英國獨立開發者需要作出的改變

作者:Dan Pearson

Andres Tallos知道如何爲自己設定一個挑戰。在呈現自己的紙牌策略遊戲時他說道:“我們是一家小型工作室,總共只有3名成員。但是我們卻想要超越《爐石傳說》,我也認爲我們能夠比他們做得更好。因爲比起遊戲,我們認爲這更像是對於人們的一種長期服務與興趣。”

當你與London Venture Partners團隊所創造的孵化器服務的員工以及Chris Lee進行交談時,你自然會期待着他們充滿自信的表現。然而當我在與倫敦的Playhubs公司的團隊進行交談時,我還是對他們那明顯的野心印象深刻。

這並不是無經驗的年輕開發者所表現出的狂妄自大。Tallos以前曾是Gree在EMEA區域(歐洲,中東和非洲)的業務策略部門的總監。而現在他已然成爲了真正理解業務運行的專家。這種自信並不是一種虛勢,這反倒是一種真實的表現。

Tallos仍否推翻暴雪的紙牌屋還是一個難以預測的問題—-Tallos只是我所見到的Playhubs的企業家中擁有強大且可靠的業務計劃中的一人,似乎他們已經和遊戲概念與明確的市場融爲一體了。然而他們也並非我所認爲的天真的理想主義家。

之後我又見了Ryan Bousfield。他的一人VR初創企業Wolf and Wood已經創造了一款名爲《A Chair in a Room》的恐怖遊戲,並且其演示版本已經獲得了16萬的下載量,這對於一款Blusfield在業餘時間所創造的遊戲來說已經是不錯的成績了。Bousfield之前甚至從未親身參與遊戲製作—-在今年年初以前他還是Shoreditch一家設計機構中的創意總監。而現在他已經成爲了一名全職開發者,併爲Playhubs創造了另一個開發視角。

當我詢問Lee有關其成員的一般年齡與經驗時,他回答道:“這是一個很大的範圍。我們並不想成爲初創企業或獨立組織的歸屬地。實際上作爲初創企業並不是一件多酷的事。真正酷的是運行一個能夠長久僱傭員工並照顧他們的賺錢業務。所以那些未通過申請的人大多都是因爲他們只是爲了有趣和錢纔來申請的。”

“最完美的情況還是那些擁有經驗,想法,家人和朋友的支持以及一定的積蓄,但卻缺少投資或機構資金的人。”

“我們一些更強大的成員已經在產業中待了很長時間了。就像Andreas便在Gree待了很久。我們的高層已經爲更多僱員提供了許許多多的機會,但是他也會想着,‘如果這是一個機會,那我也想去把握住它。’我期待着這裏能夠成爲一些年輕血液的凝聚地,但同時這也要考慮到我們人脈的侷限性。”

說實話,Lee的人脈非常廣。作爲藝電和動視的前任副總裁,並聯合創建了Freestyle和Media Molecule,同時他也投資了許多家英國免費手機遊戲工作室,可以說他具有非常聰明的頭腦。在諮詢了David Gardner後,通過添加London Vnture Partners,你便能夠擁有一個能夠創造出健康初創企業的孵化器與加速器。

但是在確定這一項目8個月後還是未出現較大的進展。Lee及其總經理Ted Maxwell決定退後一步,解決一些需要解決的問題。

Lee說道:“我們首先需要做的是確保那些從這裏畢業的人能夠獲得成功。這是我們需要肩負的重任,也是我們需要傳達給所有人的長遠價值。”

“一直以來英國的生態系統都是基於僱傭工體系。所有的業務都是先於Facebook和手機之前便確立了,你可能認爲有些內容不屬於真正的業務,但是你總是需要面對基於合約的工作。你只擁有100個合約商,而他們將獲得同一家公司的支付。這便是Freestyle的做法—-Media Molecule有點不同,但從效果上看Freestyle更適合僱傭一些大角色。但是很快地有人便會決定終止合約,那麼這一切便都結束了。所以我們從未真正學會如何創造一項業務。我們是如何營銷我們的產品?如何保護它們?如何與消費者建立關係?等等這些問題都是由其他人去解決的。”

