all our employees are permanent full time.
We’re a bit different from other places that have contractors, but everyone here is a full time permanent employee. Some people would go part time, and that’s because they want to, we’ll work around that. Some people study, or if someone wants to go off and study 1 or 2 days a week we try to make that work if we can.
That just means that everybody has been growing together and we’ve run the company that way, me and my business partner have a lot of experience, and other leads and seniors here have a lot of experience and we’re there to help and grow everybody. But then everyone’s aware that we’re not in that position where we’re funded, we’re not funded, we’re not getting money from a publisher or something like that so we are growing as we can.
It’s interesting, do you get feedback from staff that have worked in other places? Is there a difference in that sense of contract versus full time or that sense of we’re growing within our means, is there elements to that which makes people feel a little more confident about their time here?
Definitely. For some of the people, the seniors and leaders that have come here, they’re very impressed by the confidence that you mentioned, not growing beyond our means.
We’re all kind of aware that some of those bigger implosions can happen that way. And I’m not saying that won’t happen to us because there’s no certainty in game development, ever. But because of the way we’re approaching it, it’s trying to be in a sensible manner.
I’ll admit that as it gets bigger, it gets harder. It takes less to tip you over into that place where it’s “hm. Yeah. Ok.” But again, I’ve got the confidence of the employees and I think contractor wise, it depends where you are in the industry I guess.
I think in Sydney it’s pretty good, most people here in Sydney are employed full time, permanent, I think overseas you might have it a bit more that way. That side of the industry has been pretty good here.
At that big picture level, what made you decide you wanted to dedicate yourself to games. Was it just a youthful love of games or was it something else?
For me it’s my love of game development. I do love games, ever since I was 7 or 8, I’ve just loved making games. I’d go to the library and get out a book that had ASCII code and just type that in.
Oh! I remember some of those old books, yeah! Text adventures. Type it in!
Yeah! And you’d just type it in, and you’d kind of learn what’s going in it. You don’t know what you’re doing at first, and then after you’ve done it and start playing around with the code and–
I can change the name of that character!
Yeah, exactly! So for me it’s just purely because of my love of making games, and that’s one thing that I’ve luckily been in that fortunate position where I’ve been able to. Getting into games development is for my love of games development.
For me, the financial side has always been a very secondary part. We all need enough money to live and try to be as stress free as possible, obviously, but you’re always gonna get stress from other places.
My first job, I was at Telstra, second job I went into game development for indies and took a pay cut to work for an indie games studio and it’s just one of those things where game development is one of my passions.
Luckily for me it’s actually worked out. But I think because my passion and what I’ve put into it is based on that passion rather than something else I’ve been able to just keep going through the good times and the bad times.
In the time now with Blowfish being about a decade old, what do you feel like you’ve built up as a unique proposition? What do you feel Blowfish does that sets it apart? Whether that’s pitching for other work or creating your own work, what do you feel like the elements are that you’ve carved out?
I think it’s changed over the years. Right now as a developer and publisher one of our huge strengths is that we are a developer.
So, we are a game publisher, but what we do is in any partnership we will do all the porting and polishing and QA so that’s what we offer.
Normally you might have to pay someone else to do the porting and all that, but we do all that internally. During development we’re actually like a co-developer if any of the studios are smaller. Typically we’re going to be larger than any of the studios we’re publishing for and they’ll need help.
They’ll say, we need help with the art, with the programming, with the story because we’ve got some story writers here, and we’ll just get in there and we’ll help make the game better. Never touching the creative vision of the game developer unless they want us to come in there and help them with that.
So for the game publishing side, that is our strength, where we’ve released enough games now that it’s clear that this is something that’s unique because some of the people that we’ve published for, they’ve already come back to us and wanted to do another game because they’ve seen that benefit.
From the game development side and for work for hire, we’ve always had the two tenets of, we’ve always been creative, and we’ve always been technical. Like, advanced? Or, not quite advanced, but we specialise in that.
