Nic Watt, founder and creative director of games and application software developer, Nnooo, is on the cutting edge of the industry. The Independent Software Developer's sales model is entirely around digital downloads for the iPhone, Nintendo Wii and DS. He speaks to MATTHEW SAINSBURY about the future of digital distribution and the broader gaming software industry.
Can you give me an overview of Nnooo and your background?
I’ve been in the industry for about 10 years now. I was working at Electronic Arts in London, and my partner got offered the chance to come to Australia, so we made the decision to move out here. It was at that point I sold some property I had in the UK, and decided to make the jump to running my own small games company.
It was around about the time that the small downloadable titles were starting to come to market. Microsoft had just launched Xbox Live Arcade, and I thought the future of these small downloadable games was quite exciting. Particularly from a small company point of view, it was something we could achieve.
What are the advantages of downloadable titles over a full retail release?
For us, the one thing I wanted to do was to make the games I wanted to make. When you work with a really big company, such as EA, that becomes very difficult, because you’ve got to go through so many different stages and there’s so many approval mechanisms. Quite often, the people higher up in the company have their own vision for the kinds of games they want to have made.
Also, the hard part of making a full retail game is it costs a lot of money – when you start up a new company, it’s very difficult industry for people to give you $5, $10 or $20 million to make a videogame unless you’ve done something like make a Halo or World or Warcraft in the past.
My partner works in business, and we chatted a lot and it seemed to be a good idea to try and keep costs low, and to keep control of the finances ourselves rather than get venture capital startup money. I really wanted to try and see if we could achieve something with a relatively small budget and grow from there. Creating downloadable titles is a really exciting process – you’ve got a much shorter turnaround for creating a game. A big project like GTA or Halo will normally take 3-5 years to make, and in that time you’re investing a lot in technology. It’s not until the last year that it all comes together and you’ve got an amazing game.
That’s very risky because if that game doesn’t sell well, then you might not make your money back, or you might be waiting a year or two to make a return and you might have to make a lot of your staff redundant in the mean time, which is something you see in the games industry a lot.
I’ve got an end game that I’d like to make in the future, but all the games we make up until that point are stepping stones in technology. So instead of just waiting four years and then bringing one product out, we can instead make lots of little products along the line and they’re going to contribute towards the bigger product.