FGS 5 Advisory Board Interview Series, Take 4
Welcome to the fourth edition of the FGS 5 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.
This time around I chatted with Mat Annal, managing director and owner of Nitrome. Nitrome has consistently churned out hit games for years, such as Final Ninja Zero, Twin Shot, and Steamlands (to name a few). This is the second time Mat has served on the FGS Advisory Board.
For more information on FGS 5, including passes, speaking submissions, or Mochis Award Show information please visit the conference website.
Interview with Mat Annal
Introduce yourself- who are you, how big is your team, and how do you participate in the Flash games industry?
Hi, I’m Mat Annal, Managing Director and owner of Nitrome.
We started out just as a team of two but have grown now to a team of 12 full-time employees plus a few extra people that either work freelance or part time for us. We have made over 100 flash games to date, many of which have won awards. The games are all developed in-house under our own brand, and we fund them primarily through advertising on our own site nitrome.com as well as within the games themselves when we distribute them around the internet or sell licenses to other sites that want to host them.
What did you do before?
Before Nitrome I worked making Flash games and Flash microsites for various well-known brands at design agencies.
How did you first get into the Flash games industry? Tell us about your path.
When I was at University I studied Graphic design, and within that course I was particularly taken with the interactive and web modules. I think I always wanted to make games and so was drawn to anything that was more in line with that. A few jobs down the line, I was actually making games within the web space and at the time the only format to realistically use for that was Flash. This of course was all for clients, whom have a tendency to control your games to the point of them lacking the key creative elements I wanted to be able to introduce.
I started Nitrome out of frustration with this situation and produced our first game “Hot Air” as a reaction to my lack of freedom up until that point. It was the real throw-back to the types of games I grew up with and (not a lot of people realise this ) but this was actually the first time I had ever used pixel artwork in a game. This is something we are now well-known for, but at the time it was really a need to do something very different from the vector heavy games I had been making. I had no idea that would be the start of what Nitrome has now become, and I feel very thankful that things worked out the way they did.
What has been your proudest moment since joining the Flash gaming community?
I think my proudest moment was when I got an office in London and took on my first staff. It was then a proper company to me and a very exciting point in my career where anything seemed suddently possible.
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?
2-3 years ago things were a lot easier in the Flash space. It was a lot easier to grow your site traffic and advertisers were generally paying more for ad space than they do today, and both of these are key aspects to funding games in the space.
What is it that you love the MOST about the Flash games industry?
I love the sheer freedom you have in the Flash industry to build what you want both because the tools are quick to build with and because the space allows any sort of game without being bias to a particular dominant genre.
What do you like the least?
I would love for it to have had the same sort of success stories as, say, the App store or Steam gets. People can make money in the space for sure but, portal owners aside, as an actual game developer I have yet to hear of anyone getting very rich from it. So what I like least is the lack of potential in the space, how that makes developers favor other formats, and ultimately how that limits the scope of what you could realistically commit to building in Flash due to the need to make a return on your invested time.
How has the industry changed since you first joined?
When I first joined the Flash industry it was primarally used as an animation tool and was only just starting to be used in some primitive games (Shockwave was used mainly for games back then). So I have seen it evolve into a great games creation tool.
When I started Nitrome most Flash games were still being produced by hobbyists or for promoting a product, both of which limited the scope of the games produced. This changed when developers such as ourselves learned that they could make original games, and did not need to make them for a brand in order to generate revenue. Since then the quality of your average Flash game has vastly improved year over year.
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?
I think that developers now need to expand their plan on how they are going to monetize their games in the future. With a general slow decline in the Flash space I think it will become increasingly hard to fund game development in Flash from advertising alone so new funding models need to be explored.
Mobile is the new growth area so developers should try to embrace it, but that is not to say that the PC space is dead or that people should jump ship. Steam is incredibly popular and allows Flash (and has a new platform for submissions called “Greenlight”), and the new windows store is bound to offer possibilities as well. There is also the social space and micro transactions, but I feel this is now dominated by larger companies and is a harder space to crack.
Where do you see the Flash games industry going? What’s in store for the future?
I think that Flash is going to evolve from being a browser-based platform to more of a games creation tool for developing games on multiple platforms. I feel like Unity has the lead on this, but there are a lot of Flash developers out there that love their platform so I think it is up to Adobe to support them in making tools that they can use that are comparable to other games creation platforms. If they get it right I think the Flash platform will remain significant for a long time to come.
What part of FGS do you enjoy or look forward to the most?
I love meeting other people in the Flash space, particularly teams that like us have been making noteworthy games for a few years now. Being based in London it takes an event like FGS to bring the most forward thinking Flash developers to the same space and that is not something I think should be missed.
In your opinion, why should people come out to FGS 5? What should they expect?
I think Flash is at a key turning point in it’s lifecycle so more than ever there are things to discuss. It is a great place to meet like-minded people, make new business contacts and new friends. They should also expect to have tons of fun at the after-party :)
Thanks Mat, see you at FGS 5!