With just a few weeks to go before we find out which games will be taking awards home for the 3rd edition of the international mobile gaming awards, South East Asia, we sat down with one of our Jurors. We talked games, being a juror and what we would expect from him.Meet Chris Natsuume, Co-founder of one of the leading independent casual game studios in the world, MBA holder from the University of Washington and a very knowledgeable entrepreneur in his field.
How does a History major graduate from the University of Texas end up building a leading casual game studio in Asia, while living in Japan?
I have been a gamer since I was in elementary school. Mostly Dungeons & Dragons and board games. I was the Dungeon Master for a game group in Austin that was the core team for Privateer, a classic game made by Origin games. We used to play D&D in the Origin conference room after hours. When those guys split off to make their own game company, they gave me a shot as a level designer. Since then I worked in roles in design and production around the world.
At one point in that journey, I was working for Vis in Scotland, and I met Allan Simonsen, who was the programmer on a game I was directing. We used to go drinking on Rose street and talk about how we would run a studio if we were in charge. Years later, after he had moved his career to Asia and I had graduated from the University of Washington with my MBA, I talked him into starting a new casual game studio with me.
At the time he was in Singapore and I was in Seattle. Neither one of us wanted to move, so we started Boomzap as a virtual company. Our first 2 staff were in Kuala Lumpur, and they didn’t want to move, either… as we added more and more people from places like Jakarta, Manila, and Kiev we realized we were happy working from home, and had built pretty solid systems for being productive that way. 14 years later, we’re still completely virtual, with over 30 staff around the world.
As for Japan… Once I realized that we could live anywhere, I moved back to Yokohama to be close to my wife’s family. It works well for me since it puts me in a similar time zone to our predominantly Asia staff, and close enough that I can get to places like Manila and Singapore in a much shorter flight than if I was still in the states. Also, living in Japan is awesome.
What would your advice be to people that want to enter the gaming industry?
Don’t. That’s my key advice. I know it sounds flip, but the honest truth is that most people last less than 5 years in the game industry. People think it’s all fun creative meetings and deciding what to name the warrior princess in their fantasy world. It’s not. It’s brutally hard work in a highly stressful environment for not a lot of money. As an artist, programmer, or product designer you’ll make more money working outside of games, and you’ll have more free time to do things like… play games.
Lots of people think they will do well making games because they love games. It’s not like that. I love music. That doesn’t make me a great musician. I love fantasy novels. That doesn’t make me a great author. Game development is a hard technical discipline that takes years of practice. You have to learn big complex pieces of software. You have to learn how to put together large team processes. You have to learn the actual skills of design, and do it all in an environment where your audience is unforgiving and often downright mean if you get it wrong.
The hours are brutal. Overtime is constant, even in studios that try very hard to keep reasonable schedules. And even when you are not working, this is a mental discipline. You will be thinking about your work all of the time. It’s impossible to get it out of your head. And while doing all of this, your job security is terrible. Game companies close down constantly. Looking for work and moving to take jobs is a huge part of the career. It takes a huge toll on relationships; we have a shocking divorce rate. It breaks a lot of people.
So, yeah. Unless you can’t imagine being anywhere else… I honestly suggest not making games. It’s not for most people. Even people who really, really love games. For those who don’t take that advice, I guess my advice is to get ready to have your dreams shattered, and power through the rough times. Because there will be a great many.
We heard you are a keynote speaker on game fest this year. “Your design is bad and you should feel bad.” What is that about, could you elaborate?
I spend a lot of time training young designers, and I see the same mistakes in their core thinking about design over and over. More worryingly, many of these “bad thought habits” are formed during projects in higher education, where the focus is all too often on finishing something and not about learning the proper process and systematic design. What I’ll be doing is breaking down a lot of these misconceptions about proper design methodology, and offering tools for making clean, systematic design choices that ship more coherent games faster.
This is your first time judging of the International Mobile Gaming Awards, what are your expectations?
I expect to be impressed. The state of game development in Southeast Asia is strong, and getting stronger every year. I’m reasonably certain that at least a few of the games we’ll be looking at in this competition will eventually be hit games we’ll see in the top of the charts. I’m excited about seeing them first.
What will you be looking for when judging a game during the judging sessions upcoming October?
Core gameplay that is genuinely compelling and interesting. I’m looking for games that are sticky enough that I can’t easily put them down. Games that I want to pick back up and play more, to see what happens next. I’m sure I’ll find more than a few that meet these criteria.