Small Business: Game developers - John O'Reilly & Greg Harding

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John O'Reilly and Greg Harding of Flightless.
John O'Reilly and Greg Harding of Flightless.

Flightless creative director, John O'Reilly and technical director Greg Harding.

What is your company and what niche have you gone for?

Flightless is an interactive design studio founded in 2005. We have a diverse portfolio of highly creative and award-winning work, ranging from museum and exhibition installations, identity development, web-based projects and our own self-published iPhone, iPad and Mac titles. We started out as a multi-disciplined design studio working with high-profile clients in New Zealand and offshore. A few years ago we focused our direction on high-end interactive work for museum installations, and games and applications for mobile.

What is your background?

We both have university degrees - John's in design and Greg's in computer systems engineering. We first worked together in 1998 doing interactive design, mostly web-based, and after some time overseas, we started Flightless in Wellington.

After seven years of client work, including doing design work for some local game studios, we took the opportunity to relocate to Mount Maunganui and focus ourselves on the growing mobile space which we'd started experimenting with, while still continuing our interactive design, installation, and museum work through established clients and relationships. An important part of this for us was the ability to create our own products, rather than solely working on client-based projects. The rise and growth of modern platforms to easily publish and distribute content that we enjoy creating, was a large influence for the transition towards building our own products.

What success have you had so far?

Flightless has released a few titles and we had some success with our first game Top Dog, but by far our biggest success is our game Bee Leader, released on the App Store for iPhone and iPad, and later for the Mac. We were fortunate that some of our earlier titles had attracted Apple's attention, so we met with them and they supported and promoted Bee Leader when it was released, featured it as one of their Best of 2012, and this year it was featured as their "App of the Week" globally which was obviously a huge amount of exposure for us. Locally, the game has also won a Best Design Award and we recently presented it at the New Zealand Game Developers Association conference.

What are your plans in the next year?

We are currently hard at work on our next game title and are working towards getting Bee Leader released on more platforms which will be great. We also have three other titles ready for release very soon on the App Store and Google Play - two great client projects (a book and an augmented reality app) and a US-based partnership.

How do you protect the IP of your games?

While protecting our IP is important, we have not had to take specific technical or legal steps to protect anything beyond asserting copyrights and trademarks where applicable. Up until now, we have released our titles on platforms that support some form of copy protection or digital rights management and handily this content is delivered through established and fairly seamless channels now. This has further helped lower the barriers for us to build our own products, particularly for mobile, but desktop and consoles are getting easier as well. Like any other small company, we'd have think hard and take advice about how best to approach a situation where someone was seriously infringing upon our IP beyond just straight-forward game piracy. As for simple piracy itself, there's no winning there. The best we can do is focus on making great content and promote it to players willing and eager to pay for it, or use other strategies like free-to-play, ad support and so on.

Would you like any more support than you are getting from the industry or the Government?

There has been a small game development scene in New Zealand for a long time, spearheaded by a handful of people and companies, along with related software industries. In recent years it has grown into a bigger industry and is now being taken a lot more seriously as part of New Zealand's creative and ICT sectors. There is great potential for growing export earnings and employing highly-skilled creatives across many disciplines. Bodies like the New Zealand Game Developers Association are engaging the government and other local and offshore bodies to grow and promote the industry. As an individual company, Flightless has not received any direct support in the way of funds or grants from government or private bodies, but as the industry grows we are noticing more funds broadening their scope to include games which is encouraging. We have also noticed increasing interest in promoting the industry offshore as a part of other international marketing initiatives.

Do you meet up with other game developers from time to time?

Yes, we know quite a few local game developers and others by reputation so it's great to meet up when we can, but for the most part we're fairly quiet. We started attending informal game meetups a few years ago, attend conferences like AnimFX, and we presented at the New Zealand Game Developers Association conference this year. We'd like to participate more in regular events like those happening in Auckland or Wellington, but often the time and distance get in the way. We've made quite a few contacts here and overseas after releasing our own games and getting a bit of exposure, and we're looking forward to heading over to the US next year for the Game Developers Conference.

Why does developing games suit you?

Both of us grew up playing video games so there's a natural love for the medium, but like many other game developers we have to remind ourselves that it's a business, not a hobby, and that we don't fit a stereotype of mad game players who just want to make cool games. There's perhaps some of that along with a bit of nostalgia, but really it's a creative medium that we enjoy the challenge and rewards of working in, and it's more accessible and popular within our culture than it's ever been. We're fortunate that worldwide distribution is trivial and that there's a growing market for the content we want to make, so we can base our business around it. Between us we've got a broad range of skills and interests covering design, art and illustration, programming, sound and music, and being able to combine them all to build a game, like we would with any other interactive design project, is an interesting mix of art and science.

Next week: Now is a key time for every retailer out there as well organised types are shopping for family overseas and at home. A recent news report said that retailers weren't going to be hiring more staff in the run up to Christmas, they would just be working harder. Is this true in your case? How do small businesses motivate and manage staff at this crucial time of year?

- NZ Herald

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