Developer Focus: Artogon Games
In this week’s Developer Focus, we go behind the scenes with Executive Producer Tim Sadovsky to talk about the Artogon development team & ask him some questions about the future of gaming. Enjoy the interview and make sure to check out all of Artogon’s amazing adventures here!!
Please introduce your development team to our readers…
We never tried to grow a big production company out of Artogon. Instead, we looked for the most talented people who enjoyed making games. There are about twenty of us now. We’re small compared to other companies, but this allows us to make about two high-quality games per year. Our core team at Artogon has more than ten years’ industry experience. This is our choice, our way of life. We’ve never been about making games just for the money. We love what we do, so it’s not just a business to us. Players can tell when a company is just out for the money. We think games should bring people satisfaction, and then they’ll remember your games.
Where did the founders come from? What did you do before Artogon?
Denis Ilyin worked as a designer, and I [Tim Sadovsky] was a manager. We worked in computer games, but at different companies. We often talked one-on-one about making really cool games together. Time passed, and new standards for graphics appeared. Very quickly, making a cool game became time-consuming and very costly. We realized if we wanted to make good games (ones that we could actually finish), we would need to make games for casual audiences. This allows our small team to still make a great game, but on a reasonable deadline and budget.
How did Artogon get started in developing casual games?
Our first game – Pharaoh’s Mystery – was published in 2006. Prior to that, we did a lot of art outsourcing for other companies, from about 1999 until 2005, when we realized that outsourcing is a road to nowhere. It doesn’t bring enough value to your company, compared to game production. Our first forays into casual gaming were not that successful. It wasn’t until our fourth game that it was profitable, and that finally made us feel that we could run a casual game company.
How big was Artogon at the beginning? About how big now?
When we first started, there were only five of us; that’s all you needed at the time. But now there are about 20 of us. We don’t want to grow bigger than this. We have a rare opportunity to make ourselves happy doing something we enjoy. The bigger the company, the more processes there are, and that takes you away from the work of making games. Everyone at Artogon is a great specialist, so we spend very little time on management, and we’re very effective.
What’s the story behind Artogon’s name?
This is a very good question, indeed. When we were doing a lot of outsourcing work, we did it mainly in 3ds Max. There’s a term used in this software, “polygon,” so the first company name we went by was Art of Polygons. But it was too long and hard to pronounce, let alone remember, so we shortened it to just Artogon.
What would you say makes Artogon different from its competition?
Well, this is actually up to players to determine, not developers. But my guess would be that players see we’re not making games just for the money. They can probably sense that we love our games, that we put our hearts and souls into them. This is not a business; it’s a passion. For example, we worked on Shiver: Vanishing Hitchhiker for more than a year and a half. We completely rewrote the game story twice until we were satisfied. When this game came to life, it was like Artogon’s calling card.
Where do you draw your inspiration when thinking up new games?
We play a lot of games, and I’m not just talking about casual games. We play FPS’s, strategy games, and even social/mobile games. As professionals, we’re always looking for an answer to the question, What makes these games popular? We have a lot of debates in the office about what our “dream game” would be. We look to books and movies for ideas. For example, one of our designers had the idea for the weather changes in the Shiver series. We have a lot of discussions and brainstorms in the office, and that makes our work fun. It’s that sense of fun that we try to deliver to our customers as well.
What’s the most challenging thing about making games? Was there any instance when you ever considered quitting or giving up?
The story, of course. The story needs to be interesting enough to keep the player in the game. It needs to have twists and hooks. It needs to be deep and intriguing. But we are very limited in terms of telling this story to a player vs. a moviegoer or someone watching a TV show. Players don’t care about our limitations, however. They expect to play a game that is on par with the movies and TV shows they watch. Yet the movie and TV industries have a lot more money and many more specialists. So that’s the most challenging part for us.
But we’ve never wanted to quit or give up. We’ll continue to create games of higher quality with strong stories. When you play our third Shiver game, you’ll see what I mean.
What non-Artogon game do you often play, just for fun?
We’re big fans of Assassin’s Creed and Diablo. We like to play Left 4 Dead. We play a lot of competitors’ casual games as well. We like games from Alawar, ERS, and Elephant Games. There are so many talented developers whose games I’ve played; my apologies for not remembering all of their studio names. We usually play three to four games per month, which makes 48 games in a year. So I’ve played more than 400 games to date.
What’s your personal favorite among Artogon games?
Shiver: Vanishing Hitchhiker and Shiver: Poltergeist are the best. You should give them a try if you haven’t already. Both have great storylines with lots of twists. I recommend the collector’s editions of these games, as the stories in the bonus content make the whole experience richer. These games are also now available on iOs. It’s a whole other experience to play casual games like this on the iPad.
Where do you think Casual Games are headed in the future? With all the new devices coming out like mobile, tablets, social etc..?
We’re great fans of mobile and see a lot of future in it. I have about six mobile devices with our game on my table, and I play them all. We currently offer all of our games on the App Store and plan to offer them through Amazon and Google Play this year as well.
This market is growing very quickly. Most modern tablets are more powerful than some PCs, and they’re cheaper. That’s why we’re already adding some mobile features to our games that weren’t present in the PC games we made. You’ll see them in our upcoming titles. My guess is that the tablet market will continue to grow, and game development will become more and more mobile-oriented. I play a lot of social/mobile games. This is a brand new market that has very little in common with casual downloadable games or free-to-play. It’s a different model.
Care to make any predictions about the gaming scene?
We think that more and more games will be mobile-oriented. A lot of games will try to shift to the free-to-play model. Right now, the free-to-play model works well with time management and classic hidden-object games. If somebody knows how to make a game with a deep story and adventure game play on the free-to-play model, he’ll succeed. Currently, a lot of necessary replay on the free-to-play model makes the story and adventure experience nothing when compared to that of casual downloadable games.
Any advice for new developers?
The only advice we want to give is what I stated at the beginning of this interview. Never make games just for the money. Love what you do, as this isn’t just a business. The player will know if you’re in it just for the money. The game should bring satisfaction and fun to players. Then they’ll remember your game. If you follow this advice, the rest will follow.
Here’s one more thing: Always listen to your producer. Experience is important! You’re not the first to have a particular problem, so trust your producer. There’s a reason he’s in a position to give you advice.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Big Fish members that play your games?
We love you and try to make the best casual games we can for you. If you’re unhappy with any of our games, send us feedback and give us a chance to improve. If you’re happy with our games, please rate them! Ratings are very important to us, so please give us a thumb’s up in the forums or rate our games with the stars you think they deserve. If you love our games and tell others, they’ll play them, too.
Remember that only together – the Big Fish customers and developers – can we create the games of our dreams.