New Zealand's PikPok game-development studio is on fire, with its 17th game hitting the iTunes app store last week. With such marvellous titles as Flick Kick Football, Monsters Ate My Condo, Monster Flip and Extinction Squad under its belt, it's been going from strength to strength. Co-founder Mario Wynands told us about the PikPok story.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and PikPok?
I'm one of the founders of Sidhe, a game-development and publishing studio based out of Wellington, New Zealand. We started the company back in 1997, and have predominantly worked on console titles over that time, including games like Speed Racer, Madagascar Kartz and Wallabies Rugby Challenge. But in 2009, we started our mobile and tablet division, PikPok, as an extension of our moves into digital distribution, which has since come to dominate most of what we do. We've had several successes on mobile to date, including Flick Kick Football, Bird Strike and Monsters Ate My Condo, and are starting to branch out into funding and publishing content from other developers.
You've made some really interesting and quirky games. What's the process for coming up with and then creating the games?
The ideas for our games come from many different places. Sometimes ideas arise simply from brainstorming or concepts being thrown around. Sometimes pseudo-formal game-prototyping exercises or concept pitch rounds. Sometimes a concept is formed after we are approached with or pursue a licence opportunity. Sometimes it is a more formal process when trying to identify specifically how we’d like to build out our portfolio and what specific market needs we think we might be able to address. In each case, we evaluate the opportunities in terms of creative and market potential to work out whether it might fly on release. Given the investment requirements for mobile games are significantly less than console, even console download titles, we've been able to pursue and bring to market a lot more original and creatively riskier ideas than ever before.
There's massive competition in the mobile-gaming market — what do PikPok's games offer that other games do not?
I think our background in console development has provided us a scale of operation, tools and technology, and a level of expertise that is harder for some smaller mobile teams to match. We've been able to take console-level quality and shoehorn that into a mobile experience. There are a lot of great games out there, but we've carved out a solid reputation by going the extra mile in terms of polish and making sure every aspect of our games is the best it can be.
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far? How did you overcome it?
Making the transition to mobile development from console development with larger teams, long development cycles and being able to just move on to the next thing once you ship a game to market has been tough. We needed to learn to be a lot more efficient, reorganise roles and responsibilities, build new tools, recruit in new skill sets and adopt an ongoing "product"-focused approach, rather than a fixed "project" mentality. So much of the organisation has had to change, from top to bottom. We are still making that transition, though it is getting easier over time.
What do you think is the essential ingredient of a truly awesome mobile game?
You really need to have an elegant simplicity that grabs people straight away and sucks them in. While it is tempting to throw in a lot of bells and whistles, a mobile game needs to be very focused on what it is, as too much complexity or content up front can mean you alienate the mass-market audience that is going to make up your bread and butter. If you can create something very focused that is highly polished and great at what it does, then you have a potential winner on your hands.
What is the best thing about working in mobile-gaming development? What is the worst?
The best thing is the short development timeframes. From game conception to getting something in the hands of consumers just a few months later is really satisfying. The worst thing is the short development timeframes. Minimising up-front costs and getting to market quickly is a big part of staying viable in the space, and it just seems like there is never enough time to really iterate as much as you want before that initial release.
Do you have any advice to offer aspiring mobile-games developers?
I think the key message I'd like to convey is not to put all your eggs in that first basket. You need the opportunity to learn, so don't spend all your starting cash, energy and goodwill into a single title. Make sure you have enough resources to get at least a couple of games out there, and you'll be sure to improve and see more success with each new title as you roll your new learning and experience in each time.
What's coming up for Sidhe and PikPok?
We have already released multiple titles this year, but some of our best work is yet to come. We have multiple games in development, some of which we are close to announcing, and we'll be bringing them to more platforms than ever before. We'll be getting more ambitious in terms of the experiences we will be bringing to the table in terms of richness and depth, while still trying to balance that with the focus our audience expects. We'll also be publishing a couple of titles from up-and-coming developers, who are working on some great stuff.
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