I got a chance to speak with Andrew Bennison from Prospect games, the lead designer behind unbox, about his experience as an indie developer he was a very interesting person to speak to with some insights into working in the world of indie games and what to expect from Unbox a newbies adventure
Hi Andrew, thanks for talking with This is Xbox so, Unbox. You have been working on it for some time and now has just released on Xbox?
So we launched just ‘Unbox’ last September on steam, it went well enough to keep us in business so we have brought a slightly optimised and enriched version called ‘Unbox Newbie’s Adventure’ to Xbox One, released July 26th. We also have a Switch version coming later this year.
You guys have been working on this since 2014, right?
We came up with the initial concept at a Game Jam, a Christmas Game Jam, hosted by Epic Games in December of 2014, the theme was what’s in the box so you can see and draw a line between there and where we are now and then we jumped into full development around the 4th-5th of January 2015. So, it’s taken about a year and a half to make the game and then about half a year more to get it working on all the various platforms.
You have been working on it for two years, in Manchester as an indie developer, Prospect Games, what do you see as being the next step for you now Unbox is out?
Really we gotta assess based on how well the console launch goes, we kind of have a price tag attached to each of the ‘plans’ of how we move forward, you know? If we do alright we can do one thing, if we do amazing we can do another. It’s really down to how well the launch goes and later on this year with the Switch. Are we going to make a sequel to Unbox? Are we going to make a completely different game or do both of those things at the same time? It’s really all down to performance at launch.
Would you say then that as an Indie developer that’s one of the biggest challenges between you and the big ‘AAA’ developers who can plan their pipeline, where as for you it is tied up with each game that you produce and the revenue it makes?
Yeah, I think that no matter what scale your company is at you have that same issue of how much is in reserves, how much is available in resources, do you have enough internally for other projects. Ideally you’d have projects running alongside each other so that you are able to do two, three product launches a year. That would be excellent. On the flip side of that there is a lot more pressure and responsibility attached to that and just because you are a bigger company able to do more but with the extra pressure added. However we are a small developer and if the launch doesn’t go well that could be us out of business, although if it goes exceptionally well then it opens up prospects for us that we aren’t currently even thinking about at this point.
Obviously it’s very different being an indie developer to someone who might develop for a bigger game company, you mentioned before about attending Game Jam, but what made you go indie instead of applying to be part of a bigger company?
Well, as a teenager I wanted to be a film director and on a media studies course we had a big project about making a film. Well I didn’t have any equipment and the equipment there was crap, oh and this was the time when Machinima wasn’t really a channel, it was a way to describe films made in games, so I said ‘can I make a film in Halo 2?’ And they said ‘ok, that’s weird but go for it if you want, give it a shot’ and in the process of making that piece of content I got more of an insight into games and I thought I’m playing a lot of games, but this made me really think about the design of them and how they pull all sorts of themes together.
So I went onto a university course, where I studied games design and met the two guys who helped me start Prospect, which effectively started as a modding group with Left 4 Dead mods, then we tried mobile development in the evenings and some ad hock work and after a while we had saved up the cash and we hadn’t had any success in getting into the ‘AAA’ market plus I’m awful at being told what to do so we thought, ‘Well we did this great at uni let’s see if we can make it into something sustainable, and here we are.
If I was sat at home and I wanted to get into developing as an indie developer, from your experience what do you think is the best route for someone coming out of uni wanting to do it for themselves?
That’s a tough one, the market is so much more brutal now than when we started up. I’d start by saying don’t go to uni first! The last thing you want to do is saddle yourself with debt and none of the courses are as good as actually getting down to doing some work and dedicating yourself entirely to it and as much as academia might try, being forced to do essays and course work and other things that just don’t exist in the real world. I mean, when I look at someone’s CV, I don’t care if they have a BSc or a PHD, I look to see if they have worked on products or stuff that’s been released etc.
I would advise if you are going to go down the indie route, do you want to make games for fun? Or do you want something more sustainable? Like make it your career. Because you can be an indie developer in your bedroom in the evenings after a 9-5 job and that way you can focus on being critically well received without the necessity of it being commercially well received to put food on the table.
It’s a really tough market with almost nobody making money on PC and then with the console halfway through their lifetime they already are very competitive markets, the Switch is still lacking in content but that will change after a few hundred titles have come out on it. I would say, it’s a really tough time to become an indie developer at the moment.
Very interesting to hear your point of view, direct from someone who has been working in it for the last two years, and what you have been working on is Unbox, out now, I’m going to sit down and have a play with it now, any tips? Any secrets you want to give me before I start?
Er, well don’t skip the tutorial it really sets you up with the mechanics to get through the game, make sure you use the D-pad in-game, which will point you towards critical characters and missions. If you get stuck, hit the back button and it will bring up your progress to give you an idea of where you are, something people seem to miss but it’s very useful in getting you through the game.