Q&A: Inaria Interactive: Graphics Less Important In Kids' Games

Lapland Studio's new venture Inaria Interactive has announced Lead The Meerkats for WiiWare, and talks to Gamasutra on moving from outsourcing to IP creation, making kids' games, and more.
Arctic Circle-based Finnish outsourcing and post-production company Lapland Studio has started a new venture for original games, called Inaria Interactive. The subsidiary's first game is Lead the Meerkats, a casual WiiWare RTS for children that attempts to take advantage of the popularity of Meerkat Manor on the Discovery Channel. In this discussion, Gamasutra talks to CEO Ilkka Immonen introducing the studio, while touching the importance of high-end graphics on the Wii, creating an RTS for children, and moving from outsourcing into original work. What made you decide now to launch a game venture? Ilkka Immonen: That's been our longterm strategy, to build our own game studio. But first we wanted to build experience as an outsourcing company, working on graphics for not only game development companies but also advertising agencies and others. When we felt ready and had good ideas, like this one, we decided it's time to start this game development company. Obviously you must have some confidence in WiiWare, but it's been difficult for some people to actually monetize that platform. What's your strategy? II: Well, we think that we have a good title. We think meerkats are quite, let's say, in flavor. It's the flavor of the month at the moment in the U.K. and the U.S., and the meerkat program is running in over 60 countries, so there's a fanbase already there. So it's just a question of marketing and getting the word out for this. For us we think that WiiWare was a natural choice because the development cost is not as high as in other platforms and we think that our title really fits the WiiWare at the moment. What percentage, going forward, do you think will you be doing your own original development and then outsourcing? II: This company, Inaria Interactive, is going to [develop] 100 percent our own game IP. But the parent company, Lapland Studio will still do outsourcing, and indeed is doing outsourcing at the moment in Europe, in Asia, and the U.K. Lapland Studio's strategy is always to remain outsourcing partner for different companies. Do you foresee that you'll continue on the downloadable platforms, like moving to DSiWare or PSP Go or anything like that? II: Yes. Yes, that's in our strategy. Starting out on WiiWare, obviously the graphics don't have to be as high-end or HD. Do you think that those kind of HD graphics matter for this audience? Because sometimes people try to make really gorgeous looking games for kids and somehow I don't think that kids care if it's 1080p. II: I have kids myself and the games they play are... well, I buy them games that I think are good for them, but usually they play different games, you know. The graphics don't matter, it's just about the kind of the story or the experience that they get from games. So I totally agree that graphics are not as important in kids' games. When you're making a game for a demographic that starts at age three, how does that affect your story? Because you may have some people that can't read that well in your demographic. II: Yup, that's a difficult question. [laughter] I think in that sense we just try to build it on the look and feel of the game and the music and that part. One of the ways of overcoming a age three issue with narrating a story through text is it becomes a family experience. Where the mother is reading the child a storybook, for example. Then the story becomes accessible, familiar to the kid, and it's no longer an issue. So I think it could be translated into a family experience as well. The RTS genre is considered more of a hardcore genre, so how are you going to make it accessible for kids? II: Of course we've drawn a lot of inspiration from Nintendo's Pikmin series. I think that's a good example of showing how a genre that is traditionally considered hardcore can be brought to families and younger players as well. So, maybe “RTS” doesn't define our game very well. It will have of course the strategic elements but the complexity shouldn't scare younger or inexperienced players away. Because gameplay will be made much easier than, say, Starcraft. That's not what we're making.

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