It has always been the case, we didn’t want to make a company that followed a more traditional model which is I guess doing lots of projects for other people. Most of our projects we fund ourselves and as such we get to work on our own ideas, so our real drive is to make new original IP. It’s a real hard model to do because you’ve got to fund the whole thing yourself but it’s a real exciting one because the guys are creating genuinely new games. However, this model is high risk, because the newer the game concept, the more untried and untested it is, whereas if you take a well-loved franchise and put it out there there’s already a following. But we do like this approach because it was this desire to create new innovative and exciting entertainment that is behind Stickmen. Hence the first project Dragon Master [Spell Caster] is an original very bold project.
We are working hard to ensure that all the games that we are currently working on at the moment have a new angle or breakthrough in them. What we didn’t want to do was follow the herd. We want to make original titles that will excite and entertain, which is a real challenge but it’s what why we’re into games.
Speaking of Dragon Master Spell Caster: when will that be available for release?
Yeah I guess it would be a funny use of the word I know, testing time for you guys seeing as this is your first IP. This is your first real go at it, so it’d be quite important for you guys.
Dragon Master Spell Caster is our first complete project so you’ve just got to learn how it’s done first time round and that always takes time. Obviously what you hope is that the second one is faster and a lot smoother, and the third one and the fourth one... and you get better at it. It’s like anything I guess: provided you learn from your mistakes, the more you do it the better you get.
So tell me about ‘Project I’ and ‘Project F’, how will these contribute to ‘breakthrough gaming’.
I’ve noticed that you guys have recently gained development status for Sony’s PlayStation 3 and for the PlayStation Network. This could be too early to ask you this but how will this compare to developing for the Wii due to the power differences between the machines. Would you guys also be aiming to pursue a different audience because of the Wii is obviously more aimed towards the more casual markets whereas the PlayStation is going towards the more blockbuster feel of these big powerhouses. Are you guys chasing after a new market or are you simply trying to do something different?
That’s a good question because as you correctly say a lot of the consoles are directed at different audiences. What we are looking to do is to have the option to move the products across onto platforms where appropriate because gaming isn’t standing still, the markets are evolving. The PlayStation is a very exciting platform for us and obviously our guys are looking forward to learning about it and getting hands-on. I think it will be nice for people to experience our products in different ways as well because we can obviously customise them to suit those platforms. Why did we do it? It boils down to the fact that if you’re going to have a really good opportunity moving forward then it pays to have as many open doors as possible.
The NZ gaming industry is really just limited to a handful of players. There’s some embarrassing stats which are like Scotland employs 11,000 people in the industry, Canada employs 14,000, New Zealand: probably a couple of hundred people. That’s a real loss for New Zealand because these other countries are receiving literally billions of dollars a year towards their economy, New Zealand’s making a few million. And the real sad thing is that New Zealand is a great innovative country: there’s kids leaving university with the right qualifications and they’ve got nowhere to go. They’ve got a handful of organisations and if they don’t get the jobs there they have to leave the country or, as we found one of our lead developers, one of our great guys with a first-class degree, stacking shelves because there wasn’t an industry to employ him. They kind of jump out after education and go “Great I want to get a job!” and it’s either do you want to join corporate web design or graphic design? “No, I want to get into gaming” right well here’s a couple of companies to apply at and if they don’t have a job you can either join the queue and get a temporary part-time job or leave the country, or go into the corporate world and do a different career. So in regards to are we going to step out there: very, very much so. We have grown dramatically and that’s because there’s a lot of people around really, really keen to get into this industry. And Sidhe, who we work with very closely, they’re really driving the industry, trying to help people get out there, enormously helpful to me personally and to the company. Mario and the guys are excellent, so we are going to do everything we can to support that. And it goes without saying that if we get products out there we promote them correctly and publish them correctly then news will spread that people are actually making games in New Zealand. What I would like to see is some more government support for the industry. New Zealand’s embraced the movie industry because a few people did things the hard way and total respect to those guys. They’ve shown New Zealand can be a great place for movie-making, and Mario’s showing that you can make good games here. I mean Shatter is superb, it’s been very hard for New Zealand, or anyone in New Zealand, to achieve that. The incentives that are offered to studios opening up in New Zealand are non-existent when you compare to those in Scotland and Canada. So I think the answer to your question is two-fold. One is: yes absolutely, we’re going to do what we can to raise the profile of gaming in New Zealand and to show that it’s a fantastic place to make games. And why that is, is because you’ve got an educated population, a very attractive exchange rate, the games made in New Zealand are almost 100% export product; and you’ve got a Western culture so there’s no language-barrier when working with Europe and America which are two of the major markets. So you’ve got several enormous strengths and almost no companies here doing it. I really think the piece that’s missing is for the government to sort of sit back and go okay yeah this has got real potential and we should get behind this and see where it goes, because for an absolute miniscule investment and some incentives they could really develop a very exciting industry.
So that hobby-on-the-side you had, was that the beginnings of Stickmen?