From Flash To Minis: Mediatonic On Creating Tiny Wonders

Gamasutra catches up with London-based studio Mediatonic, home of quirky, acclaimed Flash games (Amateur Surgeon) and PSP Mini/XBLIG titles (Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess).
Formed by two University friends in their final year of study at Brunel University London, Mediatonic is now one of the most successful British Flash and downloadable game developers. In 2005 Dave Bailey and Paul Croft, both 21-year-olds at the time, launched the company from a tiny office in the corner of Brunel's campus, ducking out of lectures to take phone calls from clients as they started work creating Flash games for the web. Despite the pressures of completing a degree while simultaneously launching a new business, the pair made a profit in their first year and, after graduation, reinvested their hard-won money back into establishing an office in Westminster, London and hiring 10 members of staff. The company's game business flourished with commissions to bring casual games such as Bejeweled and Diner Dash to web browsers. Player numbers for these titles were staggering. A viral version of EA's Poppit! secured over 30 million plays while an original game, Amateur Surgeon, created for Adult Swim, secured double that number. Today Mediatonic is making its own games, such as last year's self-published title Must.Eat.Birds on iPhone. It's this work that has led to the developer working with Sony on its PSP Minis collection of downloadable games, producing two titles to date, Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess -- also just launched on Xbox Live Indie Games, intriguingly -- and the forthcoming Who's That Flying?!. European Editor Simon Parkin caught up with Dave Bailey to find out how the platform is working out for the young studio. Why have you decided to focus on PSP Minis this year? Sony first approached us about working on Minis because they knew us from our work for hire projects. Around the same time the publisher announced that Minis would be available for download on the PS3 as well as on the PSP and so the distribution opportunity seemed enormous to us. We were really excited about the chance to produce original games for a market that’s less diluted than iPhone and the web. The hope is that we’ve been able to bring something special to the platform which already boasts some strong titles. We still do a lot of Flash and I’m a big advocate of it. It’s one of the most ubiquitous gaming platforms in the world and, when done well, the results can be really special. But Sony offered us a route into the console market where we felt our quirky style and production values would be appreciated. It’s just the start of our journey but it seems to be opening a lot of doors for us. How many staff work at Mediatonic today? There are about 25 of us right now, based in Soho, London. We’re always keen to develop new talent, so most of our recruits arrive straight from university. We compete against the big digital media agencies for Flash and Web Developers. In the end it’s talent that matters to us more than a C.V. so we hire from all kinds of background. Jim Griffiths, for example (who wrote Who’s That Flying?!) was previously an award winning motoring journalist; now he writes about Doom Beasts and Hyper-Powered-Lazer-Beams. What’s the average length turnaround on a PSP Mini project from conception to release? Both our Minis took around six months to produce from start to finish. On the PSP there is a little more groundwork to do before you get started than say with a Flash game. We needed to write systems for things such as displaying sprites, rendering animations and playing music which are often handled automatically when we create games for the web. Having done this for Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess, we were able to produce a much more substantial game for Who’s That Flying?! which should make it great value for money for players. It’s not just technical advances that we’re able to expand on and re-invest into each title, but also general team experience in creating the games; the team genuinely worries about getting the details right and that makes for a compelling title which can hold its own against some stiff competition. What has the response been like to your games on the service? How many copies have you sold? We received a large amount of positive feedback on Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess. One thing I think people wanted to see next time was a longer story mode so we’ve really gone to town on Who’s That Flying!? to provide serious value for money and to keep the quality of the writing and artwork to the same high standard. I think there is a real demand for affordable, high-quality, humorous games that you can pick-up-and-play anytime. I can’t go into the sales figures, but I will say that our first PSP Minis game was profitable. Who’s That Flying!? releases October 12 so watch this space. What do you do to stand out on the platform? We just concentrate on making the games fun and not taking ourselves too seriously. We put a lot of love into the writing, the artwork and tuning the games so that serious players will appreciate the attention to detail. I hope that our production values shine through in the games but I’ll let others be the judge of that. What are your main frustrations with the PSP Mini service? Have you found it difficult to get coverage for your games? It’s very hard to get coverage for Flash and iPhone applications so we have been pleased with the coverage on our PSP Minis games so far. The gaming press have begun to cast us into the limelight and even some of the mainstream media like the Independent and the Metro have covered our games which is all a huge help to us as an indie. Sony does a great job of supporting indie developers on the PSP Minis platform which has been really appreciated too. Why have you chosen to take the route of downloadable titles rather than boxed products? I guess it’s in our blood. We began life in online marketing and everything we’ve ever done has been digitally distributed so it just makes sense for us as a business model. What are you hoping to achieve through your games, other than financial success? We have a fantastic creative team at Mediatonic and so a big part of this is about allowing them to let off steam and see what could be produced with total creative control of the projects. It’s been great fun working with Minis and we really hope that players will appreciate the care and attention that’s gone into our games. What are your hopes and aspirations for the studio over the coming year? It’s been an epic few years getting this far but we've loved every moment of it. For us it’s about pursuing quality and originality and seeing where that takes us. If players continue to support us by buying the games, then we’ll definitely continue to invest in the downloadable games market as we think it has an amazing future ahead of it.

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