FGS 2012 Advisory Board Series: Simon Lachance

FGS 2012 Advisory Board Interview Series

This is part four 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 Flash Gaming Summit, getting their thoughts on both the conference and the games industry in general. This week’s Advisory Board interview features Simon Lachance, co-founder of Berzerk Studio. Berzerk Studio is a highly successful game studio creating games for both online and mobile platforms.

For more information on Flash Gaming Summit, including passes, speaking, or award show nomination 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?

I’m Simon Lachance, co-founder of Berzerk Studio.  We’re a team of 7, (3 coders, 3 artists, 1 Game designer/Artist) making Flash games since the end of 2008. We have made over ten games up to this point, and recently launched our own Flash games portal.

What did you do before?

We, the 3 co-founders of Berzerk Studio, were working at the same Flash game company.  We always had the dream to start on our own, make games that we like and create a cool brand.  So we decided to quit our jobs and go full indie.

How did you first get into the Flash games industry? Tell us about your path.

As mentioned above, we were already working for another Flash Games company before Berzerk Studio.  That’s where we learned how to make a game from scratch.  After we founded Berzerk Studio, I was looking up “how to sell games” on the Internet (how to make a living out of it).  Our very first idea was to make a game on XNA and publish it on Xbox.  We had done a prototype of a Flash game ported on XNA that worked very well,  but we decided that it would have been too risky to start among the big ones.  Our strength was Flash games, and the XNA prototype would have taken too much time to make.

So back then, we did something hard but necessary-  we threw the 6-months-production-XNA-prototype in the garbage, and started another smaller game for the Flash market.  Our strategy was to create small but high quality games for the Flash market, build a reputation, a fanbase, and a brand to be able to sell on future console games.   That’s when we found Flash Game License (FGL).  Chris Hughes saw our prototype and contacted us, since then they really helped us monetize our games. You should really go see these guys if you want to know more on how to sell games and live from it.

What has been your proudest moment since joining the Flash gaming community?

It was when I went to Flash Gaming Summit (FGS) 2011. I’ve met a lot of cool people there- developers, publishers, portal owner etc. We exchanged a lot of great information on the games business. But the proudest moment was when I discovered that half of the people I’ve met knew Berzerk Studio and the Berzerk brand. There were literally people making the Berzerker’s scream from our intro in front of me saying “That’s the best intro ever!” I have never been so proud of our team.

What was the biggest challenge for Berzerk Studio in the early going? How does that compare to the challenges you face today?

I’d say the biggest challenge is monetizing your games. We knew how to make games, but to monetize them was something we had to learn. You have to make decisions when producing the games to make sure they sell well. The biggest challenge when you’re alone with no money to make a living, is time. You always have to scope small to make more games instead of risking to make a big game that won’t sell. Sometimes you have a really cool idea, but the time needed to create it is too long so you just have to leave it or save it for the sequel.

Describe the climate as a game developer today in terms of technology and monetization opportunity. How does it compare to being a game developer 2-3 years ago?

The biggest difference now is that you can think of porting your games on the mobile market.  The mobile market is way bigger than it was 2-3 years ago,  so it’s always best to think of a game that can be ported on the mobile market if the game does well on the web.  We chose Unity to port our games on iPhone and Android, which is a very strong technology that allows us now to port any of our games in 4 days.

What is it that you love the MOST about the Flash games industry?

It’s a very fast market.  You need to pump out games quickly, and it’s fairly easy to make a game that’ll be played millions of times all around the world.  It’s a very strong distribution tool for your brand.  An average Berzerk game gets 8-12 million plays,  sometimes 25 million.  That’s a lot of people that are exposed to your brand.

What do you like the least?

I’d say that it’s hard to make everybody happy.  Some players will want to tear it down, saying bad things about it. If your game is good,  people will ask for a sequel, NOW. If it’s bad, you’ll get tons of angry emails telling you what you did wrong.

How has the industry changed since you fist joined?

It’s pretty much the same.  You need a sponsor to distribute your games, it goes on thousands of portals and you start again. As said earlier, the biggest difference now for us is that we try to reach the mobile games market for games that worked well on web.

The theme for FGS 2012 is “Maximize Your Game”. How do you think Flash game developers are maximizing their games today? What could they be doing better / differently?

There’s a lot of ways to monetize your games.  Micro-transactions are one of them,  but knowing what and when to sell is a science. It’s important not to piss people off before they even play the game.  We have also found that translating our games in many languages is a really good thing to do, so you can reach new local markets.

Where do you see the Flash games industry going? What’s in store for the future?

Free small games will always be there.  It’s a great distribution tool for ads or showcasing your brand. I can’t see it going away anytime soon. Although, with Stage3D and the mobile market growing up, Flash games might finally have an impact on the mobile market.

What part of Flash Gaming Summit do you enjoy or look forward to the most?

Meeting people! Shaking hands and discussing business is my #1 plan at FGS.  If I have time, I’d also want to hop on stage to share my experiences, but there’s so many things going on here at Berzerk that I may not be able to!

In your opinion, why should people come out to FGS 2012? What should they expect?

“Maximize your games” pretty much sums it up.  Increasing revenue for each of your games is what you want, if you want to make games full-time and continue improving your games.

Thanks Simon, see you at FGS 2012!