“所以對於我們來說的最大挑戰便是幫助企業家解決那些他們不知道的問題。工作室遭遇失敗,或者因爲一些小原因而從未真正開始運行等都不是什麼大問題。不管怎樣死亡也不是直接的。也許當一間擁有200個人的工作室在等待着沒有希望的合同時,死亡會顯得相對直接些。而在我們所處的業務模式中,死亡則是一點一點慢慢出現的。”

“也許你制定了錯誤的分享表,也許你獲得了錯誤的投資,也許你僱傭了錯誤的人,也許你未能把握自己的知識產權,也許你選擇了錯誤的分析工具。這些便是所有可能出現的錯誤決定。也許你並不知道遊戲稅收減免政策,也許你也不清楚蘋果的支付是在月底之後60天生效。而在你遭遇了失敗之後,你可能也還不知道自己是因爲什麼而失敗的。”

“所以當你嘗試着向某些人傳遞Playhubs的價值時,你會發現只有當這些人在經歷了失敗後,他們才能真正感受到這些價值。所以我們所面對的挑戰在於去傳達失敗是一種超級簡單的領悟方法。這並不是說我們能夠在此得到想要的東西,而是我們希望人們能夠將我們與成果和之後的發展聯繫在一起。”

warlords of drakendor(from gamesindustry)

warlords of drakendor(from gamesindustry)

Maxwell補充道:“現在的我們處於發佈後的興奮期。不過現在人們仍然是通過一些企業人脈才知道我們。在接下來的6個月裏Playhubs需要不斷髮展。一方面,我們將接觸到更多新用戶,另一方面我們也將兌現自己的承諾。我們正處在一個寬限期,但這種時期並不是無限長的。”

“我們需要一些能夠代表自己的產品,而不是一直利用Chris的人脈。我們的團隊將開始宣傳那些沒有Playhubs便不能獲得的成就。說實話我們在私底下真的付出了許多。”

事實上這並不只是單純的讓座。Playhubs並不是關於讓某些人支付一個位置兩年的費用然後再回去開發自己的會計軟件。事實上這一設計更向是一個快速的轉盤,即這裏會不斷涌入一些全新的團隊。

Lee說道:“我們需要有源源不斷的申請對象。我們希望人們能夠在此最多待6個月—-這裏並不是他們的常駐地。這並不是一間廉價的辦公室。在這裏你將與別人一起學習。並且你也會期待能夠在某個時候學有所成。在這裏獲得成功的期限相對較短。”

Neon Souls的Jeremy Wilkinson在Playhubs待了幾個月了,他正致力於創造《Wild Dawn》,這款關於一個女孩去拯救一個貧瘠世界的基於觸屏的華麗冒險遊戲。當他和團隊加入這一項目時,他們擁有所有想要創造的理念,但卻缺少具有實踐性的業務知識。但在與“DG”進行交談後所有的一切都發生了變化,Wilkinson認爲這是“具有改革性”的變化。

他說道:“我認爲我們在此經歷了最有價值的旅程。這對於我們現在所創造的遊戲以及工作室具有非常深刻的影響。我們對於所有內容的看法幾乎發生了徹底的變化。”

“它將我從一個只是想要創造一些很酷且外表華麗的內容的獨立開發者變成想要真正創造一項業務的人。並且我也開始思考如何去實現這一目標。”

“在我加入這一項目之前我未能意識到的最重要的一點是,作爲獨立開發者,我也能夠從LVP等機構那裏募集到資金去創建工作室。我認爲這是更加有機的變化。這甚至將我領向了一條完全不同的道路。”

Lee說道:“這是關於理念與業務之間存在距離的有效說明。這也是我們想要嘗試着向人民解釋的內容。這真的具有非常大的距離。大多數人都是帶着理念加入我們,而我們也嘗試着確保它們在離開時能夠帶着對於業務的正確理解離開。並且有很多內容是人們在成爲僱員後也並不瞭解的。如合同,IP保護,商標等等。如此看來分析工具有多麼重要啊。”

