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Games Development within a Pandemic

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Adam Dart Junkfish

How Adam Dart of Junkfish is building their games with expandability in mind

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?

Adam Dart: I’m very lucky to say that my immediate family is doing okay for the most part, despite some family members catching Covid last year; plenty of others have not been so fortunate.

I’m also in a better position as I’m currently living in Singapore, where the Covid situation has been managed much better compared to many other countries. I’m very grateful to experience a somewhat higher degree of normality. However, I feel oddly guilty to see many of my friends and colleagues overseas still having to deal with repeated lockdowns.

It does seem like things are starting to look up this year; however, with people at risk starting to get vaccinated, so I’m pretty optimistic that things will continue to get better.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Junkfish.

Adam Dart: Games had been a big part of my life growing up. I had originally wanted to pursue architecture at university but was swayed to study computer arts as a way to both pursue my passion for video games and to act as a creative outlet. I ended up going to university in Dundee, Scotland, where I was exposed to other disciplines in the games development process. After graduating, I formed an indie games development studio called “Junkfish” with a group of like-minded graduates aiming to create games for the PC platform.

In more recent times, I’m also involved in the management of the family office based here in Singapore, where I have increasing responsibility in finance and investments. 

How does Junkfish innovate?

Adam Dart: Like most indies, we work on our own IP. Our first IP was a game called “Monstrum” – a rogue-like survival horror game. At the time we developed Monstrum, survival horror games were incredibly popular on the PC platform and spurred on through their popularity by Let’s Plays on platforms like YouTube, particularly in the North American and Western European markets. Those kinds of games often lacked any replayability as they had a linear structure, so we aimed for our title to combine horror with rogue-like elements such as procedural generation and randomization of items and enemies so that players wouldn’t get the exact same experience each time.

We also worked on another IP called “Attack of the Earthlings”, a comedic reversal of roles in the turn-based strategy genre where you play as murderous flesh-eating aliens against comically evil humans who are invading your planet for resources.

Growing our IP is important for us as we want to see them reach their fullest potential. To do that, we need to build our games with expandability in mind, which is why we are making the jump to a more service-based approach with newer titles. It requires us to expand our technical infrastructure, set up in-game analytics and change our development processes to accomplish this. In addition to this, we are also expanding our internal publishing capabilities as we do more in-house, including community management and customer support.

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?

Adam Dart: The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on a lot of industries, but I think the games industry has been one of the more fortunate ones when it comes to finances. Though I can’t speak for every games company, I know quite a few that have benefited from people being in lockdown as they look to games as a way to entertain themselves.

As for ourselves, we didn’t see a drastic change in finances as we were still in the development stage of our latest title during the peak of the pandemic. Expenses didn’t see any extreme change either as most software and hardware could be transferred and used from home.

Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?

Adam Dart: I can say we were fairly fortunate in this area as development could still continue despite having to change to full remote working. We’re not reliant on a physical space to keep development moving and already had remote working provisions set up on a smaller scale, so transitioning the rest of the team wasn’t as difficult as I had initially imagined.

That is not to say we didn’t encounter any issues. Without a physical space, we had to focus much more on facilitating regular, clear communication, so we had to develop new processes in a short space of time. Staff were also frustrated at the slow connection speeds when connecting using the VPN, which meant we had to quickly change to a faster internet service.

Probably the most challenging aspect that we had to face was that of loneliness and isolation that some had faced as a result of being stuck in lockdown. As a result, we knew we would need to try and recreate some of the social aspects that were lost in the move to full remote working. We tried a few different things, such as virtual break rooms that were made for non-work discussions and encouraging people to use cameras and screen sharing, but I think the most effective was having an official time each week where the team comes together and plays games (that we didn’t make) together. I think that it did help alleviate some of the loneliness of the lockdown for those who were having a difficult time, and at the very least, help with team bonding.

How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?

Adam Dart: We had already used Discord as a way to interact with our community of fans, and we continued to use it to a greater extent during the lockdown. As our developers were relying on it for meetings and collaborating on work, it was a lot easier for them to interact with community members. Before the lockdown, we would also host physical focus group tests where we would use the office or book out an internet café to invite people to come and test the game to gather feedback. As we couldn’t use a physical space anymore, we would set up specific focus group rooms in our server and invite community members to test and give feedback there. During alpha and beta tests of the game, many community members streamed the game together on the server, which allowed us to come in and observe how they played whilst they gave more direct feedback.

Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?

Adam Dart: Aside from the incredibly helpful VGTR that we already made use of before the pandemic, we haven’t utilized any government grants.

Your final thoughts?

Adam Dart: I feel that the mass move to remote working encourages businesses to be more flexible with working remotely. There will definitely be a push to explore hybrid styles of working as companies are able to return to the workspace after being forced to break from the norm during the lockdown. For ourselves, that openness to working remotely has encouraged us to access a global talent pool when we would otherwise focus locally, and we now have more developers ever working abroad. With that in mind, I feel that it has also helped highlight the social and cultural benefits of a physical workspace, and I know many are still looking forward to returning to that. I’m optimistic that the worst of the pandemic has finally passed and that things will gradually get better from here on out.

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