October 5, 2010 12:00 PM | Michael Rose
Formed in 2009 by four friends who had previously worked at huge developers such as Criterion Games and Electronic Arts, Hello Games consists of Sean Murray, Grant Duncan, Ryan Doyle and David Ream. Soon after forming, the four-man team announced its first game, arcade motorbike-em-up Joe Danger.
Joe Danger was released in June of this year via the PlayStation Network to critical acclaim from both the press and the PlayStation community. Since then, Hello Games has gone on to win two UK Develop Awards and be part of The Guardian's Top 100 Tech Media Invest list.
A few months on from this huge success, GameSetWatch's Mike Rose sits down with Sean Murray to ask whether it has all sunk in yet, what they've been up to since, and what we can expect from Hello Games in the future.
Joe Danger received critical acclaim from all the big review sites. Did you expect such an explosive response?
We expected the opposite actually. Genuinely. I can't describe what the weeks before the release of Joe Danger were like, but you can imagine that every self doubt and every fear creeps into your mind. On top of that, we were really struggling to just get people to review Joe Danger, most passed on it initially.
We fought hard to get our game in front of a few people, but their response was just overwhelmingly positive. We haven't paid for any marketing or advertising, so everyone who knows Joe Danger, knows about it from word-of-mouth. I think we realise now just how strong a force that is.
As a team, you're very hands-on with the community, writing a regular Edge blog and replying to comments on the PlayStation blog. Do you think this approach was key to your success?
People mention the community in indie circles quite a lot, I always hear things like "the community is an important tool". I don't think any of us really think in that way though. We've left jobs at much bigger companies, and for the first time we're allowed to talk to gamers directly about what we're doing. That's a pretty amazing opportunity, and it's never really occurred to us not to do that, whenever we can.
Having said that, the community absolutely has been incredibly important for us. There's never enough time for us to do as much as we want, but I can guarantee on so many levels we get out more of the community than we could ever even try to put back.
The truth is there isn't actually a contract stopping us releasing on PC or what have you. We haven't done another version yet, not because we don't want to, but just because there's too few of us to do everything right now.
Going back to the community, we've asked a lot of people what they'd most like us to do. Would they like us to port other versions or start on something new? That's a really tough question to answer. The thought of us just plugging away for the next few months on some lazy port makes me feel a bit ill.
If and when we do bring out a PC version or Xbox 360 version of Joe Danger, it'll have to be something different and interesting in its own way. For right now though, our passion is to support that PS3 community that's already been so supportive of us.
Do you plan on updating Joe Danger with new content and modes?
Yes! Definitely. We're desperately trying to do everything that the community is asking for right now.
Since the release of Joe Danger we've released versions in Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico and about a dozen more countries. We've got a Trial version ready for release, as well as a patch that pretty much addresses every concern we could from the community. The patch was called "The People's Patch" and added really tiny things like support for a very old TV owned by a man who lives in Nottingham, as well as really huge things like support for global level sharing.
We're also getting ready to release in Japan. That's a huge bunch of people who haven't got the opportunity to play yet, and who don't normally get decent versions of Western games released on PSN or download.
I guess those are things that developers don't talk about that much, but we see as supporting the community. We've got new levels packs and modes coming too, that we're going to be releasing in the next month, we'll have more info on that soon.
You won twice at the Develop Awards a couple of months back, taking home both the New Studio and Micro Studio awards. How important to a smaller outfit like Hello Games is winning at this type of event?
As anyone who has seen the pictures from that night can tell, we got far too excited about winning. Being a small indie developer is a pretty lonely experience sometimes, and we were super excited to have some recognition.
The Micro Studio award is a new one, which I think shows a growing acceptance in the industry for small studios like ours. It's really nice to see an indie studio winning Best New Studio too, especially as it’s voted for by members of the established industry. It meant a lot to us at least.
You were widely quoted regarding comments about initial reactions from publishers to Joe Danger, including the likes of ”We want games that are less about fun right now” and “Name me one popular game with motorbikes?”. Did you exaggerate these in any way, or were these genuinely things that publishers said to you?
I'm not proud, but those are real things that real people said. I'm not sure whether that was a very brave or stupid thing to talk about. Some publishers will probably never talk to us again, but there's plenty of people we'll avoid in future too. The truth is, if you sit down with any indie developer, they'll tell you much worse stories than that...
Well, I shouldn't really talk about what we've got planned next. I'm definitely not supposed to, the rest of the team would kill me. I can say that we're doing something different for an indie studio, and that the success of Joe Danger is going to allow us to take a lot more risks, and explore things that weren't possible for us before. We've already spent the last two years talking about the games we make next, so put it this way, there's a definite plan.
You've mentioned on your blog numerous times that your team of four work together in a tiny office. Does the success of Joe Danger mean you can finally move into a bigger space?
Well we've started to hire, so we definitely need a bigger space. Otherwise there would be a few problems, like oxygen. The reality is that our office is so small that it's pretty much impossible for the four of us not to be touching some part of our bodies at all times.
Our new office is going to be a lot bigger. I picture it as somewhere between Hansel's apartment in "Zoolander" and Tom Hanks' room in the film "Big"...
Regarding your recent hirings, what made you decide that you needed to expand the company, and what kind of people are you looking for?
Making a console game with four people is incredibly difficult, and it's also totally prohibitive to a lot of the ambitious ideas we really want to explore. We are always going to have a small team mentality, and make games that are very personal to us.
I guess we're four friends, but we wouldn't mind having some more friends to work with and steal new ideas from.
We're definitely looking for new, fresh, enthusiastic people. That kind of fits with our mentality. What we've actually found is that it's mostly graduates and junior people we're interviewing. A lot of the people in the established industry seem to get pretty jaded, pretty quickly. That probably wouldn't fit in that well with us.