What is Convict Interactive?
Convict Interactive is an Independent Game Development Studio based in Wollongong, Australia. Each full-time member is either a current student or ex-student of the University of Wollongong (UoW). We are all very passionate about creating video games that concentrate on high quality gameplay.
We are currently working on a title for PC called Triangle Man. Triangle Man is an exciting 2D punishment platformer that challenges the problem solving and multitasking skills of players. The aim is to get the main character (a triangle) to the end of each level without dying. This is made difficult by enemies and obstacles along the way. The twist is that most levels involve you controlling more than one Triangle Man at once!
How did we get started?
In 2009, the University of Wollongong sponsored 6 of its students to go to a 48-Hour Game Making Challenge in Brisbane. The 48-Hour Game Making Challenge (making-games.net/48/) is a competition where teams are ‘locked’ in a room for 48 hours and challenged to make a game based on 3 key words. For 2009, those words were: Storm, Giant, and Love.
Using these 3 words we came up with a game that we named High Hopes. The story revolves around two girls racing and competing to save their (cheating) boyfriend who was taken high up into the lair of a giant. Each player must navigate their way up clouds and avoid the giant’s falling cooking utensils in order to save the boy they love. The players are also able to fight by slapping and throwing shoes at each other in order to slow the other players progress.
When the 48 hours were up we were very happy with the game that we had produced. Apparently the judges were impressed too as they decided to give us the Grand Prize for the event!
When we got back to Wollongong we were approached by several individuals who told us that we should start our own business developing video games. And so Convict Interactive was born.
Why did we choose to start up in Wollongong?
We all love the area - it is a beautiful place to live and work and (importantly) expenses are much lower than in Sydney. The University of Wollongong is located quite close by and produces talented graduates who we can recruit if we need to expand.
Wollongong is called “The City of Innovation” which is perfect for a startup tech company.
We are only an hour and a half from Sydney so we can travel there easily for events and other engagements.
Some of our experiences so far
In 2009, after forming the company, we began to develop a title called Planetarians for the Xbox Live Indie Games channel. Planetarians is a fast-paced 2D side-shooter played in a 3D environment where players can shoot down other aliens around a series of planets. The game is both single-player and multiplayer (local only). The game world incorporates a real-time physics system, allowing the player to orbit rockets around a planet or even put themselves into orbit around a moon.
Planetarians was ultimately shelved as we decided that the projected revenue for the game would not come close to covering the development costs. This was mainly due to the platform we targeted and the large scope of the game. Perhaps one day when the time is right we can pick the project up again.
At the end of 2011, we released a title for the Xbox Live Indie Games channel called Convict Minigames. This title was a collection of 5 small games which were designed to give the player an enjoyable casual experience. We thought the idea was solid and playtesting with our friends yielded positive results.
Unfortunately, Convict Minigames was not very well received for several reasons, the most important of which was that it was priced too high. Based on feedback from our playtesters, we decided to price the title at $3. Upon release of the game, all reviewers indicated that they would only be inclined to buy the game if it cost $1. Once the price is set for an XBLIG game then it cannot be changed for 90, so we were forced to allow the price to remain at $3 until it was far too late to be able to capitalize on the title being ‘new’. This meant that the game sold poorly and was not able to recover once the price was lowered.
But was the title a failure? In terms of sales it was a failure. In terms of experience the title was a major success. From this title we learnt a lot about self publishing, marketing, how to better structure our playtesting, what our strengths & weaknesses are, and how to better prepare ourselves for our next project.
Conferences/Events that we’ve been to
The Entrepreneurs Club is a part of the University of Wollongong and was part of an initiative to help startups based in the Wollongong area. Through the eClub we have been accepted into a local incubator aimed at tech startups.
Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP) 2011 was an amazing experience. It is a conference that is run annually and is primarily aimed towards Australian Game Developers. During the 2011 conference it focused heavily on Independent Games Developers within Australia - particularly startups like ourselves.
The conference was an amazing experience that helped us out in a lot of ways. The sessions we attended were informative and covered a wide range of game development and publishing topics; we made a large number of contacts within the industry and we introduced our brand quite successfully.
The Game Developers Conference (GDC) is a yearly event targeted to game developers throughout the world. It is a bigger, international version of GCAP. This was a great opportunity to make ourselves known outside Australia - as well as to learn from the best in the industry.
Tips for other developers
Networking is really important. You won’t get anywhere if no one knows about you or your product. Through our networking endeavours we have made valuable contacts with most of the Australian games industry due to our heavy involvement with the IGDA (International Game Developers Association).
We’ve also discovered that help is everywhere, all you need to do is ask for it. There are people out there who want to help out startups such as yourself - however they need to know that you exist! You need to put yourself out there and let them know who you are.
Tell them the areas that you are good at and the areas you need help with. You may find that they offer to help you out before you even ask.
There are incubator programs all over the world which are designed to help entrepreneurs, many of them providing a number of services either for free or at a discounted rate. For example, we’re part of an incubator program called StartPad which is based in Wollongong, NSW Australia. They’ve helped us out with office space, getting into contact with law firms, accountants, etc. They even set up discounts with some of these services, and it all only costs $30 per desk. It’s an unbelievable deal that has already helped us out immensely in the two months that we’ve been a part of the program.
But of course, that isn’t enough. You have to be incredibly motivated and passionate about what you want to start up. Whether you want to make video games, develop a new type of solar panel, etc. you must be willing to put in at least 110% of your time to accomplish your goal. In our experience so far, there is nothing harder than trying to start up your own company, but there also isn’t anything as exciting and rewarding.
You also need to develop a 5 year plan. Determine where you want to take the company in those five years and what stages you want the company to be at the end of each year. This is a very important step to take as it not only gives you focus, but it makes it clearer to others where you plan on taking the company. This is especially important if you plan on trying to find investors.
If you have a project that you believe is going to fail, then find a new project. Quite often, it’s better to find a new project than to try and continue on with a project that is unlikely to live up to your initial expectations. We learnt this the hard way when we were working on Planetarians. Planetarians is a good game, however the idea is far too large for our current resources and as such we spent too much time developing it which delayed our advancement as a company.