對於某些團隊來說,加入這個項目的好處不只是能夠學習商業知識,同時也能夠進行一些有效的交流。Izzy Rahman來自Vertelex Studios,這是一個由金斯密斯學院畢業的一羣好朋友共同建立的一間工作室。他們的第一款手機遊戲概念是圍繞着Rahman認爲具有極強適應性的機制所創造的創新內容。既年輕又充滿活力,Rahman擁有一切符合我所認爲的適合這一項目的特徵,而他也具有長期發展的野心。

他曾說過:“我們想要成爲一支擁有撐得了場面的產品的團隊,並且能夠處理一些在遊戲中不常見的問題,嘗試那些大型工作室因爲害怕風險而不敢嘗試的內容。我認爲作爲獨立開發者的我們擁有這麼做的優勢。我們也想要做一些新的嘗試並創造全新的遊戲類型。”

因爲Vertelex擁有非常新穎的概念,如果這支團隊不能獲得Lee和Maxwell所期待的大成功的話我便會非常驚訝。Rahman還表示他們的領導擁有無限的靈感。

“我非常驚訝。我一直以爲這一切都是業務,因爲這是在這裏許多團隊所缺少的東西。與該項目的創始人共事並交談便已經讓我們覺得值回票價了。這些人都是這一產業中的大明星。這是非常讓人興奮的事。你也能夠因此獲得許多自信。Playhubs是一個非常適合社交的地方,在這裏所有人都充滿熱情。而倫敦便非常需要這樣的場所。”

然而倫敦並非唯一需要這樣場所的城市。很快地各種其它組織便如雨後般的春筍涌現在整個英國,這也標誌着小型工作室社區與合作的新時代即將到來。

Lee解釋道:“這便是Playhubs在一開始便遵循的核心原則。我們意識到這個世界上的其他人正在進行着比我們更多的交談與分享。芬蘭便做得非常好,因爲在這裏所有人都樂意分享。他們覺得這是再自然不過的問題了。遊戲一直都在應用商店裏。如果你想要看到它們,你便能看到它們。如果你想要竊取別人的理念,你便可以顛倒那些本來存在的內容。你可以掌握別人在做什麼。所以還有什麼擔心的必要呢?”

“最終你的成功是源自團隊中每個人的才能,你所創造的文化以及你去創造人們喜歡的產品的能力。這種能力是別人所偷不走的,對於你來說也是如此,有就有,沒有就是沒有。在英國,因爲一直以來的僱傭文化使我們始終擁有這樣的焦慮。如果我正在創造一款賽車遊戲,並且我想要將其推銷給藝電,那麼我便不會選擇與你講這件事,因爲你有可能也會將自己的賽車遊戲推銷給同個人。而在現在,這一切都變得不那麼重要了。”

“我認爲缺少分享我們的成功與數據的能力纔是真正阻礙我們前進的元素。我們甚至會擔心一些競業禁止協議。就像如果有人要跳槽,你也不可能再做些什麼。你只有努力去創建一家他們不會想要離開的工作室。我們需要機遇不同方式去處理這些問題。所以這也是我爲何認爲Playhubs更像是一個社區的原因,因爲我們一直在努力創造一個人們能夠願意分享的地方。”

所以爲什麼這種情況不會自然而然地出現?英國是一個充滿創造性人才與文化輸出內容的地方,在這裏遊戲產業有效結合了技術與藝術創新。所有人都知道彼此。爲什麼我們沒有像硅谷那樣的地方呢?對於Lee來說,這仍是因爲缺少業務教育。

“當你着眼於動視,Bungie,Rockstar,索尼等取得了巨大成功的公司時,你會發現這些公司的高層都是一些英國人。我一直認爲我們曾經擁有過這一產業,但卻鬆手放走了它—-從更大程度上來看是因爲我們的人才大量流失到了加拿大等地方。而現在我認爲人才流失情況已經得到緩解,這主要是電子遊戲稅收減免政策的幫助,實際上像LVP,Initial Capital和Connect Ventures等機構也在一些強大的英國公司中投了許多錢。如果能夠有更多天使投資,VC以及更多策略降臨遊戲上就更好了。”

