We talked to Yngvill Hopen of Henchman & Goon about the video gaming industry and this is what she said.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Yngvill Hopen: We are hanging in there and in good health. Thank you for asking.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Henchman & Goon.
Yngvill Hopen: My background is from traditional art, and it wasn’t until I was asked to create some concepts for a game back in 06-ish (which never got made) that I started considering game development as a career. In 2009 I went back to school and earned an MA in Concept Art for Games and Animation, and then I founded Henchman & Goon along with ten other people back in 2012. Most of us were right out of university, and with limited possibilities for work in our home town, we decided to create the jobs ourselves. That was probably the main motivation, at least for me. And then, of course, the desire for creative freedom was a big motivator too.
How does Henchman & Goon innovate?
Yngvill Hopen: We are not heavily focused on innovation as a principle. H&G is a very art heavy studio, and our focus is more on creating beautiful, engaging experiences and exciting stories. I think innovation happens as a consequence of continuously pushing ourselves and the stories and art we create. One of my favorite quotes is from Pippi Longstocking when she says, “I never tried that before, so I should definitely be able to do it.” I think that’s the kind of attitude that’s key to innovation. Never back away from your goals and dreams because they seem difficult to reach. Innovation happens by solving the challenges you meet on the way. Admittedly, most of H&G’s most significant challenges have to do with making things look or feel as great as we want them to.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Yngvill Hopen: I have to admit it’s been quite a challenging year for us. Our primary income right now doesn’t come from game sales but from commissioned projects. We were in the process of finishing some projects when everything shut down. Our biggest clients depend on visitors, so we didn’t know how the shutdown would affect their ability to commission new projects. We had to make the tough decision to shut down most of our operations in March. By August, we were able to start spinning up again. Right now, we are in a reasonably good place, and we’re excited about next year – getting back into it.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Yngvill Hopen: The most difficult choices are always the ones that affect people on a personal level. Having to shut down operations meant putting everyone on leave for an indefinite amount of time, and that’s nothing short of heartbreaking. That said, we are fortunate to have an exceptional social security system in Norway, which meant putting people on leave also protected them financially. This gave the company time to focus on building up some security and move forward with a healthier, safer foundation. The one big lesson I’m left with after this year (so far) is not to postpone difficult decisions. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s so much easier said than done!
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Yngvill Hopen: I’m a very anxious person. I start visualizing all the terrible things that might happen, and then I can’t sleep. Sometimes there are panic attacks. It took me a long time to figure out how to cope healthily. For the past few years, with the help of mindfulness and breathing exercises, I’ve found it’s easier to focus on what’s here and now and put my energy into what can be done in any given situation. I really try to keep a stoic perspective when tackling challenges, so I don’t get lost in uncertainties.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Yngvill Hopen: I suppose as a game studio, we are always competing against every other game out there for people’s attention, but other than being aware of how launch dates might clash, it’s not something we think a lot about. Different people like different games. We make games for the people who enjoy the kind of games we make. If we spend our time worrying about competition and comparing to others, I think our games would suffer. We’re staying in the game by staying true to ourselves. When it comes to other developers, we’d instead cooperate and learn than compete.
Your final thoughts?
Yngvill Hopen: Although 2020 has been a rough year, and we’ll probably be seeing the after-effects for some time. I find I’ve learned a lot about human resilience these past few months. There has been so much beauty and kindness amid the darkness, and the importance of art and music has become so much more evident. I hope, alongside more practical lessons learned, that this is something we take with us into the future.
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