The very first game, Siegecraft, which was pretty popular, we actually worked with Apple and we worked with Nvidia and we added in all the new technologies and frameworks and optimizations for the hardware and things like that.
That part has really helped from the work for hire point of view in that we have not only been able to create and design a game that went number one on iPad in the US and top 10 iPhone game, so we can do that, but we can also offer our technical abilities where we’re able to make and craft really high quality games. And over the years we’ve just been able to build on that.
We’ve built our own internal tools, servers and backend for multiplayer and doing cross-platform multiplayer, user-generated content. When you build that up, if you have a game idea that can creatively be whatever but then you need these core backend technologies and you can just grab them, jump in and do the prototype, then we can just hook into our servers, toolsets, and we’re always doing that now where we’re concentrating with doing our server technology but we’re also working on different gameplay engines.
With so many of these technology changes over the years, from your perspective what’s easier and harder these days? We always talk about how it costs a lot more money to make games than it used to but there’s certainly a lot more dev tools that makes it easier, it’s raised the baseline of what a ‘basic’ game looks like. Suddenly now they look a lot better right out of the gate. So where’s that balance for you? What’s a little bit easier these days and what’s harder these days?
I think, definitely what’s easier is to test your game idea. That’s definitely a lot easier. The tools are there, Unreal, Gamemaker, they’ve enabled game designers and game developers to really just get in there and test their game idea.
What’s easier also in some ways, not completely, is finding the skills of the talent that have experience with those game engines.
Generally, in the old days, everyone had their own game engine so if you hire someone, they’re not gonna know your game engine. They’re gonna know the basics, and most engines have the same basics, but there’s going to be some really proprietary stuff too.
So now that you have these engines, especially for the non-AAA type people, even in AAA they’re using Unreal and Unity a lot more, so you can skill-share a lot more nowdays so it’s about finding people that automatically know how to work on your game engine and just start.
Same as the asset production, you’ve got Blender, and a bit of a consolidation between Maya, 3DS Max and Lightwave. What’s harder though is like you were saying, that early part is easier than the last part. The last half, the last 10 percent of game development is harder because the bar is higher now.
But for indie game development, sometimes if you’ve chosen your style and everything, you don’t have to worry about that part of it. And we port games, so we do focus on Unity and Gamemaker and even though they’re multi-platform and they’ll make a build and everything, there’s still a lot to be done to get it approved and verified and released on those platforms which the engines don’t help you with.
You’ve got more people that didn’t have the core technical skills to make that last jump, making really great successful games then to make that last jump you still need the technical skills to drive that forward. That is a bit harder for some studios now. Of course anyone can learn it, I just think it should take less time than it actually does.
That probably leads into the whole question of finding talent, people being trained the right way. Sometimes it’s that tricky thing of if someone wants to get into the scene, it is just about putting in the time to just play with the tools that are out there and build your skills yourself. You don’t necessarily have to go to uni or a college to learn the skills if you have the passion for it. What’s your take on what a prospective person should be doing in order to then demonstrate to you, “I know how to use these tools.”
Great question. To me there’s two answers because one, you can definitely self teach yourself everything and anything you need to do in game development. That’s why you have some really crazy people out there, solo game developers, that make some amazing games all by themselves.
The content and the learning that’s out there, you definitely do not need to go to a college to be able to do that. But you need to do it properly. You need to be focused and passionate, learn and practice. That’s one of the biggest things.
I’ve got two daughters and what I try to teach them is the same thing. If you want to get good at something there’s no shortcuts to it, you must practice. And so, one of them, she’s learning to play piano and violin and so she doesn’t want to do it and says “it doesn’t matter if I make mistakes” and actually, it does matter, if you keep repeating the same mistakes and not learning then you’re not actually going to get better. It’s not that it’s the end of the line or anything but you just need to be focused on getting better at doing something.
Everyone trying to get into game development knows that. But there are some people that still don’t quite get the fact that if you want to be at the top of the game you’ve got to dedicate a fair bit of your time to self improvement. So you definitely don’t need to.
