Satisfying the video gamer's need for story
Computer gaming’s twice the size of the global movie industry.
That is, the number of people (and their dollars) prepared to spend money on a game is double picture’s take.
Technology Valley Avalon (but soon to be Alicetown) based game production company A44 is a maker and seller for this huge market - in its case high production values AAA games for the likes of Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation consoles.
Its flagship game, ‘Ashen’, is a cinematic experience (a core requirement at this level) as well as a quest and adventure. A44 is about to expand to 70+ people as it develops the next levels of the game, as well as embark on a completely new game.
It’s quite a way from October 2013 when CEO Derek Bradley realised he wanted to make such big box games.
“I could either go overseas to do so, or start my own company. The path I’ve taken has worked.”
Derek has a background in digital movie and games production, and initially bootstrap financed Ashen’s game development by shifting to Featherston to take advantage of its lower rents and development focus the location would provide.
The Featherston site lasted until the end of 2016, when with its team of five, they’d created a game Microsoft had exclusively for its Xbox. Before that Microsoft had invited A44 to produce an Ashen trailer which was shown at E3 2015...the Cannes of gaming. The Microsoft deal lasted for a year.
Annapurna Interactive put a publishing deal to A44 in late 2016, and Ashen was released under its publishing label on December 9, 2018.
Ashen is now available across a number of big box formats, and its millions of devotee players are also able to purchase extended and expanded content for the game.
Creating such content is differently complex to movie making says Derek, since effectively game players can view their character and their interaction from many different perspectives.
For example, the action might move from overhead to third person (through the ‘eyes’ of the character) and a number of viewpoints in between.
“You need to see the character’s world really clearly,” says Derek.
“And you also need to make it able to work in a multi-player environment.
“It’s the type of game production and values that not everyone can make...but that’s our target.”
At the end of 2019 (the time of interview) A44 was about to move out of its Avalon (old TV studios) base for a purpose-built four times the size site in Technology Valley Alicetown. This will also see an increase in personnel from 50 to 70 people, with the expectation it will probably grow to employing over 100 specialists.
One of Derek’s key roles has been to secure development finance for game production, without needing to have an overdraft, or be beholden to game distributors.
A44’s stable financial position means it can and is able to develop a new game, probably to be released within the next couple of years.
“Ashen punched above its weight when we were looking for the investment required to complete it,” says Derek.
“There was a lot delivered for a relatively small investment [to that time].
“We hope to overachieve again with the new game; all we can do is work hard, and make sure we achieve that.”
(Caption: A44 cofounder Derek Bradley beside a poster advertising the hugely successful Ashen video game)