“Experience is useful, but it’s easy to be blinkered by that,” says Totem’s Cavanagh. “Mobile games reach a completely different audience and a game which may have performed well on console may do very little on mobile. As we have discovered at Totem, it’s not an immediate advantage – there’s a lot to learn about mobile gaming.” Collier agrees: “You’re so accustomed to the way things are done in console development – it is fundamentally different to achieving success on mobile and Facebook.” Stephen Cakebread – the creator of Geometry Wars – goes even further, describing working at Hogrocket as “a lot more stressful” than the rather more structured working practices at Bizarre.
Smaller teams mean grasping a far greater range of disciplines too. Programmers contribute to artistic decisions, artists get involved in design and designers help the marketing and PR effort. Matt Cavanagh says that he has learned “a hell of a lot” since going independent: “Because I am the sole developer working on Totem’s games, I have to wear a lot of hats.”
Davies says that, as an indie, Lucid must grasp a far greater understanding of the market and take on the responsibilities that once belonged to Activision. “It’s helping us become more rounded developers,” he tells us. His studio is barely 18 months old, but already has close to 40 staff and is looking beyond mobile. It has two teams working on new IP, and regular contract work for other companies. “We’ve created a studio during difficult times and we’re very proud of that,” says Davies.
Danny Pearce and his studio Grubby Hands has found success on the App Store with David Haye’s Knockout, and it is busy finishing its third App Store project. Matt Cavanagh’s Totem Games is working on a new quiz game after its iOS debut SpaceOff went live in July, and Martin Linklater is developing his own projects on top of contract work for, among others, Lucid Games.
Sadly for Hogrocket, plentiful media coverage and good critical response didn’t translate into long-term success. Cakebread, Collier and Ward’s first App Store release Tiny Invaders proved to be its last. Collier now works at social games studio Playdemic, Stephen Cakebread is now working on a couple of forthcoming PC games and Ben Ward makes iOS quiz games as Supergonk.
“I’ll always be glad I took that leap,” says Collier of Hogrocket. “But it just wasn’t enough of a financial success to sustain the three of us. If I had the opportunity to do it again now with what I’ve learnt – essentially that free is the future – then the outcome would have been very different. That’s life. I have no regrets.” It’s not all overnight success and happy endings on the App Store.
Bizarre’s closure was sad, but it reflected how the games business is increasingly dividing into two. “The explosion in the number of smaller indie-focused companies and the developer emigration from the UK to top studios in Canada and the US is indicative of the middle being squeezed,” Collier says. “Developers either go large or go small.” Between high stakes mega-budget blockbuster console games and the smaller, nimbler indie space sat Bizarre Creations. Though the studio is no more, it’s gratifying to know that its spirit and community lives on through NWIndies and in a string of exciting new independent studios.
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