But on the flip side of that I’ve always supported the idea that if you want to get into games, it’s not easy. So if you want to be able to do something else while you’re not in games or trying to get into it, doing a degree, bachelor of arts or computer science, any of the sciences really I think would help.
Build a related skill you still care about while you’re still pursuing that passion?
Yeah, I think that game degrees are great and they’ll give you a good really general overview. I think where the struggle is at the end of the day is, if you don’t get into games, what do you do with it? So if you do a more general thing that is relevant to games, and again, it has to be something you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it don’t do it.
So don’t go and do the law degree your parents forced you to do or whatever it might be?
We still have great game developers that have done that and then 15 years in go, alright, I’ve done what I’m supposed to do now let me go do what I want to do. And that’s another way, it just takes a lot longer.
It’s certainly a valid way of doing it and I did a bit of that too. I had to focus more on family and things like that, you do what you do. I suggest that way just because you might even find you really enjoy that course and specializing that way, but if you’re still really dedicated and focused on games and applying what you’ve learned to your own game development at home and find when you’ve finished the course and go alright, go looking for jobs and you have your portfolio based on what you’ve done yourself.
In all the courses you’ve always got electives, maybe students these days aren’t made aware properly what opportunities you have within the more traditional university course. I did software engineering but I could specialize in 3D graphics in the electives and so I just did 3D graphics.
So what are some of the things along the way, specifics or just in general, have kind of been hard moments along the road to feeling like ‘yep, I have truly built a strong business now’. Have there been any of those milestones where you almost think this is the moment that it could go either way but you come out the right side.
Every week, I guess? That’s being serious. I don’t think there’s ever a time I feel like we’ve made it, unless we have a massive hit then I can relax a little bit.
This is no different to any other small to medium business owner, the one great thing I’ve been really thankful for now, and it’s more now that we’ve grown a little bit, but I’ve been able to meet a lot of other business owners and managing directors. Not game development companies, just other tech companies.Not even tech companies. Food industry, just whatever.
We take part in the export awards and just meetups around Sydney. I think that has been great, to see that we’re all dealing with the same issues and how we get through them. That’s been a great support network.
That’s only happened for me in the last couple of years. Before that we were just so underwater, head down, trying to keep the company going. I think one of the things is, one of your original questions, just going from being a game developer to being a business. The business side is unfortunately for many businesses, even if you don’t want to grow, for you to feel like you’ve got a sustainable business and for you to feel like you’re going okay, you need that growth because at any time if you get hit by something negative, if you don’t have that growth then you’re not going to have a cushion or a buffer to get past that.
It really is, unfortunately like a death spiral. When we were much smaller, the buffer we needed was a lot smaller. But then that small growth to get that small buffer means you get bigger, which means you need a bigger buffer.
I don’t believe in just continual growth and profits all the time like some other companies but as a business, if you do want to be able to last 20 to 30 years then you’ve got to have something there that’s just carrying it forward slowly and surely. And that’s hard.
For us it’s always about having so many potential opportunities and projects and going after them, knowing you’ll just get one out of ten. And that’s just, our games, our publishing, everything kind of pulls that together.
Do you recomend, based on that idea of through those business awards where you’re meeting people that aren’t just in games, it sort of leaps to mind that there’s a lot of very industry focused networking type things that happen. And I’m sure they’re great for finding potential candidates and all sorts of great connections can be built. But would you recommend other people to actually look for those kind of networks that are just business networks instead of games networks?
Definitely, 100 percent. Being a business owner is being a business owner. You’re facing the same things with employment, tax, the government, the economy, your local economy, whatever, that’s all the same.
And funnily enough it’s not just about business meetups. For my local preschool I’m a volunteer on the management committee and I’ve met other business owners there and made great connections there.
Another person I met, she runs a company in Sydney here too, I met her just down her down at Perisher! We were just sitting there, our kids were just playing in the snow, “oh yeah so you’re from North Sydney too?” and we met up.
