FGS 5 Advisory Board Interview Series, Take 2
Welcome to my second installment of the Advisory Board Interview Series! This is your chance to get to know the folks who will determine the content of FGS 5, getting their thoughts on both the conference and the games industry in general.
My second interview is with Matt Neff and Tony Solary of Flipline Studios. Flipline Studios is responsible for some of the most popular Flash game titles around with their “Papa’s” franchise (Papa’s Pizzeria, Papa’s Burgeria, etc.). This is the first year Matt and Tony have served on the FGS Advisory Board.
For more information on Flash Gaming Summit, including passes, speaking submissions, or Mochis 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?
We are Matt Neff and Tony Solary of Flipline Studios. Our team is just the two of us, so we usually have our hands full trying to juggle everything involved with game development and managing the business. We’re mainly focused on developing free-to-play distributable Flash games.
What did you do before?
Before developing games full-time, we did a lot of client work to pay the bills, including websites for technology firms, 3D visualizations for construction companies, and graphic design for consulting firms.
How did you first get into the Flash games industry? Tell us about your path.
In college we collaborated together on a variety of projects (including making several games), and we decided to start a company together once we graduated. After graduating with Digital Arts degrees in 2004 we started Flipline Studios, and we were initially doing a lot of non-game client work.
At the time, there was no great way to monetize web games, so our main avenue for continuing with web game development was to get some adver-game work. The biggest problem was that our previous games had been built in Director, which was falling out of popularity as Flash was becoming more capable and gaining a better install base, so we needed an example of what we could do in Flash.
We started working on Papa Louie: When Pizzas Attack as a small tech demo to show clients, and as we kept adding to it we decided it could stand on its own as a game, though we still weren’t quite sure how to distribute the game or if we could make any money from it. Around the time we were finishing the game, Mochi Media was starting up and beta testing a new in-game ad system. We signed up for MochiAds, and quickly learned we could release the game into the wild and generate revenue from the ads.
Soon enough, we started doing less and less client work, and started focusing primarily on independent game development. For the last 6 years we have been doing non-stop game development, making games we love to play as much as we love to make, and making a living working on games full-time.
What has been your proudest moment since joining the Flash gaming community?
Although we could say it was when we reached x amount of gameplays a day, the proudest moment for us as developers actually happened this summer when a family of 5 made a surprise visit to our studio. They trekked over 400 miles, and one of the kids pulled out a folder and showed us a series of comic books he had made involving the characters from our games. Seeing that our games are influencing kids today, much the same way old Nintendo games influenced us when we were growing up, was a great moment for us.
What was the biggest challenge for you in the early going? How does that compare to the challenges you face today?
The hardest challenge we faced was after three years of development on an MMO. We had a lot riding on the game, and it launched with a large fan base, but quickly fizzled out as many MMOs did at the time. We scrambled to make another game that was smaller in scale and more casual, but that too flopped. We had two strikes, and we desperately needed our next game to pan out if we wanted to continue working on games as a living. Fortunately, we followed up with Papa’s Burgeria, which ended up being a big hit for us and kept the company afloat.
Now the company is going strong, and we’ve had success with our Cactus McCoy series, our Papa’s cooking series, and our newest game, Jacksmith. Our biggest challenges today are trying to see the road ahead, take mitigated risks, and not fall into another MMO-like bubble.
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?
It has improved a lot over the years, with a variety of monetization options for developers. For web games, you have in-game advertising, solid distribution channels, and sponsorship and licensing options at FGL.
Beyond the browser, there are great opportunities to develop mobile apps and desktop apps using Flash. While there are many opportunities to monetize your games now, it still comes down to the challenge of getting your games noticed in the first place.
What is it that you love the MOST about the Flash games industry?
We love the immediacy of releasing a game, and the ease of people being able to find, play, and spread your game as soon as it’s released. Also high on our list are getting feedback from fans, and being able to fix and adjust games on the fly.
What do you like the least?
The sheer amount of Flash games that are being released today is definitely impacting the already short shelf life of Flash games.
How has the industry changed since you first joined?
When we started, the industry barely existed, but now it’s thriving, growing and evolving.
The theme for FGS 5 is “Evolve Your Game”. How do you think Flash game developers are evolving their games today? What could they be doing better / differently?
Quality as a whole has gone up now that both developers and the players are seeing Flash games as legitimate games, and not just five-minute diversions. We see many Flash developers learning to take that 5 minute diversion, and using upgrades, achievements, and lush details, they are transforming that same mechanic into an in-depth and sophisticated game.
With the rise of apps, Flash developers are also starting to make games with the foresight of potentially porting them to mobile platforms. As a result, we’re seeing more games designed with highly streamlined control schemes that can easily bridge the gap from browser-based to mobile touch screen.
Where do you see the Flash games industry going? What?s in store for the future?
Flash development studios tend to be smaller teams, and although it makes it difficult to compete with massive companies like Zynga, we do have the ability to pivot and adapt faster to changing environments and bumps in the road. Only time will tell how things like Windows 8, the rise of tablets and the Flash-less iOS browsers will impact the Flash industry. However, we’re sure that the industry is capable of rolling with the punches, and carving our own path.
What part of FGS do you enjoy or look forward to the most?
We’re looking forward to seeing some great speakers and sessions. It’s always interesting to see how other developers are approaching things on the technical and business sides, and we love hearing about their successes!
In your opinion, why should people come out to FGS 5? What should they expect?
This is a great opportunity to meet with other developers and potential sponsors, and learn more about how the industry works. Other gaming conferences can be too general, or focused on topics or platforms that may not apply as well to Flash game development, but with FGS you know you’re getting an experience that’s tailored just for you as a Flash game developer.
Thanks guys, see you at FGS 5!