One man and his Orbyx. Indie developer Chris Henderson speaks to Develop
It’s a testament to the determination of indie developers that so many of them resort to making a game on their own to achieve their vision.
Though he’d gladly welcome a hand or two, founder of Hemi Games, Chris Henderson, is currently the designer, programmer and promoter for his company. Situated in London, Chris comes from a web development background.
We put some questions to Chris about Hemi and the company’s first title Orbyx.
How did you start your company?
Hemi was formed in 2005 and was originally a collaboration between an artist friend and myself. We were both holding-down full-time jobs and working on various Hemi projects in our spare time. Although we were both working in the games industry we decided to focus on website development, but after launching a couple of reasonably popular sites we were still struggling to recoup our marketing costs. Unfortunately, time constraints meant we eventually parted company. In 2008 I heard about Microsoft’s new Xbox Community Games platform and it felt like a good time to go full-time with Hemi. We had no income at the time so it was a risk financially.
How many people work at your company?
Currently, it’s just me. I write all of the code and do most of the design work, marketing etc, so I’m kept pretty busy. I contract-out most of the artwork and music so I’m always on the look-out for talented artists to collaborate with. I’d really like to hire a full-time artist and a marketing-guru, but I want to launch Orbyx on the PC before making any big decisions.
What’s your company culture like?
Friendly, ambitious and disciplined. Every design decision or gameplay idea is rigorously tested before making it into the final product, so a lot of time is actually spent working on ideas that never make it to production. Just because we’re a small company that doesn’t mean we’re allowed to cut corners.
Tell us a little-known fact or anecdote about your company.
We once made a website where people could reserve the front page for 15 minutes to show-off a photo of themselves and tell the world their personal story. One day I was checking our Google rank and found a PowerPoint slideshow on the website of a church in Texas with the title ‘There’s More To Life Than [Our Website URL]’ complete with a picture of our homepage. I wish I’d been at that sermon.
What could you, and/or your team members, not do without on a daily basis?
Full fat Coke and some exercise - yin and yang.
Why did you decide to enter the casual gaming market?
I think there are two good reasons why this is a great time to be working in casual games. 1) There’s recently been a shift in the attitude of gamers towards graphics, so games no longer need elaborate 3D environments to be a hit. And 2) digital distribution means anyone can sell their games on any number of platforms without relying on a publisher or the traditional retailers. This, along with a desire to have some form of creative control on the products we work on, makes casual games the ideal market for us.
What games/tools/services have you made since forming, and how have they been received?
We released Orbyx - Mystic Orbs of Chaos on the Xbox Live Indie Games in summer 2009. It got some great reviews and had a downloads/sales conversion ratio of around 10%. It was rated as forth best game on the service in late 2009 and as a top 10 game in early 2010 when there were around 700 games on the platform. In hindsight, we didn’t put enough effort into marketing, and that’s something we’re taking a lot more seriously with the PC version.
What are you working on right now, and what stage is the project at?
We’re currently putting the finishing touches to Orbyx Deluxe for the PC, a super-charged update of the Xbox indie game, Orbyx - Mystic Orbs of Chaos. A lot of work has been put into making this version as great as it can be, and compared to the Xbox version there are a ton of new features and content for PC gamers. We’ve really tried to make this a complete package for anyone who enjoys casual arcade-type games. Orbyx Deluxe is due to be released this Halloween on www.orbyx.net. We’re also currently seeking distribution partners for the game, and would encourage anyone who might be interested in distributing the game in physical or digital form to get in touch through our website.
What are your aspirations for the company?
First of all I want to make Orbyx a success on the PC, and that’s something I’ll be working very hard on over the coming months. Any revenue we make from that game will go back into the company, and for the next project I’d like to be in the position to hire a full-time artist. Eventually I want to build-up a team of six to eight full-time staff and ramp-up production to a couple of games a year on various platforms. Beyond that I ultimately want Hemi to become a world-leader in the casual gaming market.
Who do you admire in the games industry and/or beyond?
First of all I have absolute respect for anyone who makes it to the point of even releasing a game. I think that unless you’ve been through that process you can’t really understand the commitment involved. I’ve got an even greater admiration for anyone who makes it beyond the first game and turns their hobby into a successful business. Then there are the guys like Markus Persson who seem to come out of nowhere and release an overnight mega-hit, it’s hard not to be inspired by stories like that.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your company?
We’ll be announcing our next game in the not-too-distant future, and I’d encourage everyone to visit www.hemigames.com and sign-up for our newsletter for future game news and special offers.
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