There’s so many different opportunities if you’re open to it, just to meeting people. But there’s also your chamber of commerce. Chamber of commerce is good because they’re focused on the really small businesses too. So if you’re just starting up, check out your local chamber of commerce. They’ll just run a gathering and you can hear messages from other people and get to meet up.
Those sort of things, people just don’t know about. You might not really care, but you should. It does help. I think people should know that it’s not unique to you, it might feel that way.
You generally only hear the good side or positive aspects of what’s happening to other people, but when you get to these parties is when you can have more meaningful conversations. And these conversations and meetings are specifically about the negative things, or that bad things can happen to you in your business
I think those things are good to know. I mean the game dev ones do this as well, where you share your struggles, but these other business ones are exactly the same. This is what we’re trying to get through at the moment, does anyone have any advice to get through that. That’s important.
You mentioned publishing and partnership stuff a little earlier, when I was looking at the website there’s some of the obvious names you might see in the partner type companies and the tech companies and the major platforms and all that, but then there’s companies like Cochlear and interesting other things, is there interesting other work that you’ve been doing through there that’s sort of applying game dev skills into areas people might not think about?
Yeah, so those ones, Cochlear and a couple of others are all VR related. So we did Siegecraft Commander and we did a VR version and put it on Steam, so we’ve got the skills and experience with doing some of that. And a lot of that work we do get is based on knowing people, we don’t advertise the fact that we do work for hire at all really.
Where do you advertise that stuff?
I don’t know really, I don’t do it.
The secret industry newspaper!
Haha, yeah, to be honest, other companies like Chaos Theory and folks like that. Or SMG, people like that. But for us we don’t do it all and that’s good and bad. Bad, because we’re probably missing out on a lot of stuff. But good because we’re busy enough as it is. But that’s just people knowing us and I guess our advertising is because we do our own games a lot.
So people just see Blowfish Studios in the market place and go oh, ok, so you’ve done that. And you get like press and media articles every now and then about us.
It’s that nice linemarker, we’re in 2020 we’ve got a whole shiny exact calendar decade behind us, how do you feel the industry has evolved over this past decade whether for good or for evil?
Oh, it’s evolved, many times I would say. And we’ve evolved many times too with it. It’s been a crazy ride. Obviously at the start of the decade or even kind of before was the gold rush into mobile game development being self publishing there, and that’s where we started.
And then early in the next few years in, it went to consoles, and I guess we kind of did the same thing. We started in mobile and then a lot of people started getting into mobile and we pivoted out of mobile and into consoles and so we’re doing that, and that generation now is sort of coming to an end and the next thing is obviously subscription and streaming and that’s obviously the next kind of evolution.
This is a large one, it is affecting every segment of the industry from AAA down to indie and it’s really a massive disrupter. I think we’ve talked to a lot of other companies getting into it and they’re having their own issues, everyone is just trying to find the right avenue. And because it’s also a technical evolution, so not only do you have your business and financial models changing, you’ve also got technology changes and a lot of businesses are kind of struggling with that technology change as well.
You've got change in technology, change in financial models, change in business models, changing to remote dev, we’ve still got 30 people here in the one studio because I’m just a big believer you can see people just gather and talk and you can kind of do it online but when you’re face to face you can see everybody and get excited about things a lot more, too. That’s evolution-wise, it’s going to be interesting.
I am no way under any assumptions or delusions that we know what’s going to happen or what the best way to do it is, so as per most people it’s about trying to be at the forefront of whatever’s happening in as many things as possible.
You can’t be in everything, so, picking the right one. We haven’t done anything with Google Stadia or any Google stuff. We’ve just been focused on consoles and Apple Arcade and things like that. It’s a choice and we’ll see how that goes.
We are getting into transmedia a lot more to so I think that’s a big evolution, we started that journey over a year ago. Funnily enough a lot of the AAA studios now have been announcing that they got into it about a year ago because they’re coming out with Netflix and all those shows and we’re trying to do exactly the same thing but with our IP and our other developer, so we published their IP as well, so that will be interesting.