“但是現在的我們仍然缺少的是對於遊戲商業性的真正理解。我認爲這要是因爲我們一直堅持認爲公司是致力於服務別人。這也意味着我們缺少擁有創建持久業務的商業能力,我們並不知道如何擁有自己的IP,維持與消費者之間的關係以及把握自己的現金流。我們並不具有足夠的商業經驗去創建這樣的業務。”

“而我們便希望能夠成爲這種改變的催化劑。我個人非常希望能夠幫助那些正運行着自己的工作室的人。英國的優勢在於許多平臺所有者都是來自這裏。他們之間的距離也非常近。我們不能再爲自己找藉口了。如果你足夠優秀的話,產業便隨時歡迎你在此收穫成功。”

本文爲遊戲邦/gamerboom.com編譯,拒絕任何不保留版權的轉發,如需轉載請聯繫:遊戲邦

“I think we owned the industry once and we let it go”

By Dan Pearson

Andres Tallos knows how to set himself a challenge. “We’re a small studio, there’s just three of us,” he tells me as he shows me his card-based strategy game. “I want to take on Hearthstone. I think we can do better. It’s all about thinking about it as a long-term service, as a hobby for people rather than just a game.”

When you talk to the residents of an incubator co-founded by the team behind London Venture Partners and Chris Lee, a man with an incredibly prescient Midas touch, you expect them to be pretty confident. Nonetheless, chatting to the teams in residence at London’s Playhubs, I’m still impressed by the obvious ambition.

This isn’t the cockiness of an inexperienced young developer talking, either. Tallos was previously the Director of business strategy for the EMEA region at Gree. He’s an established professional with a real understanding of the workings of the business. The confidence isn’t bluff, it’s genuine.

Whether he’ll manage to topple Blizzard’s house of cards is a moot point – Tallos is just one of a group of entrepreneurs I meet at Playhubs who have a strong and solid business plan in place, married to a focused game concept and a clear market. They’re not the naively idealistic graduates I was expecting.

Later, I meet Ryan Bousfield. His one man VR start-up, Wolf and Wood, has already produced horror title “A Chair in a Room”, with a demo that’s seen 160,000 downloads from the Cardboard share store, not bad for something he largely produced in his spare time. Bousfield wasn’t even originally involved in games – until earlier this year he was the creative director of a Shoreditch design agency. Now, he’s taken the plunge as a full time developer, bringing another angle to Playhubs repertoire.

“It’s quite a spectrum,” says Lee when I ask him about the general age and experience of the residents. “I would say that we have two or three applicants per person that we accept. We don’t want to be a home for start-ups, a home for indie bands, because it’s cool to be a start-up. It actually isn’t cool to be a start-up. It’s cool to run a profitable business that can hire people sustainably and look after them. So some of the people who apply don’t get through because it’s obvious that they want to do it just for fun and we want to do it for fun and profit.

“The perfect profile is two or three people who have experience who have an idea, have a shell for the company, have some money from family, friends, redundancy, whatever, but they’re not venture-backed, they haven’t got investment or institutional funding. They really initially just wanted some space, or introductions to platform holders.

“Our stronger guys have probably been in the industry a while longer. Andreas spent quite a lot of time at Gree. A super senior guy who’d been given lots of opportunities to take on more employment, but thought, ‘if there’s ever going to be one, this is my moment.’ So it ranges. I would have expected it to be something of a younger crowd, but that’s probably something to do with the limits of our networks.”

To be fair, Lee’s network is pretty extensive. An ex-VP of both EA and Activision who co-founded Freestyle and Media Molecule, as well as finding time to be an early investor in many of the UK’s leading mobile free-to-play studios, his acumen is somewhat legendary. Add London Venture Partners to the mix, with regular consultation from David Gardner, referred to with a mixture of reverence and affection as ‘DG’, and you have an incubator and accelerator which seems bound to produce bumper crops of healthy start ups.

But eight months after the foundation of the project, there hasn’t yet been a big name graduate. As Lee and his general manager Ted Maxwell concede, it’s something that needs addressing.

“The thing we need fundamentally more than anything else is a hit, someone who’s graduated from here and had a hit,” says Lee. “We need to create that. There’s a period of heavy lifting between here and now where we communicate the value of what we’re doing to people.

