Wales’ Magnificent 7: Dojo Arcade

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New year, same us.

Welcome back to Wales’ Magnificent 7! It may be a new year but we’re not deviating from the tried and tested formula just yet.

No – instead, we’ll be giving you a little insight into Pencoed’s own Dojo Arcade.

Dojo Arcade won 2011’s Young Entrepreneur Award so you know they’re the real deal. They already have a few games under their belts but they also help others where they may be struggling. Whilst they have a lot going on themselves, they openly offer support to other developers who may not be sure of the right path to take. In these cases, Dojo Arcade can advise and support the development of that game and it’s really helping to build solid relationships across the industry.

We caught up with Phill Page, one of the developers at the studio.

At the moment, you create your own games as well as work with other studios to develop their games. Do you see yourselves going in one particular direction at some point?

Our aim is to be able to make a living from making our own games which we’ve learnt is harder than it seems. We had a good go with Creature Battle Lab (CBL) but it’s not earning us enough to live off; we just about survived making the game. Because of this we’re doing contract work to get by and build up enough money to allow us to spend time making our own games again. This process takes time though, so until then we’re seeing the contract work as training and we’ll still get to work on our own stuff in-between projects and during down time on the contracts.

Looking at Creature Battle Lab in comparison to your other games, they all look really different. Is there a particular style of game you’d like to make your own or are you happy to keep surprising people?

We’re just making games that we would want to play and having 3 directors who take an active role in the design and creation of our games means there’s always lots of differing ideas, themes and genres being thrown around. We then pick an idea based on a whole heap of reasons which change each time we plan a new game.

We’re also still learning how to make games and in turn which games we like to make. I think we each have a genre of game we’d like to try our hands at. We’re looking to make smaller more focused games for the foreseeable future meaning we can try out lots of different types of games. Maybe we’ll find one genre we want to stick with but we’re enjoying the diversity right now. But to answer your question we’d like to keep surprising people, including ourselves.

Can you tell us about some of the other themes you’ve explored in your games?

Soulfinity was our University project that we carried on with for a while but had to be put to the side-lines when we got funding to make CBL.

Immune was a project we did with The Wellcome Trust, to make a prototype for a game with a biochemistry theme.

We also worked on a game called Botio which has just released in the iOS App store and Google Play store for a company. It’s a Welsh language, learn to code game. Whilst the initial idea was given to us, all the games visuals and level designs were developed by us.

That’s a great portfolio. Which are you most proud of?

Without a doubt it’s CBL. It’s the first game we created from scratch and released. It took us 3 years to finish it and whilst there were some really hard slogs towards the end, we did it.

We learned so much as a team on this project. None of us (directors of Dojo Arcade) had managed other people before, we’d all just done personal projects or solo freelance work so it felt like a big step for us and a little daunting at the time. We also had to learn very quickly how to manage the company finances, juggling grant money, investment funds and making sure everyone got paid on time. We really had to make the jump from ragtag bunch of graduates to semi-professional game devs who look like they know what they’re doing, real quick!

We also recently won a BAFTA Cymru for Best Game! It was honestly such an honour to get that award, I still don’t think it’s fully sunk in that we won even though the awards staring me in the face on the desk next to me as we speak.

Talking about awards, you won a pretty big one back in 2011. What did winning the 2011 Young Entrepreneur Award do for you?

The biggest ‘prize’ from winning the award was getting free office space for a year at the Sony Pencoed Technology Centre. That really helped us to get on our feet. It’s hard to tell but I think winning the award may have helped us to get the grants and funding we received to make CBL. I can imagine it helped to separate us from the group of graduates with no experience behind them. Winning the award probably validated us in some people’s eyes.

With that in mind, how do you expand awareness of your brand considering the dominance of larger studios?

With difficulty! We have had little to no budget for marketing on CBL and we weren’t a known entity before that so getting your voice heard in the sea of games being released has been really hard. There’s been lots of sent emails to games journalists, app and games sites, etc. but we had hardly any responses back in the end.

I like to think we’re fairly well known within the game dev community in Wales but we do need to have more public awareness. I think this will come in time as we release more games and I think moving to PC and consoles could help with this and their markets are a lot less saturated than the mobile scene. Earlier this year we acquired a publisher for CBL, we’re making a few changes to the game then they’ll be helping out on the marketing side of things. A little after that we’ll release the game in China through Xiaomi. I think it’s been good to try our hand at marketing but it’s not our strong suit, making games is. So it’ll be interesting to see what they achieve with it.

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?

I think we’ve been really lucky to be where we are and to have had the opportunities we experienced but I don’t think we’d have been as successful if the industry in Wales was huge or non-existent as in other countries. We’ve definitely been at the right places at the right time. We managed to get a lot of funding to help us make CBL through the Welsh Government and they are really making an effort to grow the industry by supporting small emerging companies such as ourselves.

I think there’s huge potential for the industry to grow but a lot of the funding grants and support schemes have ended now. I know people in the government are pushing to get these and other funding/support schemes put in place. If they can, we have a fighting chance at growing the Welsh industry and to have some world renowned games and brands just like any other area. If we can’t get the support then it’s still possible but I know we couldn’t have done a lot of what we’ve achieved without that support.

If you’d like to see what Dojo Arcade are about for yourselves, head over to their website:

Creature Battle Lab is available on Google Play and the App Store.

Owain on Twitter
I'm a proud Welshman that gets as much time on my PS4 as my fiancé allows me.

I'm also a massive foodie, big sports fan and currently preparing for the upcoming zombie apocalypse. To read my ramblings, feel free to follow me on Twitter.

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