Spotlight Interview: Mark Fillion from General Interactive Co.

Here comes a new challenger! This month belongs to Mark Fillion and his company General Interactive Co.  A fresh contender in the game industry, this company has endured uncharted waters to develop their pioneer game Terroir which is premiering now! Join us to discover the daring adventures of the man leading this super friendly team of gamers and game makers.

Check out their site – http://www.generalinteractive.co/

 

Q: Give the readers a short introduction about yourself and your company. What is your role? What is your company about? What is your “origin” story?

General Interactive Co. is a team of nobodies. None of us are from AAA Game Studios, or have ever released a game on Steam or any console platforms. In fact, we’re from different walks of life. Jenny Hide, our Lead Programmer and an irreplaceable member of the team, is probably the one with the most game development experience. She’s been an independent dev for many years. Pavel Novak, our Lead 3D Designer, has an incredible pedigree in web and interactive design. Then we’ve got Raf Banzuela on 2D, Elliot Padingfield on Animation and Celson Durante on UI. Then there’s me, the Creative Director, and that makes General Interactive.

The origin of General Interactive is simple: after years of being an active modder for old-school strategy and tycoon games (namely Age of Mythology and the Civilization series), I just decided that I’d like to throw my lot in with that vast segment of the world population that thinks they can make video games (and ultimately fail). I wanted to make tycoon and strategy games like Sierra did in the late 90s and early 2000s. Well, at least I wanted to try.

So General Interactive Co. is the result of an impostor who is too stubborn to consider the risks of developing and bootstrapping an indie game because he loves it too much.

 

Q: How does your company endure as a game studio in South-east Asia? What challenges did your company face when it first started?

To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised at the indie dev community here in Singapore – a lot of incredible and proven designers, and really nice people too! I was welcomed into the Singapore Indies group quite warmly, and it’s a good feeling when you know you’ve got a community to turn to for support or advice.

Just in terms of mainstream representation, I don’t think the rest of the world is aware that Singapore has such a vibrant indie game “industry”. I guess as a gamer, you rarely care about stuff like where a game is made (at least I don’t). What I can say is that as long as the quality and originality of the games that come out of Singapore continues to rise then we’ve got a pretty bright future.

We can let other developers focus on dime-for-a-dozen asset flip games. We ought to focus on new mechanics, new concepts and new ways of using the medium.

 

Q: What are some of the common challenges your company face when developing or releasing a project? How are resources allocated or distributed?

The biggest challenge we’ve ever come up with while developing our first game, Terroir, is the confounded Game Design Document. Having a design document is non-negotiable – you need to have mechanics and design that are locked down. But almost on a daily basis, there will always be adjustments and fixes that need to be made, until the Game Design Document turns into this amorphous thing made of pure light and having no corporeal form and it’s maddening because one change here affects an entire feature there and… my fellow designers know what I’m talking about. You can do your best to prevent feature creep, but at the end of the day, you’re thinking about your game, and you’ll spare no expense (for better or worse) to implement something you know will make the game better.

Resource wise, it’s hard when you’re self-funded. I’m lucky enough to have a day job that keeps the lights one. But more importantly, I’m incredibly lucky to have met my teammates, who sacrifice a lot for Terroir. We’re strong believers in the Triangle of Reality, which states that something can only be two of three things – cheap, good and fast – and not all at the same time. Developing Terroir means sacrificing “fast” – we try to keep production cheap, but we do our best never to compromise on the game being good, and that means having to be patient and waiting many weeks to complete certain things like a couple of in-game illustrations.

The beautifully crafted game of Terroir. Get the game on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/559910/Terroir/

 

Q: How does your company manage funding and recruitment?

As the sole investor in Terroir, I manage the money entirely. It’s not cheap. Let me send a clear message to future developers who plan on funding their own game: make sure you’ve got enough savings and make sure you’re emotionally prepared to lose them all. Do not dedicate money to a project that you aren’t prepared to never see again. This is the kind of thing where the longer you develop, the deeper into it you get financially, and you’ll reach a point where you’ve got to go all in or lose everything you’ve worked on.

In terms of recruitment, we usually avail the services of freelancers quite a bit. I was surprised to learn that freelancers like 2D and 3D artists love working on video games. It’s great for their portfolios. I also learned that if you treat your freelancers with courtesy, they’ll go the extra mile for you. Always treat the people you work with well.

 

Q: How does your company conduct user testing?

Reddit! We love our Reddit community (r/terroir). We like using Reddit because it’s easy to find people who are perfect for testing: game developers, experienced alpha testers and gamers who specialize in certain genres.

A majority of our testers are fans of the tycoon game genre, which is what Terroir is, so they’ll know what to point out and what could improve the Player journey.

 

Q: How does your company handle marketing for your brand and your products?

I work in advertising and you’d think I know a thing or two about marketing, right? Wrong. Marketing an indie video game is a completely different rabid beast.

This isn’t mass communications: reaching out to gamers is an art. They are a very demanding audience, and they’ve also been treated rather badly by big name studios and overpromising crowd-funded start-ups alike. So that makes them very critical of new games they see, especially independently produced ones.

Our policy right from the jump has always been: just be honest. We have no choice – we’re developing our first game in a very saturated market. There’s no room for mistakes. We cannot afford to overpromise or mislead anyone. We’re just trying to make a good game. That’s it. And with that in mind, we’re heavily involved in Reddit and Steam communities. We also do the compulsory social media stuff, but we prefer to reach out to our potential gamers through more engaging platforms like forums.

We also have a website, and that’s still quite important. People need a place they can go to where all the information and updates can be found without having to do multiple searches.

 

Q: What is your company’s work environment like? Any quirks or interesting stories you would like to share?  

Our company’s work environment exists in cyberspace – since we’re all based in different countries (Singapore, the UK, Czech Republic, the Philippines and China), the only real way to work together is to do it remotely. Maybe one day, if the stars align, we’ll reach a point where we can all work together in the same space. But for now, we’re quite happy with the current arrangement.

 

Q: What are your views on the local game industry?

I think it’s great. There are far more people doing far better and bigger things than we are here in Singapore. I’m always excited about a new announcement of a game coming out of Singapore. In a way, I feel like their success trickles down to us, so we’re always rooting for them. I can’t say much about the other side of the industry – the big studios. The fact that so many have set up shop here is just more proof that there is real talent here in Singapore – talent we hope to collaborate with some day.

 

Q: Do you have any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to enter the local game industry?

It’s like starting a band. It’s easy to gather a group of your friends, jam in the basement and play the occasional gig. When you’re in a band, you can sometimes get carried away with the things that could happen – success, a record deal, a million views on YouTube and all that. But you’re one in a ton, and chances are, you’re part of the 99% that will most likely not make it.

Indie developers are in the same scenario. Anyone with some grasp of Unity and some art assets can dedicate their lives to building a game, and get carried away by the possibilities – success, a deal with a big publisher, a million downloads on Steam and all that. But again, that’s probably not going to happen. There are just too many games competing for the same amount of gamers.

So my advice is this: the sooner you accept this harsh reality the better. If you still feel like you’d be happier and more fulfilled in life if you went ahead and built a game anyway despite the huge risks, then I’m cheering for you. If you’re doing it with an eye for creating something new and refreshing and downright enjoyable to play, then I think you’re increasing your chances of success.

 

Q: If you have anything more that you would like to talk about, feel free to add them here.

We would love it if you headed over to our Facebook (facebook.com/genintco), Twitter (@genintco) and Reddit (r/terroir) to get more updates on our game, Terroir, a wine tycoon game to be released on Steam around this May. We’re always looking for testers, and would love to hear what you think of our game.

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