April 25, 2012
If you think games are silly, you obviously haven’t met Singapore’s Witching Hour Studios, a game shop led by 3 of the most passionate, thoughtful, and hilarious entrepreneurs I met in Asia.
They are the creators of Ravenmark, an iOS game where exiled nobles return home to regain their birthright. It’s a world with thousands of years of history, filled with family disputes, betrayals, and deeply developed characters.
I sat down with cofounders Ian Gregory (creative), Brian Kwek (business), and Kevin Mohinani (tech) to talk about motivations. Kwek said they wanted to create fresh and unique stories, not clones or Angry Birds:
“Nowadays, games are just so easy,” added Gregory. “The satisfaction of actually doing something, that’s something we want to provide, that sense of accomplishment–” “–a true kind of achievement,” continued Kwek, “rather than the modern-day ‘achievement unlocked’ mentality.”
“They don’t know they needed a challenge but we gave it to them,” chimed in Mohinani.
And that challenge has helped create a small community of devotees.
“This [one] mission, everyone says that they can’t beat it,” recounted Gregory – in fact, players sent emails saying, “You guys suck, I hate you guys.” “But whenever they beat it, and I say, ‘I think I’ll make the mission easier.’ ‘No, don’t! You can’t make it easier!’ ‘Why?’ ‘It’s a badge of honor.’”
And the team has learned a lot from user feedback. One player won a mission when he trapped an exploding, suicidal character and made it blow up near the enemy – a “fantastic” outcome they hadn’t even imagined. An army caption in Iraq claimed one mission was impossible, so Gregory asked why; turns out the captain was sacrificing his heroes to save the masses of soldiers, not vice versa – an incredible insight into player psychology that informed future updates to Ravenmark.
Besides player feedback, the team benefits from stellar rapport – at least in my observation. They’re a perfect, complementary trio of crazy and visionary (Gregory), more quiet and earnest (Kwek), and aloof but witty (Mohinani). For a dose of inspiration, take a look at their responses to the question, What do you enjoy the most about work?
- Gregory: “Breaking my own stuff, because the ability to take things apart is very, very fun. I have a few other game design things; I purposely break them, build them up again, and make them better. I love what in Singapore you call fighting fires – as in, when there’s a problem, find a solution. I’m very solution-oriented. That means I like to create problems for myself to solve to keep myself occupied; I get bored very easily.” He said they play trailer videos for other games in the office, and try to figure out their game mechanics.
- Kwek: “I’m a writer at heart; since I started playing games at 7 or 8, when I reached the age where I could really appreciate a narrative in games, I always had this habit that I never really let a game go unless I had to sleep,” he says. [Pause for his cofounders to make the requisite jokes about obsessive video gamers dying in front of their computers.] “World of Warcraft would not work on a person like me, but anything that’s story-driven, I just stick to it. I’ve always been fascinated by any good stories, whether it’s games or in a novel, how a really good story captives you – I always wanted to see if I could emulate that.”
- Mohinani (who introduced himself as doing “the backend stuff that nobody cares about”): “Once you see the whole game come together, once everybody’s put in their part and everything’s meshed together well and you just play the game, you’re like, ‘Wow, we built this from scratch, by hand.’ And it’s not like we’re just sitting there at our desk telling employees, ‘You do it and we’ll just take the credit.’ We’re all there. Before we launched the game … we were all sleeping at 5 am, we were all in the house together, 8 of us hunched over computers, everybody’s banging at the keyboard and getting stuff done. It’s stuff like that that makes you excited.”
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