BattleBrew Productions is a passionate crew of creators and crafters working on the next generation of mobile strategy games. Leading the team is Shawn Toh — CEO, game designer, thinker, planner and doer all rolled into one. As the start-up embarks on their third year, we caught up with Shawn on the importance of skills, training, and the future of the industry.
What were your biggest challenges as a start-up and how did you overcome them?
Fundamentally, most challenges usually boil down to people issues—whether it’s from the investors, the team and, of course, the customers. But out of the three, you need the team to exist to go forward. Our crew comprises former classmates and ex-colleagues from larger game companies. While it was fun and educational working with the established companies, we felt it was time to push game design creatively and challenge ourselves in running the business.
The hardest challenge was starting up actually—we took about half a year to solidify the team and product(s). During that time, we worked on a volunteer and part-time basis, meeting about once a week and building the prototype, conducting market research, etc. My teammates and I have come a long way and I can rely on them professionally and personally.
Speaking of team, do you think there is a skills gap between what potential game designers learn in school and what the industry requires?
Definitely. Because the industry moves so fast, there will inevitably be gaps between what is taught in school and what is currently relevant. Fundamentally, as long as schools provide a good foundation, I think short courses might be able to plug the gap and build on the necessary skills and capabilities.
Can you name a couple of skills that are essential for game developers to stay on top of their game.
Soft skills and observational/analytical skills: How to analyse trends, how to breakdown and analyse games, knowledge about different cultures, how to talk to people.
Can you share with us what are some of the new growth areas in the gaming industry?
A: Augmented reality (AR) is going to grow for sure, especially AR in conjunction with mobiles in the near future, and perhaps AR with wearable or embedded tech in the slightly distant future. Conversely, virtual reality (VR) might be a challenge unless the hardware can catch up both in price and usability.
So which markets offer the biggest opportunities for game developers today?
The mobile platform will remain an important sector, with year on year growth and as-yet untapped countries. I’d say AR, in collaboration with mobile, is also growing and offers some new challenges in the way we can play, as digital gaming and physical gaming continue to meld even further.
As e-sport continue to rise in popularity, is it a challenge or is it an opportunity for game developers?
Both. Or should I say every challenge is an opportunity and vice versa. So yes, of course, e-sports will be a growing field—does it mean that more game companies will aspire to make the next big e-sports game? Conversely, if many studios do that (develop e-sport games), a vacuum will exist for companies to make games NOT catered to e-sports for people who are not into following the zeitgeist of the moment.
Where do you go to find inspiration and learn about the latest trends for game design and development?
Gaming sites such as Kotaku, Gamasutra, App Annie, and Newzoo are but a few of the websites I regularly browse. The games industry people are also rather close-knit and regularly post updates or interesting news or ideas. That’s why another source of interesting information are friends from across the globe.
How do you keep yourself relaxed during your free time (besides gaming)?
I’m actually a big metal music fan and would attend a few gigs here and there. Mongolian metal and folk metal are my favourite subgenres of metal. I also like to draw a fair bit, which is actually how I met my artists who eventually formed part of the core team for BattleBrew. We used to meet about once or twice a week to go draw and sketch.
Name the one person in your industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.
If it’s global—the amazing team at Supergiant Games. If local, hmmm…the team at 12 Braves.
What advice would you give new start-ups in your industry?
You can’t do it alone. Start-up life is chaotic and demanding. Rally a team of people you trust. Empower them and trade skills accordingly so everyone has a backup role they can perform. And most importantly, you’ll need to learn and adapt quickly.