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Blitz Games Studios is one of the largest independent developers in the UK, focused on creating high quality games for the majority of gaming platforms. Best known for our original Blitz Games family entertainment division, we also have our Volatile Games division, focusing on mature titles, TruSim, which creates serious games, and Blitz Arcade, which specializes in downloadable short-session content.
As a studio that works mainly on commissioned titles, we wanted to do more to develop our own IP and further encourage creativity and imagination within the company. Blitz Arcade was founded in 2006 with a remit to develop and commission a wide portfolio of game genres, from hardcore shooters to casual puzzlers and everything in between -- and always of high quality and great replayability.
Alongside this new division, we established a greenlight chart within the company; the idea is that anyone can submit a game concept design and that these original designs are then voted on by everyone else who works for BGS. The most popular games can then be prototyped and either sold to publishers or self-funded to completion.
Droplitz -- which eventually debuted for Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, PC and iPhone in 2009 -- was one of the first designs to hit the greenlight chart. Crucially, the designer who came up with it also created a black and white prototype which proved invaluable in selling the idea. As simple as the game concept is, it was incredibly hard to explain it to anyone else. I'll come back to this...
1. Utilizing Staff
One of the biggest challenges for independent developers is fluctuating manpower requirements. Given that many commissioned games are released for the Thanksgiving and Christmas markets, that means that there are often people available in the autumn waiting for new games to be signed, and this can be a very costly time.
Most of your teams finish their projects at around the same time of the year (mid to late summer). Depending on the vagaries of pitch and contract-signing, that can mean that more than half the company has no immediate paid work; this is serious and can be a company killer, particularly for smaller independents.
One of the ideas behind our Arcade division was that it would develop small projects that could be worked on between larger paying projects, enhancing developer skills and increasing the utilization of our staff.
This was the approach that was applied to Droplitz for the majority of its development. To begin with, we had one and a half programmers working on the game. Then a graphics artist was able to help; then we lost the first programmer but gained three more. Then work stopped completely for a couple of months... and so on.
Clearly, this can only work for certain types of games -- particularly one in which you have control over the timeline and whose underlying concept is already proven. For reasons we'll come to -- and which some of you can probably already guess -- it would be incredibly hard to iterate and discover evolving gameplay with a fluctuating team.
That said, it's a great way of giving people something interesting and different to work on, and can also be an opportunity for them to learn new skills or polish existing ones, without the pressures of an external deadline such as a movie release or a holiday sales window.