East Side Games – The Sky’s the Limit!

When East Side Games dropped us a ‘hi’ to tell us about their latest release Ruby Skies, we took the opportunity to learn more about the company, and in the process learn a little more about the gaming industry especially as regards the ever growing and popular social networks and mobile platforms. What really caught our attention about East Side Games, besides the fact that they make some pretty cool games, was the independent label thing, it brings back the days when one man game companies produced some truly classic games from their bedrooms?

We got some time to sit and down and talk to Jason Bailey and Galan Akin of the Vancouver, Canada based games company. East Side Games came about after Jason grew tired of the traditional game industry, he has a desire to innovate and change how games are developed, built, and monetised, moving away from big corporate companies back to a place where the little guys in their bedrooms can develop a game, get it seen, monetised and crucially played by a vast audience – the social network and mobile platforms provide this opportunity – anyone now can get the Lucky Rainbow login and go play it. At the time the company came into being in 2011, platforms such as Facebook were just starting to show their potential as far as gaming went.

The management team at East Side Games, seem to have it all, Jason Bailey the CEO, has a advertising and monetising background, being the co-founder of Super Rewards which pioneered monetization on the Facebook platform; whilst the Creative Director Galan and COO Josh Nilson both came very much from the traditional game building environment, both playing major roles in the development of some of the best known console games, but when those big budget games stopped being fun to work on, they came on board with Jason and all shifted to be able to control their own destinies, making the games that they wanted to.

East Side Games focusses very much on the social networks and mobile platforms, and this they say is the key is success for an independent publisher, although the market is constantly changing and evolving, being able to get games out quickly; initially without the need for a huge vast studio with unlimited resources was really important, and whilst it is getting harder for the little guy to produce successful games, these forever changing and evolving platforms, mean there are always new platforms and new opportunities popping up. This was especially true when East Side Games was in its infancy a few years ago, making all the difference in the world, because very simply it meant that using very little resources they could get a game out to a huge audience and very quickly have those people playing it – a couple of guys in their basement could make a huge hit, by having a great idea and making a great game, proving that the the little guy can become the big guy; and judging by the way they have grown in the last few years, East Side Games are certainly getting there.

Getting a slice of the massive pie that is the gaming industry is the aim of all companies and developers – so how does a smaller independent company get a decent slice, and become successful? The answer seems simple, but of course it isn’t really – knowing and predicting what is next, and being the first ones out of the blocks is the key.

PotFarm is East Side Games‘ hugely popular Facebook game, when developing the game, the team were convinced it would be quickly removed, but years later, its still going strong! The current PotFarm release, has very little in common with the original game launched – the same core game play and ideas – yes, but the depth of the game is vastly improved. Facebook allows developers to quickly update and improve their game, and for East Side Games, the great thing about Facebook is the ability to get a game out really quickly, get people playing and then being able to gather data and feedback from players meaning they can constantly update and improve games, continuing to build after release. Interestingly, as Facebook game developers, they think this market is still underestimated, and that perhaps with so many other mobile platforms coming on stream, Facebook is seen by people as not so exciting, but this isn’t the case, just take a look at the vast sums of money still being made on Facebook!

East Side Games is also deeply involved and committed to making games on the newer mobile platforms, however they acknowledge this is a different kettle of fish from Facebook, requiring a more polished product straight out of the gate. Updating and improving the games is also a lot slower; it can take a week for an update to be taken up, so any problems or glitches take a lot longer to solve.

The guys from East Side told me about their process for developing and then launching new games, which starts with everyone in the office being involved, talking through an idea, when the whole place is excited about a potential game, they know its something to be taken further! The game will then go on and be up and ready to be tested in prototype within a week. If something has potential, they waste no time in getting it played and tested. At one time, games could take months or even years to be launched (and for some the big corporate games companies making console games, it still can), but not on these platforms – they have to be quick, when a game is launched, it has to be playable even thought its nowhere near the finished product, it could be as little in terms of a totally finished polished product be just 5% done, but once its out on the market the game can be constantly tweaked and improved.

East Side Games place a huge emphasis on keeping in touch and listening to their players and fans. As the games are in constant flux, being developed and improved – part of this process involves listening to what players want, collecting feedback and data, for East Side Games its really cool to be able to collaborate with fans so people who play the game get to have a real impact on how the game is developed and the direction it takes.

From idea to fruition, its all about proving the game is viable and can support itself and only by doing that can companies like East Side Games stay independent.

I took the opportunity to ask Josh and Galen what advice they would give to anyone thinking about a career in the industry? Speaking about East Side Games, they told me that everyone who works there, really needs to a jack of all trades, its no good rocking up to a small independent company with just one skill – programming, art, production, project management etc. Basically if you can wear more than one hat on a small team you will quickly become very useful in that team and hopefully as indispensable as possible!

However, the very best way to get started is to sit down with a few friends, and design a game, take it from start to finish, be involved in every part, its almost impossible to have just one niche skill.

Be persistent and keep on trying, proving to a studio you are who and what they want, if you want to work for a company that makes social network and mobile games – then play social network and mobile games! Going for an interview not having a clue about that company’s games or products will more than likely result in not getting much past the front door!

East Side Games first got in touch with us to tell us about their new game Ruby Skies, which seems very much geared towards women players, with that in mind, we spoke a little about women in the gaming industry, both working within and as players. East Side Games unlike much of the industry do actively recruit women, their workforce currently being about 20% female, they are aiming for a more balanced approach, which will mean their games are also gender balanced, appealing to both men and women in equal measure. Its true that they expect the main core of Ruby Skies players will be women; women are more dominant in this type of social media game, where collecting and exploring play a huge part. Ruby Skies also has some romance built in!!

However, they hope by including humour and a little quirkiness in all their games that it wont matter if you are a man or a women, Ruby Skies and all their games will be fun and playable!

I rounded off my time with the guys, by asking – where does East Side Games go from here?

“Keep rolling the dice and creating more games, keep having fun, keep being proud of the games, we want to continue doing what they doing, we have a bunch of games in the pipelines, and even more we are dreaming of making. We would never say we wouldn’t want to be part of a bigger vision – but also no reason why East Side Games cant be the big vision.”