And again, as we all move to that streaming subscription based world and then people packaging and bundling things together, if you have brands that can kind of cross those things that’s potentially strong. It’s difficult though, we’re not one of those big brands that already exist in the TV industry or in the gaming industry. It’s such a large market, there’s still space for little people, or we hope anyway. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Do you have much visibility on how the maths changes on when you’re selling a game in the market versus when it goes into a subscription service? Is it just like an upfront fee or is it just share a voice kind of trailing revenue, how does that stuff work at the moment? I’m sure it will keep changing.
Yeah it will keep changing, I think everyone’s slightly different the way that they do the participation in the revenue share.
I don’t know if anyone’s got it down right, what indie developers, what we’re hopeful for is that it doesn’t lock down other developers but then it’s also a viable revenue stream. You can see a lot of people talking about it on Twitter and social media. It’s a difficult thing.
It can either destroy us or it can help us, we don’t know and for me participating in both sides with what we do is the only thing we can do at the moment just to see how it goes. But also by participating in both sides it lets us see how it works and to be as honest as I can about that question, I don’t see either one being any better or any worse just yet. Neither of them are terrible or great so let’s just say that it’s not going to be the saviour but it’s also not going to be the death knell right now that’s my thoughts.
So thinking forward a little bit more, what do you hope happens that helps game development thrive over the coming decade. Not just necessarily with this distribution stuff but how do people sort of feel like games just keep moving forward in exciting ways that excites both game developers and the people that play them
I think they’re both naturally occurring and the gaming audience is just growing. More people now just play games and in 20 years essentially everyone will be playing games because it’s become the norm.
It’s the norm now for the younger and middle generation and even now it’s getting even older. That is a big deal. I think the challenge there is for whatever reason governing bodies still don’t understand or admit or agree, head in the sand, whatever, but I think that’s a big challenge there.
If we could get the governing bodies just to accept the fact that games is the largest entertainment industry now, and that everyone plays them and that there are many different types of games. That’s why we have age ratings right? Some are the higher age rating and some are the lower rating, exactly like movies and TV shows. We are no different in that regards. That could be somewhere I think it could help, with the government.
The actual distribution platforms, I think they’re doing a great job of being that, so I can’t see any issues there with the Switch, next generation, PS5 and Xbox Series X, Stadia, VR, they’ve got it covered, right? I seriously can’t see any gaps there really.
And Netflix are even doing it, like with Bandersnatch. I thought that was cool. It’s a massive effort to do that so whether it’s worthwhile doing that rather than doing a normal game, I don’t know, but it was cool that they did it. And they’ve got more shows like that. It’s just widening the industry and maybe they’ll start bringing in more gaming elements into it as well instead of just choosing it.
Yeah on that technical level with that sort of stuff, I remember there was a whole discussion on why it works on some platforms and not others. It has to be able to essentially pre-roll the next section, there are all these technical parameters from smoothly transitioning into one video into multiple other videos.
And it might sound not that difficult but then you look at the problems normal video streaming platforms have and they can’t even stream a normal video at 4k and you’ve got Netflix doing this.
And they’re doing it all on AWS, that’s the thing that always amazes me. I mean, Netflix is so silky smooth and you’re like, there’s some really good coders behind the scenes there that are able to push that out.
Yeah AWS, I mean they’re just going nuts on tech and stuff as well, building up infrastructure, but that’s a good point though because it’s all accessible to game developers too. AWS don’t specialise, they build it out for a couple of key clients and themselves, but as soon as they’ve done that, then what they start doing is offering to everyone else because they need to keep their machines going.
AWS, even though they’re the market leaders they’re not doing it in a way that a monopoly would. They’re actually very free with their technical professional services. If you’re thinking of going and using their services, you just speak to one of them and they hook you up with their senior tech people just to help you understand what you want to do and the best way to do it. They’re really good that way.
Google was a bit like that but for us they’ve backed off a bit, Microsoft too, I don’t know why. Too much other stuff going on maybe.
We’re building new consoles, sorry everybody we’ll be busy for a while.
Yeah Google’s using everything for Stadia at the moment. Don’t touch it.
