Ireland has a tremendous pool of talent and resources available to those who wish to succeed and while headlines in papers might harbour nothing but words of doom and gloom, this initiative aims to restore your faith in what we can achieve as individuals, what we can achieve collectively and we can achieve through perseverance. Welcome to The Gaming Liberty’s “We Are” initiative…
The final day of our “We Are” initiative kicks off with Simple Lifeforms. The team at Simple Lifeforms have always caught our interest due to an impressive work ethic, so we had a chance to sit down with them and discuss everything from this approach to the industry, what they’re currently working on and just what, if any, changes they’d make to the Irish sector to improve indigenous growth.
The Gaming Liberty: Can you tell us a little about Simple Lifeforms, and how the idea for the company came about?
Simple Lifeforms: Simple Lifeforms was formed in 2008. The founders Alan O’Dea and Tadhg Kelly are two Irish guys who have worked as senior executives in the UK games industry. We have experience as game designers, producers and publishers and are passionate about games as an artform and a business.
We formed Simple Lifeforms as a is a label that allows us to
- Develop and publish our own games.
- Research and work with new platforms (social networks, smart devices i.e Android, iPhone and tablet computers).
- Experiment with better ways to design, develop and publish games such as Lean Startup Methodology, Agile Software Development and Customer Development.
TGL: For one company to successfully make a title, consult for other titles and even write games is an impressive feat. What kind of effort is involved with each, and which do you think, the team might have found a little more challenging when starting out? Do you think that, by having such an ethos, the team at Simple Lifeforms naturally have a more “rounded” perception of development and assistance?
SLF: Yes our ethos is unique and our experience working on lots of projects in different roles gives us a very rounded perspective. The structure of the company is also unique. We are a very experienced international group of designers, publishers, writers, developers, artists and business professionals who collaborate together. One result of this unique structure is we do not work in a centralised office instead we work from a virtual office across various locations around the world.
We didn’t want to make traditional PC, MMO or consoles games. We had covered that ground very well at other companies and we wanted to broaden our body of work. We were fascinated by Facebook, Twitter, Smartphones and really wanted to explore these platforms.
Simple Lifeforms started with 2 founders and a very small amount of investment. We began by designing and developing our own games on Facebook. We also started a company blog that discussed our efforts. We didn’t start consulting until at least a year after we started the company. As we have evolved as a business we continued to blog and write articles about our efforts. Last year Tadhg Kelly started his own blog www.whatgamesare.com which is a precursor to the book he is writting about games.
Readers enjoyed our blog and What Games Are and we got asked to help out with other game projects. We enjoy this consultancy work and it allows us to put a lot of our own ideas about games design, development and management into practice and work on a diverse range of platforms and projects.
We have a very deep and broad understanding of the games industry because of our background and the fact we make our own games, consult and also write about our work and industry. We don’t think this is easier or harder than focusing on just one area. All of these areas support and complement each other very well. Our unique approach and ethos has also attracted a lot of other like minded people that have joined our team and share our passion for making games, consulting and writing.
TGL: Your first title, Vampire Cities, places players in the centre of a “supernatural war” thanks to the various social media outlets available. Can you tell us the concept behind the development and what you think the game offers that maybe other apps/titles on the market don’t?
SLF: Vampire Cities came out of design questions we were asking about how online games and location services could work together. Alan O’Dea had become fascinated by location and checkin services on Facebook and Foursquare. Based on that interest we all started thinking about what the perfect location game could look like. With 25 Million users Foursquare is the market leader in the location services market.
We liked what Foursquare was trying to do but it’s not a game and it’s not fun. In essence Vampire Cities builds more gameplay and fun on top of the best bits of the Foursquare experience. So you can check into real world locations and you can become the mayor of your favorite places. We wanted everything in Vampire Cities to be but much more fun. We also wanted to be the first location game that you could play across Facebook, Google+, the Internet, smartphones and tablet computers. We love what’s happening on Facebook as a games platform and also in the mobile and tablet market but we think these platforms should all be connected together as part of the game experience.
In Vampire Cities you play as a newly created vampire. You check into the places you love in the real world and you complete missions (fighting your way through waves of bad guys, boss fights, treasure and puzzles). You compete with other players for the highest score and become the head vampire of your favorite places. You also have a lair where you can craft new items, potions and spells to help you on your quests and you can buy new decorations to make it look cooler. This lair is your home within the game and you can hangout when you are not completing quests. It’s also where you sleep during the day as a vampire to heal and avoid the sunlight.
We started a vampire blog with loads of cool vampire stories and a signup page at www.vampirecities.com. We have shot past the 25,000 visitor mark so we already know we have a very popular concept on our hands.
