Wednesday, 8, July, 2020
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Interview | Rockhead Studios

Games! For decades the game industry has fought for its space. Mainly to be seen as something serious. Who has never had to hear that games were the stuff of people who have nothing to do, that playing never leads anywhere, among other things?

Well then. This has changed a lot in recent years, with games that cost millions in their development and earn billions in sales, often in their launch, surpassing the gains of cinematographic companies and the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of several countries.

This makes many companies famous overnight, including national ones. Check out an interview with Rockhead Studios, one of the most famous within the gamer industry, where they talk about the company, a market analysis, etc.

1. What is Rockhead?

We are a company that develops and publishes games internationally, focused on the creation of intellectual property. The most important project to date is the series of games based on the universe of Starlit Adventures, which has already impacted more than 14 million players worldwide. In addition to games, the project has already given rise to comic books, a short film and will reach the format of an animated series.

2. What were the reasons for its creation?

Rockhead Studios comes from the passion and the need to continue game development, which has been happening since 1996 by the studio’s founders, Christian Lykawka and Fernando Peña D'Andrea. Before the creation of Rockhead, Christian had already founded the gaming company Southlogic, which was very successful in the 90s and 2000s, until it was acquired by the international company Ubisoft. After the decision of the French company to leave Brazil, Christian and Fernando decided what would be the most natural for him, to continue with the legacy of the old company, but now in a renewed way, with a focus on mobile games and with his own brand. .

3. The games market is one of the most coveted by the entertainment industry. This is visible with several games being released month by month, from mobile to consoles. In addition, major film industries have adapted classics and even more recent games. How do you see this industry's growth in the last decade?

Of course, we see it with good eyes. We are in a market that will never run out, as it is a creative market, which entertains and generates connection between people, which is fundamental for humanity, no matter the time and the time. There is a lot of competition, thanks to this aspiration, but this is the rule for the entire entertainment market, to be a filmmaker, musician, writer, communicator ... 

4. Thinking about the last 10 years, what is your projection for the next decade.

The Rockhead Studios projection is the development of a few more games by the Starlit Adventures brand, to increase the number of people affected and diversify the brand in other areas, create more comics, a TV series, products for fans such as toys, clothing, school supplies. The aim is to expand the brand laterally.

For the games market, the expectation is the consolidation of new means of consumption of games, through streaming, and a greater penetration of virtual reality glasses. Certainly a drop in sales of physical media, perhaps even extinction. But besides that, I can't exercise my futurology.

5. The game market internationally “looks” solid compared to the national one. How does Rockhead work its launches with the foreign market?

Nowadays the market is global, except China, which requires a specific agreement, the whole game must be thought to be understandable in any language, by any person, of any ethnicity and sex.

The market as a whole is solid, national and international, as long as the needs of each geolocation are understood. In Brazil we have an obvious monetary devaluation compared to North America and Europe, there are also different payment habits, such as payment by Boleto for example. With appropriate cultural adaptations, all markets are interesting and can add to the whole.

6. Is it still difficult to be a game company in the national market? Is there a certain prejudice in being a game developer when looking for investment, even though it is one of the most valued products worldwide?

Honestly, I don't see any prejudice occurring, I see a good number of companies in Brazil with investors, not just Rockhead. There is an inherent difficulty in Brazil to undertake, and there is a very peculiar characteristic of the creation of game companies in Brazil, which is based on the development of a game and not a business model. Therefore, it will naturally be more difficult to establish.

7. Besides the game market, what else does Rockhead do or have it done differently?

Rockhead, in its early years, developed games and applications for brands. It was the way the company found to enable the creation of the game Starlit Adventures. 

8. Brazil has few gaming colleges and the few young people who graduate have almost no experience in the field. Do you have or will you still have some kind of incentive for young talents?

We encourage not only through internships within the company, but also through scholarships in PUCRS games graduate school.

Still, I believe that the best way to acquire this experience is through the development of your own games, whether during college or at "Game Jams" events, where this student can interact with developers with all kinds of experience.

9. What are the most significant games you created and how were your developments?

Rockhead Studios' main games were Starlit Adventures and Starlit On Wheels. Each of them went through a different process, both in scope and at the time of the company. 

