Interview: Blinkclick Games Reveals Hardships Of Indie Development During A Pandemic
“Creating games is also the art of asking for help. Before the pandemic, I’ve been hitchhiking around Europe. When you do this, you are reliant on the help of others, a hundred cars will pass without stopping, a few drivers wave at you, smile, and drive on, but eventually, one will stop and help you. Sometimes I wish the drivers would stop more often.”
Apart from some delays here and there, the games industry seems to be absolutely booming right now. Lockdowns and work from home schemes have given many people more time to play video games, and sales figures industry-wide have increased. However, Piotr Soska, co-founder of Polish indie studio Blinkclick Games reveals a different side to the industry, one of predatory investors and belittling publishers. What keeps him and his team going through the pandemic and an industry that is unwelcoming to independent studios is hope.
“It might seem that the COVID-19 pandemic is only helping in the game dev industry. I mean, a lot more people spend their time at home playing games, and in fact, big companies are seeing sales growth. We planned to obtain investment this year for the company’s development. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made it a very poor time to invest.” Piotr goes on to explain that even when some companies were willing to invest, they were asking for more than he or Blinkclick were willing to give. “We talked to a few publishers and people who offered some ridiculous deals like ‘give us 80% of your shares.’ Can you imagine that? We would completely lose control of the game!”
Unfortunately, this kind of offer is not new to Piotr. When he first started Blinkclick, he says a lot of publishers were patronising, telling the team how small their company was, trying to lower their morale and value so that they’d accept ludicrous offers – selling 80% of the company just wasn’t an option for Blinkclick. For many people who work in technology, the dream may be to create something, sell to Google or Apple, and then retire a millionaire. But, for Piotr and the others at Blinkclick Games, control of their own creative freedom is what drives them. Fortunately, initiatives such as The Games Fund should help smaller devs get good investments, it’s focused is on Eastern European studios too.
“What prompted us to be indie was the same thing as other indie creators – a desire to be independent and do our [own] stuff. We previously worked in large Polish companies such as Artifex Mundi or Reality Games. However, there comes a point where you want to self develop.”
Piotr and his friend founded Blinkclick Games a year and a half ago. They’re now four people strong and working on two games, My Father My Son, and Fishkeeper – an aquarium simulator with tycoon elements thrown in. You are tasked with creating and caring for an aquarium set within an industrial attic space. Don’t worry if you aren’t keen on that aesthetic however, Piotr confirms the game will feature more environments both within the campaign and sandbox modes. If you don’t care about the outside at all and just want to see your fish up close, you can pilot a tiny bathysphere to see interact with them. Piotr explains that ensuring players have a ton of fun is important to the team, which is why they take the time to implement “mechanics that would make the gameplay truly unique.” One of these mechanics is painstakingly recreating the real-world behaviour of the in-game species, such as Clownfish changing their gender.
All of the aquarium games I’ve played are old flash games or hyper-casual mobile games. Fishkeeper looks like it could set a new gold standard for the genre. When piloting the bathysphere, the game takes on the explorative elements of Subnautica as you travel between shipwrecks and rocks to interact with your fish. The game is incredibly relaxing – it’s soothing to watch your fish swim around, ignorant of the harsh and industrial world just outside of their cozy tank. I asked Piotr what inspired the game.
“When I was 8, I asked my parents for a hamster. I liked him very much, but we also had a cat. One day I saw our cat running away with my hamster in its mouth. When I found him, he vomited the hamster’s fur… That’s when my childhood ended. I also had fish for a while, but I quickly realized I wasn’t that good at taking care of pets, although I like them very much. Fortunately, we have video games that allow us to do things that are sometimes out of reach in our lives. I imagine there are a lot of people who would like to have fish, but they cannot, because it is quite an expensive hobby or they don’t have enough space for an aquarium. Our goal is to recreate the aquarium hobby in the game.”
Games have offered people a form of escapism for decades now. We can be space marines, aliens, gods, whatever we want to be. Tycoon games let us live out our more enterprising fantasies, like owning a theme park or a zoo. Seeing a scaled-down tycoon game that focuses on just one room and a single aquarium is a nice change of pace. Instead of expanding outwards, the game invites you to explore within and get closer to the fish you care for. Piotr says “we don’t want Fishkeeper to be just a simulator. The concept of the bathysphere drone was already on the first pitch of the game and it kind of confirmed our belief we want to make this game.”
“We want to take players on an interesting journey through various levels, revealing new mechanics available in the game and acquaint them with the hobby. The challenges will become more difficult with progression. The campaign will be a good introduction to the game – after it ends, the player should know all the mechanics well. It’s a common model in Tycoon games like Jurrasic World Evolution.”
The game seems to mirror the career trajectory of the team at Blinkclick – once the campaign teaches you all the lessons of the game, the sandbox mode will allow you to use all you’ve learned to create whatever aquarium you want. Complete creative freedom is what lies at the heart of Fishkeeper, and the heart of indie development.
Even though Piotr loves what he does, and has a lot of hope for the future, he doesn’t think this kind of work is for everyone. It’s hard being a small indie studio when many publishers and investors want to take advantage of you, so Piotr is now trying to fund Fishkeeper on Kickstarter, so the team can retain full creative control of the project.
“Considering we have been working for a year and a half, mostly remotely, and the rest of us work in a small apartment in the attic, I don’t know if this is the way I would recommend to other game developers. It seems to me it is not for everyone, but this time has taught me to find enormous hope. Every day I believe our actions will soon bring success.”
Speaking to Piotr, it is clear that he truly believes success will come – not through any sense of ego or arrogance, but through his understanding that key creating games is cooperation and kindness. He says, “most importantly, [people] offered their help. That was how Blinkclick Games was born.” If you want to help the studio remain independent, you can back Fishkeeper on Kickstarter and also wishlist it on Steam.
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Issy is an avid film lover, writer, and game-player based in the UK. He combines his love of film and games in his writing, trying to find as many connections between the two mediums as possible. When he’s not writing, playing, or watching, Issy loves to DJ and look after his growing collection of houseplants, as they make him feel more adult.
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