“The UK’s ecosystem has historically been driven by work for hire. All of the businesses that were built prior to Facebook and mobile, you could argue weren’t really businesses but umbrellas under which you were given contract work. You just had 100 contractors, really, which were being paid by the same company. That was the case with Freestyle – Media Molecule was a bit different – but effectively Freestyle was just one big work for hire behemoth. As soon as someone decided to turn the taps off, it was over. So we never really learned how to create a business. How do we market our products? Protect them? Build relationships with the consumer? Those things were all done by somebody else.

“So probably our greatest challenge is that we help solve problems that entrepreneurs don’t know exist. Studios fail, or never get started for a number of small reasons, not single big ones. Death isn’t immediate anymore. Maybe when there were 200 person studios waiting on a contract that didn’t get renewed, then death was relatively immediate. Now we’re in a different business model where death comes in small doses.

“Maybe you set up your share cap table wrong, you’ve got the wrong investment, you hired the wrong person, you didn’t protect your intellectual property, you chose the wrong analytics tools. It’s all these little bad decisions. You didn’t understand Games Tax Relief, you didn’t know Apple pays 60 days after the end of the month. All those things – until you fail, you don’t know that’s what kills you.

“So when we’re trying to communicate the value of Playhubs to somebody, because there are so many things that, even by osmosis, you will learn, it’s difficult to communicate that until someone’s experienced that failure. Our challenge has been communicating that failure is a super easy path to go down.The point isn’t that this is a hunting ground for me, or for LVP, but ultimately we do need people to associate us with success, with good graduates.”

“We’re almost at the end of the launch excitement,” adds Maxwell, sharp and engaging. “There was a splash when it was announced and that’s sort of continued through our networks, so there are people still finding out about us through our connections. The next six months is when Playhubs needs to be growing on its own. On the one hand, that’s finding and introducing ourselves to new audiences, on the other it’s delivering on promise. We’re in our grace period, but that’s not indefinite.

“We’re going to start having stuff to say for ourselves that isn’t LVP, isn’t from Chris. Our teams can start to speak for themselves about what they’ve achieved that they couldn’t have without Playhubs. We’re doing a lot beneath the surface.”

It’s not just getting bums on seats, either. Playhubs isn’t about having someone pay for a desk for two years and then go back to developing accountancy software. It’s designed to have a quick turnaround, meaning that a regular influx of new teams is vital.

“The need for a flow of people applying is significant,” says Lee. “We only want people to be here for around six months maximum – this isn’t a residence. It’s not a cheap office. It’s to get your head together, figure things out, learn as much as you can. You have to expect to fend for yourself at some point. Success is being here for a relatively short period of time.”

Jeremy Wilkinson of Neon Souls has been at Playhubs for a couple of months, working on Wild Dawn, a “beautiful touch based adventure about a girl who brings a barren world trapped in eternal night back to life.” When he and his team joined, they were, by his own admission, full of lofty ideas about what they were creating, but had little grounding in the practicalities of business. That all changed with a pitch conversion with ‘DG’ which Wilkinson calls “transformative.”

“I think that we’re probably the people who have had the most visible journey from being here,” he says with enthusiasm. “It’s had the biggest impact on what we’re doing – the game itself, the studio as a whole. It’s really been amazing, it’s transformed the way we look at everything.

“It’s changed me from a scrappy indie who just wanted to make something really cool and arty, to wanting to make a business. It’s made me think about that vision and how to achieve it.

“One of the biggest things that I didn’t realise before I joined was that as an indie I’d be able to raise really good funding from people like LVP to build a studio. I thought it would be much more scrappy and organic. This has opened my eyes to a different route.”

“It’s a good example of the distance between an idea and a business,” says Lee of Wilkinson’s project. “That’s really what we’re trying to explain to people. That’s an enormous distance. The majority of people arrive with an idea, we’re trying to make sure they leave with a business. A lot of the simple stuff shocks people, the stuff that went on but they weren’t aware of when they were an employee. Things like contracts, IP protection, trademarks. How expensive analytics tools can be.”