Starlit Adventures was created in the midst of developing services for other companies, it was made from applications for a cinema company to games for brands. But it was known that the company's future was at stake with very solid premises. It was necessary to do something attractive in the game store, with charismatic characters, a brand that permeated all future games and could be consolidated as a distinct intellectual property, that was easy to play but at the same time with a captivating challenge level, with a story interesting and that reached the child audience but was accessible to the elderly. With that in mind, Starlit Adventures was created, with Bo & Kikki the Starlit as protagonists who descend from their floating island (Starlit Island) to solve the theft of the stars in the sky by Nuru. 

After two years of development, Starlit Adventures reached cell phone stores and fortunately had a great acceptance both by the public (more than 10 million players worldwide) and in both virtual stores, with several highlights in the AppStore and in GooglePlay as physical, being shown as one of the games pre-installed in stores worldwide.

With enough capital to invest only in own games, Starlit On Wheels is conceived in a totally different scenario from the company, with more employees and more time of dedication, we sought a game in which our fans would be the protagonists of the game. In Starlit On Wheels, the focus was on delivering a tool to players so they can create their own race and share it with friends. By far, the biggest effort on a single feature was for the game's track editor, but we couldn't lose the focus of what brought us here, so the main story, brand of the now franchise, in which Nuru steals the Starlit and Bo & Kikki stars must race to reach it. But now in a much larger universe, with twice the stages in story mode, hundreds of customizable parts for your cars and tracks. Also with two years of development, Starlit On Wheels has already reached its first year of life, with a very engaged and active fan base creating tracks and interacting on our social media and discord channels.

Our new challenge now is to revisit Starlit Adventures, but for consoles Switch and XBOX ONE. Now how Starlit Adventures Golden Stars a process of evolution was created, as in the video games of the 90s. The player has access to all the costumes and the possibility of being able to play with up to 4 friends, making the experience much more captivating in times of quarantine.

10. Still thinking about the international market, for Rockhead, which are the main ones that have a better audience and the most complicated for launches (USA, Europe, Japan…).

All audiences are good. Of course, in places with the most valued currency, there is less difficulty converting to purchases, simply because the perceived value of the purchase is greater. Therefore, the United States and Europe are our main markets today. China is certainly the most difficult market to access, but once inside, the numbers are better than any other country in existence today.

11. Events have always been a great way to talk to investors and especially consumers. How are you reacting in this turbulent year where big fairs like E3, GDC and others are canceled? And how do you analyze national events like BGS, BIG, etc.? Do they really give the necessary return or is that “something” still missing?

Despite the non-realization of events such as GDC, E3 and Game Connection in person, the events continue to happen virtually. I believe that, in a way, this paradigm shift can open doors for new companies, which did not necessarily have the resources to travel to other countries and can now participate through video conference meetings. The immediate impact is not yet obvious, but I believe that by the end of the year it will be positive.

About national events, I have participated in them since 2007. Initially, SBGames was the meeting point in Brazil, and it opened many doors for me in the international market and it was even what made me start attending GDC from 2010. In 2007, even a half dozen international developers and executives were present, professionals like Soren Johnson (Civilization-Spore) and Sarah Stoker (at the time Sony Playstation Senior Producer) were a great rarity. Today, with events such as the BIG Festival, which has an exclusive sector for business, with more than a hundred qualified professionals for international agreements, it makes the world much more accessible to professionals in the area of games. With the existence of BGS and GameXP it is possible today what was only a dream decades ago, which is exhibited together with console companies like Sony and Microsoft. When not inside their stands, just a few steps away in an area of the event not least, where the developer will also be seen, both by the public and the press.

About having a return with the presence in these events, it is a matter of perception of the developer. If the company does not have the money to do the so-called “Thunderclap” which is to be present everywhere at the same time, newspaper, magazine, website advertising, “outdoor”, influencers… The brand is built little by little, being present in the as many channels as possible and gradually gaining the audience's familiarity. It is said that it is necessary to have around 7 points of contact to sell a product. Our function is to be in at least 7 different places, so that the player decides to invest in our games.

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