Scaling up an indie studio

Scaling up an indie studio
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

July 31st 2014 at 12:05PM

Freejam started as a small five-man team, but with a string of new hires, the growing developer tells us how it's coping

Freejam is a new UK studio formed by five developers from studios such as Climax, all working on free-to-play multiplayer PC game Robocraft.

The title has now surpassed one million registered players, and as a result the young studio has brought in eight new team members as they scale up their operations, with four new developers and four language students from a local university joining.

Moving from a small indie team focused on making their dream game to running a full studio is a big change for anyone, and Freejam game director Mark Simmons says expanding with such limited resources can be tough, particularly against bigger companies.

“As a small indie we can’t offer the things that some people – particularly older and more experience staff – want and need; there’s no security, enormous salaries, pension, healthcare or overtime,” says Simmons.

“We’ve had to sell what makes working for an indie like Freejam great, i.e. no publishers, no crazy executive producers, no marketing department releasing out of date screenshots or putting a dodgy image on the front of your box; fans, lots of them, telling you how great you game is. The new guys love working hard on a feature one week, and then seeing the users talking about it the next.”

Simmons says Freejam has adopted the ‘lean start-up’ methodology – developing and iterating on a game and releasing it to users early on.

He claims building the studio this way has allowed it to prove their concept works and can keep users engaged.

“Having got to that point we’ve eliminated a lot of the risk that we faced at the beginning and we’ve been able to combine that with a steady flow of revenue that is now covering our costs, which allows us to push on and go for a bit more scale,” he says.

Despite more than doubling the number of staff, Simmons adds things still feel the same for the team,
but identifies one key difference as their debut game grows.

“The biggest difference is that we spend more time thinking about PR and marketing, which is totally alien to us as we’re devs, so we wish that all that marketing stuff would just happen – but it doesn’t,” he states.

In fact, marketing is behind its four new hires of language students from a local university. The new members were brought in due to the lack of money to spend on marketing.

As a result, says Simmons, they have tried bringing in experts in foreign languages, who speak Russian, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish, French and more, to try and attract further interest overseas in Robocraft through engaging with the communities.

“This is an experiment to see if talented young students can get audiences around the world to find out about our game. So far it’s working with our audiences growing steadily in all those countries,” He explains.

Having already doubled its team, Simmons says with the steady growth Robocraft, he wouldn’t be surprised if Freejam doubles its number of staff again in the next six months.