TGL: Some of the titles Simple Life Forms have worked on include “Chromaroma“, “Sodium 2” and even the much beloved “Happy Town” facebook title. What kind of input did the team have in these titles, and how does the consultation process differ from a social platform to a browser platform?
SLF: Sometimes our work with other games companies is quite strategic and business focused and we don’t do any design or development work at all. We do a lot of management consultancy, financial modeling and risk assessment work to see if a particular game can become profitable and make money in the market. Sometimes we help companies raise investment from Venture Capitalists or grants agencies and sometimes we’re just a sounding board to see if their business plans and game ideas might appeal to investors.
More often than not we work directly with other game companies helping them make their own games. Sometimes we manage the entire project and lead their internal team this is known as external production in the industry. We also perform a lot of independent reviews and audits of other projects in areas such as game design, product roadmapping, production, billing, business modelling, financial analysis or publishing strategy and we make recommendations to improve some or all of those areas.
There are certainly big differences between social and browser platforms as well as the big app platforms such as apple and android. We used to make games on multiple console, handheld, mobile and tv platforms and we also make games for all the newer platforms so the work we do with social, browsers and app platforms is simply part of our overall expertise. Making games is as much artform as business and we get involved with projects at all levels of that process. We have a wide range of skills and we’re not all just game designers and developers. We have a number of management scientists and publishing experts on the team and these skills are as important to us and our clients as our ability to understand platforms and make games.
TGL: The Simple Life Forms website is peppered with details surrounding free-to-play models, mobile gaming facts and much more. Is it difficult to keep up-to-date with an ever changing mobile gaming/social sector?
SLF: We don’t see this as a difficult task. We are passionate about the game industry in all its forms. We love research and gathering data about games. We write a lot about the process, trends, art and business of games and keeping upto date with the ever changing mobile games and social sector is a fun and essential part of that process.
TGL: Are there any changes or investments you think should be put in place, or nurtured, in Ireland that would help Irish-born talent to grow?
SLF: I think the work that Enterprise Ireland is doing with their Internet and Games Competitive Fund is brilliant. Putting €50,000 investment into the hands of new game developers is always going to lead to innovative and interesting game projects. There is also no reason we can’t create Irish companies like Rovio, Zynga, CCP, Jagex and maybe eventually even a Bioware or Blizzard.
The investment community in Ireland here is very small, invests far too little money and has no experience investing in and helping build games companies. Instead they focus on a narrow range of companies and business sectors they are familiar with. It has been my experience that they simply don’t understand the games industry well enough to risk investments in game companies. I understand their motives and the current situation might change but it isn’t going to happen overnight.
The other VCs and angel investors really need to get into this market and start making investments. The sector is booming but it takes time to get experience and know how in this market. If they don’t do it now they won’t have the skills. contacts and expertise to be able to help games companies who may simply bypass the Irish investment community altogether and raise investment from non domestic investors who have much more experience in the games industry.
Long term I believe we need to establish a dedicated game investment fund of €50-100 million to build a games industry here in Ireland. We need to create game companies of all sizes, especially publishers that can take the game ideas and products created from the newly minted Irish games startups and scale them up and distribute them in the global marketplace and help small startup games companies grow.
There’s more info on this particular topic at the Games Ireland forum on Quora where Dylan Collins and myself share our thoughts on Games Ireland.
TGL: Finally, can you tell us about what’s next for Simple Lifeforms, and what we can expect from you guys in the future?
SLF: We have always taken a lot of creative risks with our own games and have a very experimental attitude to designing, developing and publishing games. We have built 4 games now to a point we were happy to launch them into the market. We haven’t had a major hit yet but we get closer everytime we launch a new game, learn from our mistakes and get feedback from players.
Our last and most successful game called Soccer Heroes on Facebook and iPhone had 100,000 people playing at the height of its popularity but that is quite small for the platform and we discontinued development.
Vampire Cities is our fifth game and we definitely have a hit on our hands so next up is finishing that.
All games designers and companies have far too many ideas to ever make them all. We have learned to kill our underperforming game projects very early. This allows us to make more games and also increases the chances we’ll find a real hit game amongst the big list of ideas we have. This is something the network television industry in the US does very well where they make pilots for new shows each season and kill them very quickly if they don’t reach the audience numbers they expect. Its quite hard on us as we get attached to our ideas but it’s necessary.
Our next game is called Towers and Dungeons. It’s another location game but more sophisticated that Vampire Cities. It’s essentially a location based MMO and social hangout game. So think World of Warcraft meets Little Big Planet with real world locations.
You can reach Simple Lifeforms through the following links: