FGS 2012 Advisory Board Interview Series
This is part one in a series of interviews of the Flash Gaming Summit 2012 Advisory Board. This is your chance to get to know the folks who determine the content of FGS, and hear their thoughts on both the conference and the games industry in general. This week’s Advisory Board interview features Carl Trelfa, Co-founder of thePodge.
For more information on Flash Gaming Summit, including passes, speaking, or award show information please visit the conference website.
Introduce yourself- who are you, how big is your team, and how do you participate in the Flash games industry?
Hi, my name is Carl Trelfa, chief Code Monkey at thePodge. Our team consists of 3 people: Me, Jim and Sarah – we’re good friends and have been for years. We make games!
What did you do before?
Over the years I’ve done a lot of jobs – most of them not worth mentioning, but immediately prior to setting up thePodge, I worked for a couple of Flash Games development companies – most notably Nitrome, where I worked for about a year. Before that I worked for a web development agency and also worked on some freelance projects. Jim and Sarah both have worked freelance in the past as well. None of us like working for other people!
How did you first get into the Flash games industry? Tell us about your path.
I’ve always been into making games, since I was a kid – I taught myself to code when I was pretty young. About 10 or so years ago, Jim and I set up a business where we made online games using Java (way back before the industry had really got going properly). We did OK, but we both ended up getting “proper” jobs. I got really fed up of doing work that I felt wasn’t making use of my skill-set (you know, stuff like working in call centres, fixing people’s internet problems) and decided to give freelancing a go. I was pretty late into Flash to be honest, my first sponsored game was Extreme Sketch-Pak way back in 2007 – sponsored by Bubblebox followed by 3D Super Snowboarder and Santa Caught Christmas. Next I decided to make a Flash games portal, www.ussgames.com, which helped bag me the job at Fish In A Bottle (with thanks also to RobotJAM for that!). I then came to realise that web design wasn’t really my thing. I really wanted to get into making Flash games full-time, and that’s when I saw that Nitrome was looking for coders – so I applied and spent a year there. While working at Nitrome I kept in touch with my old friend Jim and we decided to make another Flash games web site, www.gamebods.com. The goal was to give this a nicer design than USSgames, and we would concentrate on having higher quality games as well as keeping our users (check it out – you can earn points and build your own Bod, which serves as your site-wide avatar!). After a while I felt I was just scraping by (living in London is expensive!). As much as I loved working at Nitrome, I always wanted to work for myself- so Jim, Sarah and I decided we’d go ahead and set up our own game dev company…and here we are now, almost 2 years on!
Why did you decide to form thePodge? How did you guys find each other?
I think I pretty much covered this already in my previous answers, although I should add that Jim is a really great graphic artist and Sarah’s character design is awesome, so we thought between us we’d make a good team.
What challenges did you encounter going from a solo developer to working in a team? Do you have any advice for developers who are thinking of making a similar decision?
I don’t really think there were any challenges to be honest. My art and graphics are not great so I tend to prefer working with an artist – if anything it means we can work on bigger projects. If I were pressed to name a challenge, it might be trying to divide up the work effectively- the coder tends to become a bit of bottle neck towards the end of the project.
What is the single most difficult challenge facing game developers today?
I’d say making original games that are intuitive and also hold people’s attention. You’ve got to be original, easy to play and interesting enough to hold the attention of people with 3 second attention spans. Flash games are ten-a-penny to the average online player, if it doesn’t grab them immediately then they will go play something else.
Do you have any advice for developers who want to form a small team?
Just go for it. It’s hard to give up the security of a full-time job, but there is nothing more rewarding than working for yourself, doing something you love!
What has been your single biggest challenge in the Flash games industry? How does it compare to the types of challenges you face today?
Getting games sponsored is always a challenge. The industry has changed since I first got in to it – the sponsorship model probably makes it easier for developers to make some money, but to be honest I’m not sure it’s the best model in terms of long term income. Probably building up your own site is the best way to go, which is obviously a challenge in itself, but I think should lead to more long term benefits.
What has been your proudest moment since joining the Flash gaming community?
Probably winning a Mochi Award with Inferno Meltdown last year. We were not expecting that!
What is it that you love the MOST about the Flash games industry?
Making creative and original games.
What do you like the least?
Silly comments on games. Sometimes we get people saying we should do things in our game that are already there and often the players don’t consider what would happen if we implemented their idea – some of them are just downright silly and would completely break the game or just make it so easy it wouldn’t be worth playing! It’s impossible to please all the people all the time…although, to be fair we get a lot of very good comments as well and really good suggestions – a lot of which have made it into City Siege 3.
How has the industry changed since you first joined?
Companies like Mochi appeared and gave us in-game advertising! Now anybody can make some money from their games.
How do you think Flash game developers are “Maximizing their games” today? What could they be doing better / differently?
I see a lot of Devs these days with splash screens at the start of their games, which in my mind is essential – everybody can make their branding more visible in their games. We’re currently looking into ways to encourage click-throughs to our site, people signing up for our mailing list (which you can do within our games) and keeping them playing. How do you get somebody to carry on playing the game even if they have already played all the way through? We have an answer – in one of our latest games, Firebug, you actually earn a Golden Jellybean every time you complete a level perfectly which you can then spend on silly things like hats for the bug, alternate skins, tilesets, backdrops, and all that stuff. We also offer a 5 bean incentive to click through to our site and a 10 bean incentive to sign up to our mailing list. A lot of iPhone games work in a similar way – just look at Jetpack Joyride, it’s literally the same 30 seconds of gameplay over and over, the main incentive to carry on playing is to collect the coins and buy a new jetpack and the new jetpacks are purely cosmetic! Firebug is coming out very soon, look for it on our website!
Where do you see the Flash games industry going? What’s in store for the future?
That’s a bit of touchy subject with Adobe dropping the mobile browser plugin, but I see that as a positive – if players can’t just play our games in their browser, then they have to buy them in the app store, which is a good thing. I’ve personally never missed not having Flash on my iPhone! I think we’ll see a lot of 3D games soon – I might add that a lot of them will be rubbish, 3D doesn’t make a good game. Hopefully we’ll see some good 2D/3D cross over type games (Paper Mario style, maybe or just interesting effects like in K.O.L.M.) and some amazing stuff using Molehill to accelerate 2D games.
What part of Flash Gaming Summit do you most enjoy or look forward to?
In your opinion, why should people come out to FGS 2012? What should they expect?
Well the theme is Maximize Your Game, so I think any developer has something to gain from going. We all need to maximize our income and generally get the most from our games.
Thanks for taking the time to chat Carl, this is great insight (and I’m looking forward to playing Firebug!). For more info on FGS 2012, please visit the conference website.