A Belfast mobile games company are preparing to go head to head with the world’s biggest games producers in the Christmas market. Their soon to be launched iPhone game Galactic Racer has already impressed several games magazine reviewers. Galactic Racer was chosen by the leading gaming website Pocket Gamer as one of the Top 10 most anticipated iPhone Games of Winter 2009 and had positive reviews in Touch Arcade and Mac Observer web sites.
Wee Man Studios <WeeManstudios.com>, the company behind Galactic Racer, has offices and working space up several floors in the Blick Studios shared creative space on Malone Road. As we climbed the stairs, company co-founder Liam McGarry explained that the reviews had taken him by surprise. Those early previews came about because of the company’s first experience at San Francisco’s Games Developer Conference in February this year. They saw what the Games Industry was like and realised they needed to plan their next US visit which was the Apple World Wide Developers Conference in June. By the time they arrived back in San Francisco, they had already taken advice and had done their research. They had planned who they wanted to see and talk to including the games reviewers and influential leaders in games technology. “We showed them the preview – a video of the game. They were impressed and the comments were very supportive.”
Liam is the business brain behind Wee Man Studios and John Owens is the self acknowledged “Super Geek” developer. Liam found us a vacant room at the top of the Blick Studios building where we could talk. “Our first big decision was finding an artist. John had the skills as a coder, but for a game you need a coder and an artist. That took some time because although there are games courses here and the Universities say they have the students, there seems to be a gap between the person with a few months experience and a person with 10 years experience.” They were looking for something in the middle, but something more important than experience. “One of the key attributes we were also looking for was – you are either a gamer or you are not. I’m not a gamer, but when I see a gamer they have that understanding.” It took four months to find the right person.
When they began, the Apple Apps store was still to come, so when Liam tried to explain their business plan, potential funders could not see how the business was going to work. Liam and John were convinced, but ahead of the pack. “Now iPhone is a buzz word. A year ago we were told ‘No!’”
Another crucial decision was a games engine which they decided to build their own based on an open source platform. That had several attractive advantages including cost and control of the code that John was writing. “It saved us significantly. We had access to the source code; we could tinker with it. It gave us greater functionality. We were able to do more.”
While they have ambition for their first release, it will be initially only available for the iPhone. And that was another important business decision. “Apple is selling $125 million a month on the iPhone and $73 million on the Touch. Google is next with $5 million and the majority of their games are free. So if you are going to go for one platform, it makes sense to go for the iPhone. Other App Stores aren’t developed. Maybe in a year’s time we might be looking at a different market. With the rise and rise of Apple with 500 million downloads last quarter, and as a way into the market to build our name, Apple is the way we are going.”
Another development is the PSP Mini launched on 1 October. “Existing PSP Portable and Playstation owners will be able to play games that can be bought for €1, €2, €5. We would intend to move there. It’s a ready base of 50 million gamers. That’s a huge market and makes a lot more sense than moving to Blackberry or something else our game wouldn’t suit.”
Wee Man’s declared plan is to be the leading mobile games producer in Ireland by 2012. A bold statement considering their first game Galactic Racer is still to be released. But it is a bold statement backed up by a bold business vision supported by a board of advisors drawn from business and technology. To support their ambitions they are already planning to take on more employees.
As he showed me out Liam said “It is going to take us 18 months to be an overnight sensation.” And while they are not quite there yet, they are focused on a games Christmas and a successful future.