So when we think about how skills then shift forward from here as well, again we’ve touched on it a little bit, but do you feel as though the mix of skills you have out there in the office is now going to be different again in the next 5 to 10 years? Does it keep shifting or are there certain core elements that always stay the same?
I think there’s certain core elements for the next decade which will be the same. But you know, already we’ve got 3D animation, we’ve got a mocap setup here, we’ve got 2D artists, some of them are graphic artists as well as traditional, we’ve got 3D artists, we have narrative designers, story writers, screen writers, we have QA, obviously programming, game design, technical artists, producers.
I think the only thing we really outsource is our audio because we don’t have an audio centre here but at some point that might be a thing we do internally but we’ve got some really great partners already for that.
Sure you can always pull something out but I guess at the moment I can’t see what new roles might come in. Programmers is a very general term too, we’ve got people who can do server backend stuff, we’ve got Unity, we’ve got Unreal so I can’t just say ‘programmers’. So maybe a new platform comes out and we need to skill up on that, and we’re always doing that.
I mean beyond someone’s raw set of skills for the job that you’re looking for, what is it about somebody when you’re looking to hire some new people, what are the other elements that help somebody stand out from someone else? Is it “passion” in inverted commas, you know, how does somebody really show that they want to be doing this and not just something else?
We talk about that and we ask about that in the interviews, they don’t decide though, they’re a factor obviously but in saying that some people just come in and say ‘I’m interested, I really want to do games, I don’t know if it’s for me forever or just the future’ and it’s like, alright, well fine your skill set is good and you fit in so let’s give it a go, you might like it forever, we don’t know that. If you’re disinterested, then no. If you’re showing genuine interest and passion and you know games, you’re a game player, I think that’s important.
That’s a good point, isn’t it, actually. It’s like in so many other creative industries, you need to be consuming it to really keep up with it and to have that shared language of what is it we’re trying to make.
Yeah, and you draw a lot of inspiration from that consumption too. Not copying or anything but you’ll see something and think, ‘wow I never thought you could actually pull that off’ and that just opens up a whole new range of game ideas at that point.
And there are, there are some masters of the art out there. Like if you don’t play those games or get to at least look at it you won’t know and you won't have that appreciation for what can be achieved, as well.
It’s also good for us to know what kind of games people like playing. Actually I didn’t answer that very first question of how Blowfish is special. Because we are fully independent we get to make whatever games we want essentially, we’ve never remade the same game again so we kind of always do something different.
But when things come across our desk as either work for hire or for publishing we know, okay, these people kind of like this game so what are your thoughts for either game design or play this game and do an analysis of it.
When you’re trying to figure out whether a game is good or not for its audience, if you’re not of that audience then I guess, sure, you can look at it from a quality and technical point of view, but from a gameplay and appeal value you can’t do that quite as well because it’s never going to appeal to you so what can you say. Just having that nice variety of that here in the studio is really good. And we do, we have that.
Latest game we just launched a couple of days ago, Infliction. I can’t play horror games, I’m not good at horror movies or anything but we have a QA manager, Maria, and she loves horror and horror games so she’s been right into that. But it’s still good to see how a game appeals to different people too, so you don’t want to just test it on people that like that style. If you can bring in new people to that genre, that’s even better. So you’re trying to evaluate how it goes against the target market and against the other people.
Two last things, one, if you could click your fingers, is there anything about the whole world of game development or the industry, or the whole world around game development that you’d love to just be able to change overnight and make things a little bit better?
Discoverability is one of the hardest ones, we struggle with that as much as anybody else. There are things you can just change and things you can’t, we don’t know the answer.
Discoverability and funding, they kind of go hand in hand though, if you didn’t have discoverability issues you could more predict sales reliably and what you might sell of a game.
Then the cream really sort of would rise, in a sense.
Yeah they’re the things because they’re just too hard to figure out
And then lastly, what excites you most about the future of running Blowfish, about working in the Australian industry?
In Sydney, I think we’re moving into a really strong period of growth for the game industry. I just know talking to games companies here and what’s going on, it’s going to be a very exciting time.
