Having introduced you to two studios already, Obilisk is now full steam ahead into Wales. We hope that following our other articles, you’ve checked out both Goldborough and Quantum Soup and you’re suitably impressed! If so, then your appetite must seriously be growing for more of what Wales has to offer! Luckily, you’re in the right place.
This time around, we take an in depth look at Candlhat Studios.
Candlhat is more than just a studio. Sure, it’s working on games, but more than that it’s celebrating Welsh culture and giving back to the community at the same time.
Based in Llantrisant, South Wales, Candlhat works off a very clear philosophy.
It says a lot about who the studio are and what they value, but it’s not until you speak to them that you realize just how much they do for the gaming landscape in Wales. With projects such as Appening Rhondda and their new game, Anwen, Welsh heritage couldn’t be in better hands.
I caught up with Ben Treharne-Foose; originally from Illinois, but now a proud Welshman.
Anwen is probably the Welshest game we’ve come across. Was it important to you to keep the game close to your roots?
Because really, Wales is an exotic, almost mystical location for most of the world and we get the privilege to live here.
It also helps that we have access to locations and world class historians on our doorstep. So modelling scenes and working with Welsh speaking script writers and actors has been incredibly useful.”
Were there any other inspirations outside of Wales, maybe in the wider gaming world?
“Our technical lead is quite proud of the Steam Library shaped hole left in his bank account!
We looked at lots of different games all the way from AAA Games to much smaller Indie titles, but the biggest influence for us has been Life Is Strange.
We knew we wanted to tell a story and an episodic approach allows us to develop the game in stages and react to the interest of our audience. Like most indie developers, the biggest challenge is getting our ideas and aspirations to find a place to live within out limited resources.
Gameplay in Anwen will function somewhat similarly to Life Is Strange (although she won’t be able to rewind time). But the look and feel of the game will much different.
We’re playing with some intense subject matter in the game such as the development of communism and the impact of the industrial revolution on communities all played through the eyes of a 14 year old girl.”
It sounds like you have a lot going on with Anwen. However you’re also running a project called ‘Appening Rhondda’ – can you tell us about that?
Appening Rhondda was born out of a need to create opportunities for young aspiring developers to get a chance to work within a professional environment. We work very closely with local charity partners to invite 40-50 young people each year to work with our team and create an app or game they can put their name to.
The feedback from the young people participating has been incredible. What tends to happen with most young people is they have an interest in game development so they head off to college and then university to get a qualification that says they know how to build games. But in most cases, through all that time, they haven’t built a game from start to finish and have never had to learn to work with a client or take a brief.
As part of Appening Rhondda, we provide an intense 4-day Game Jam that takes the participants through the entire lifecycle, from idea and storyboarding through development and finally into marketing and monetisation. In 4 days each team produces their own game including all visual and audio assets along with GUI and have submitted it to the apps stores.
We’ve run a total of 8 of these sessions over the last 2 years, but 2018 looks like it will be our busiest yet. The demand is so high and we are now also working with the local college that we have scheduled in 10 Game Jams next year.
That’s amazing. Do you think it’s vital those local links are kept alive and get more young people into game development?
Our involvement with Appening Rhondda is so much more than just corporate social responsibility as many people might think. For one, we have found some great talent. Five of our developers have been hired because we met them during a Game Jam and they impressed us so much.
Our work with the charity sector has also opened up incredible opportunities to access funding to build numerous apps and games for local community groups.
But one of the most profound ways we have benefited is the cohesion of the team. By working with young people and the local community, it’s easy for us to create an ethos in the business to reflect on who we are building for. Every Game Jam we get to down tools and work on something completely different as a team.
So, yes, it’s clearly important for us to create opportunities for young people to explore a career in game development, but we certainly get a lot more out of it than just a warm fuzzy feeling… it makes a lot of business sense as well.
It sounds really impressive, not only for the community but also for Candlhat. How important has the studio’s experience been to it’s overall growth?
The directors of Candlhat have between them run over 25 different businesses in numerous industries. So, rather than create a development team first and then figure out how to run it as a business, we’ve started from the other direction. That means we have clear direction in terms of marketing and routes to market along with managing the finances and HR that many newly established teams often forget to plan for.
Candlhat development team also evolved out of a long established SaaS team. Meaning the underlying structures of our games are built to accommodate the handling of large amounts of data.
This approach has allowed us to deliver other products and services to help maintain the stability of the company and grow every year in terms of turnover and staffing.
We’ve seen plenty of other businesses run ahead with grand ideas before planning strategically how to deliver sustainable growth. As a result, we’re in an extremely strong position before we have even released our first major title.
Despite that experience, do you find it difficult to expand awareness of your brand considering the dominance of larger studios?
To be honest, we haven’t had to cross that bridge yet. But it isn’t something that worries us.
We aren’t looking to rocket to stardom right away. The routes to market for indie developers is so incredible right now all we see is opportunity.
We have an experienced digital marketing team that will be helping us launch our games.
We work with influential charity partners who call in favours for us to get celebrity endorsements. Let the big guys have their million dollar budgets, I guarantee they waste most of it on pointless ‘branding exercises.’
We are engaging directly with our players and are looking forward to creating games the larger studios don’t have the courage to tackle because they are so focussed on winning awards and returning huge dividends to the shareholders.
With that in mind, do you find that there are some real advantages of being a smaller studio?
It’s cliché, but we really are agile and can react quickly to a change in direction or new opportunity we need to pounce on. A few months ago we were asked to develop a mobile game for a Premier League Football Club and only given 8 days from proposal to launch.
Because we are a close knit studio, we made the decision as a team to change our work schedules in order to get it done within budget and delivered 2 days earlier than needed.
That’s one of the big differences for a smaller studio is that we can quickly adapt to changes and opportunities as they arise.
The disadvantages are as we are a small team, we often need to call in freelance skills we don’t have in our full-time team. This means we get some incredible talent, but when it comes to scheduling work and hitting milestones, we have additional complications.
Finally, what are your thoughts on the games industry in Wales? Do you see it growing even more? What more can be done to help it grow?
The games industry in Wales will grow, because frankly it has to. The skills and technologies used in games development are spilling over into so many new sectors. Education, training, sports, health…. Games are being developed for them all and as organisations and businesses continue to recognise the impact games can have on achieving their goals, the more they will be looking to exploit the medium.
To help facilitate that growth, more sectors need to think seriously about how they can use gaming in their approaches. There is a reason the industry has exploded globally. It’s because games developers themselves are exploring how their games can contribute to society. But for that to work we need experts from many different fields working with the Games Industry to explore those options.