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Firemonkeys: Australia's biggest game studio

Yesterday, Firemint and IronMonkey announced a merger between their studios to form Firemonkeys. We talk to new Firemonkeys GM Tony Lay about Australia's new gaming development giant.

Yesterday, Firemint and IronMonkey announced a merger between their studios, forming Firemonkeys. We talk to new Firemonkeys GM Tony Lay about Australia's new gaming development giant.

The new studio logo. (Credit: Firemonkeys)

They're two of Australia's brightest mobile gaming development stars. Snapped up by Electronic Arts, the two studios have been working side by side in the same office for around eight months, each still producing their own properties ... until the point came where it just made more sense for them to work together.

But it wasn't EA that drove the decision.

"It comes from a lot of practical outcomes," Tony Lay, the former general manager of IronMonkey and new general manager of Firemonkeys, told CNET Australia. "Co-locating in the same spot, working on similar games and I think both teams having high degree of respect for what each studio has produced, so I think that's where it's driven from."

It seemed a natural progression to break down the cultural barriers — remove the mentality that two studios were working against each other, when in reality they had been increasingly collaborating, especially on similar titles such as Real Racing and Need for Speed.

"We were already kind of working together, and when we had a staff meeting together with the leads, a lot of them also decided they'd like to bring down the cultural barriers — which is pretty much legacy stuff — so then, if we were getting someone to help on an IronMonkey project, it wasn't that a Firemint guy was going over to IronMonkey to help or vice versa — they're the type of cultural barriers I'm talking about," Lay said.

That doesn't mean there's no room for a bit of friendly (and productive) rivalry. Competition, as they say, breeds excellence, after all.

Tony Lay and Firemint executive producer Rob Murray had long had a friendly rivalry.

"This (relationship) goes back to when I was just starting at the studio. Just by myself, I did a contract with Rob (Murray) doing artwork — that's when our relationship started, and we both developed our studios further, separately, and were happily competing all the way through, up until this point."

That need to be able to outdo each other, said Lay, is only going to drive the new studio onto bigger and better developments — coupled with the ability to share resources and knowledge.

"That's another driving factor of why it's good to merge. What's happening now is, the technology's probably the slightly more difficult thing to cross over, but definitely the best practices; how do you improve frame rate, best ways to get a car looking good; that type of stuff — as has been happening for around six months."

But embracing the new doesn't mean abandoning the old. The titles that made the two studios the names they are today will continue to push on, with care being taken over both Firemint's ownership of original IP and IronMonkey's solid titles that complement EA AAA properties.

"We've had a lot of fun being able to choose those projects ourselves," Lay said. "It's always been a choice for us; like, we see Mass Effect is being made, so let's make the iOS version; and I think that opportunity's still open to us if we want it; so I wouldn't say that we won't work on any further property of EA. If it's something that we can innovate on for our space, in particular, then we would take it up. So we might go with a balance of the two, moving forward. We still want to foster creativity and innovation, and being really consumer-focused."

The merger, which has brought the total headcount of the company to 90 or so (with more on the way), hasn't cost a single job — and has made Firemonkeys the biggest gaming development studio in Australia — mobile or otherwise.

"I think we're not only the biggest mobile dev, but we are, I think, the largest gaming studio in Australia. We're going from strength to strength," Lay said. "I think, for me, it's one of those things with us merging, that it's only positivity that I can see coming from it. We're not doing it out of necessity; we're not doing it out of any sort of weaknesses between the two. I honestly believe that it's a situation where one plus one equals three."

Both studios have been doing that independently for quite some time, rocketing to the forefront of not only Australian but global iOS game development in the last two years.

"I'm just excited about starting a new identity between the two. If we look five years forward, it doesn't make sense for us to keep pushing two different brands when we're working so closely together," Lay said, noting that the name change reflects the identities of both studios equally.

"It goes to combining two studios that are equally successful in their own right, so it's easy for us to merge the two studios — it's not like one is stronger than the other. It just works."

We gently prodded about what the future might hold; understandably, Lay was reticent to reveal much at all, saying only that Need for Speed: Most Wanted would be coming later this year.

"It'll be product by product. Just stay tuned — we have a pretty busy year. I can't wait to be able to bring those things to light," he said.