If we can get some government support, which we’ve been vying for for a while, that’s just going to help, so I think that is very exciting. I am hoping dearly that over this next decade here that there’s going to be a massive growth for the industry. For ourselves, for Blowfish, we have some amazing projects that we’re working on.
We announced that we did a partnership with Valiant Comics they’ve got that Bloodshot movie coming out next month with Vin Diesel but we’ve got access to their whole roster of heroes, villains, we’re able to take our technology and quality of games and creativity from that point of view and marry it with an IP.
We’ve got the same kind of thing but we’ve got our own IP that’s coming out very soon and we’re super excited about that. And we’re working on trying to get some streaming and video content conciliary IP deals going.
So last year we brought out our own first comic book series, physical comic books, with Dynamite Comics and we’ve got another series coming out this year too, we don’t know who we’re going to publish that with.
I think there’s just so much opportunity for Blowfish. And everyone here is excited by the potential. For me, my job as being managing director, I just need to be able to keep the company going to realize all these things and that ties in with the question of moving game development into a business.
In business, you’ve got to keep it going, everybody has so much potential and ideas for games but how do you implement it, how do you realize it, and that’s where the business side comes in. Just gotta concentrate on that but keep my sanity by staying in the game development side of things too which I’m able to do.
Because that’s part of running a smaller company rather than a really big one is that you can still touch code now and then.
Yeah, at the moment I’m Managing Director, CFO, CEO, HR, I do a bit of bookkeeping, I have to do biz-dev, a little bit of production, being a producer, and I get to do coding and I get to work in Unity and Unreal and Gamemaker. Not heavily, I just do the bits that unblock other people. It’s part of running a small business.
One total side question. Tech stack type stuff, I think people might find it interesting on just running the business, do you use Slack? What kind of internal tools are you using to help keep the place running?
So when we started off 10 years ago we were using Skype and Trello, we started off using Trello, that was great. We are still now using Trello.
We’re always evaluating other tools because Trello is not by any means close to being the best tool for what we do, but at the moment it still is the best tool for what we do.
If we were just a software house then we’d be using JIRA or something but we’re not a software house, we have to involve art reviews and story reviews and Trello is that kind of middle ground that for us, works really well.
We still use Skype because a lot of developers use that for communicating, but now Slack is what we use internally and also with some developers too we get them on different Slack groups.
Slack we use because it’s integrations, essentially. It’s like Trello, it integrates very well with Dropbox, Google Drive, we even have Jenkins for our server build machine and Slack integrates with Jenkins, we can type into the Slack channel ‘build me this game, this project and send it to this dev kit test kit’ and it’ll go and do it. That’s pretty amazing. It’s great when it’s working but we’ll break something and change that. So Slack is really good for that.
Discord we’re moving into a little bit.
Yeah I’ve seen people trying to use that instead of Slack.
Yeah you can’t use it instead of Slack. It’s a social media thing, it’s communities. We’re getting into Twitch, Discord, Steam has its live streaming thing now.
We use Google Drive, we used to use Dropbox and again we did a big evaluation on the difference between Dropbox and Google Drive, we are very big shared technology office in that we have a lot of Mac, we have a lot of Windows, Android and iOS and stuff like that.
Google Drive seems to be the best for us that integrates well with all platforms. Dropbox has its very good strengths but has some very large weaknesses which we can’t get around. We use Gmail for our domain handling and just doing leg work.
Whatever the client uses doesn’t matter, but the backend is Gmail and what that means is that if you pay your monthly subscription G-Suite Account it means you have unlimited cloud storage per user and that is a great thing, and sure, we don’t know where it’s going but there’s a level of trust.
We back up everything to the cloud, it doesn’t matter what it is, send it there because it’s unlimited. It just doesn’t matter. I don’t have everything there from nine years ago but I wish I did because it’s great at searching. Obviously it goes through all your data but there’s nothing there we’re trying to hide so it doesn’t really matter.
Ben thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
No, thank you!