For some of the teams, the benefits have been as much about contacts as learning the commercial ropes. Izzy Rahman’s Vertelex Studios is a group of friends who graduated together from Goldsmiths. The concept for their first mobile game is tight, innovative and unique – based around a mechanic which Rahman sees as being hugely adaptable. Young and full of energy, Rahman fits my preconceptions about the developers I thought I’d find here much more closely, but he’s not short on long term ambitions either.

“We want to be the team that’s known for having the balls to go out there and address the issues that aren’t normally addressed in games, delivering experiences that the big studios might be a bit afraid of because they’re risky,” he says, convincingly. “I think as indies we have that privilege. We use the phrase avant garde a lot. We want to do new things and create a whole new genre.”

Given the freshness of Vertelex’s concept, I’d be surprised if the team didn’t turn out to be one of the big successes that Lee and Maxwell are so keen on. Rahman says that the leadership has been nothing short of inspiring.

“I was quite surprised, I thought it would be all business, because that’s something that a lot of the teams are actually lacking here. Working and speaking with the founders of this place is worth the entrance fee alone. These guys are pretty much the pop stars of the industry. When it actually hits you that you’re working some of the first guys who recognised Supercell…It’s really exciting. It gives you a lot of confidence. Playhubs is an incredible place to network, everyone is so passionate. London needs something like this.”

London isn’t the only city to come to this conclusion. Various other collectives have sprung up around the country, signifying a new era of community and collaboration amongst small studios. For Lee, it couldn’t have come soon enough.

“This was the core principle of Playhubs at the very beginning,” he explains. “We realised that everyone else in the world was talking more, sharing more, than we were. Finland is doing phenomenally well because everyone is willing to share. They see no issue with that. Games are on the app store. If you want to look at them, you can. You can reverse engineer what’s there if you really want to steal ideas. You can figure out what they’re making. So why worry about it?

“Ultimately your success comes from your talent as a group of individuals, the culture you create and your ability to create a product that people love. That can’t be stolen, you’ve either got it or you haven’t. In the UK we’ve built up this anxiety, partly, I think, because of that work for hire culture. If I’m building a racing game and I want to pitch it to EA, it’s probably not a good idea to talk to you about your racing game because you’re probably pitching to the same people. So I think that’s where it comes from. But it’s no longer relevant. We still keep hold of it, but it doesn’t matter anymore.

“That lack of ability to really share our successes and our data and our metrics… I think that’s really holding us back. We even worry about non-solicits and non-competes…If someone wants to move, there’s nothing you can do about it, they’ll move. You just need to build a studio they won’t dream of leaving. We need to deal with these problems in different ways. So that’s why I think of Playhubs more as a community, because we’re trying to build somewhere that people share.”

So why hasn’t this happened organically? The UK is a powerhouse of creative talent and cultural exports, the games industry a perfect marriage of technical and artistic innovation. Everyone knows everyone else. Why don’t we have our Silicon Valley? For Lee, it’s still about the business education.

“You look at the companies that have become tremendously successful, Activision, Bungie, Rockstar, Sony, it’s all Brits at the top of those companies. I think we owned the industry once and we let it go – to a large extent because of the brain drain to places like Canada. I think that the brain drain has stopped, I think things like the videogames tax relief has helped a lot, as has the fact that there are people like LVP and Initial Capital and Connect Ventures putting money into strong UK companies, although there could be more capital available. It’d be nice if there were more angels, VCs, even more strategics looking at games.

“But what we still lack is this true understanding of the commerciality of games, the business of games. I think that’s inherent in the fact that we’ve built companies predominantly as servants to others, historically. That’s meant that our commercial ability to build a sustainable business over time, that owns its own IP, that owns its relationship with the consumer, owns its cash flow, can survive alone, that’s lacking. We don’t have the commercial calibre of experience to build those businesses at a volume I’d like us to.

“We want to be a catalyst of that change. I personally want to help individuals who are running studios to become better at that. All the ingredients exist. The beauty of the UK is that the platform holders are all here. They’re all within ten minutes walk. We shouldn’t have any more excuses. We’ve had too many. If you’re good enough, then the industry is welcoming enough for you to be successful.”(source:gamesindustry