What's Going On At Halfbrick?

Today Halfbrick let go two of its long time designers, Layton Hawkes and Ryan Langley. Two designers.

That may not seem like much but, according to some, it's part of an ongoing shift at Australia's most successful game studio. A move that's taking Halfbrick away from it's previous focus as a design-orientated games developer to something else entirely.

In short: Halfbrick has no designers left on staff. At all. Literally the role of 'designer' has been made redundant at Halfbrick. They have no designers and they won't be hiring new designers.

According to one source, who asked not to be named, it's the result of a shift in approach.

Halfbrick isn't what it used to be. But it hasn't yet become what it's going to be.

What it used to be: a family focused company that was all about taking creative risks. About taking that splattergun approach to design then refining it. It was that kind of approach that resulted in Fruit Ninja, one of the most successful video games Australia has produced. We've been told that Halfbrick is now focusing on consolidating that success.

"Money changes everything."

That's how one of our sources put it.

Halfbrick was a company that built employees from the ground up. Most new hires were juniors; juniors that were then trained in the "Halfbrick" method of development. Almost all of Halfbrick's successful video games were a result of that strategy. We've been informed that, in an attempt to grow the company and solidify its previous successes, many new employees have been brought in that don't embody Halfbrick's previous ethos. Halfbrick's infrastructure used to be completely flat, but that mentality is now a thing of the past. According to our source that has been a major source of frustration to creatives within Halfbrick's ranks.

Luke Muscat, the ex-Creative Director at Halfbrick, was largely thought of as the creator behind the studio's most successful titles — Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride — but he recently left to create a new studio, Prettygreat, with two other ex-Halfbrick staffers. Our sources noted that as an area of concern. First that someone of Luke's stature within the company would want to leave, and that Halfbrick would so willingly let someone of Luke's talent leave.

But it's all part of what Halfbrick are attempting to become. According to one source: "creative risk taking is a thing of the past."

The family atmosphere that was all pervasive at Halfbrick is apparently all but gone. At this stage, with no designers, sources are unsure whether or not Halfbrick will actually make new video games, or work almost like a publisher, maximising the profits of its existing properties. According to one source, Halfbrick is starting to second guess itself. It can be difficult, we were told, to replicate the kind of success that a game like Fruit Ninja brings to a company

This is a common trajectory. Once a developer has hit the iOS lotto it's difficult to replicate that success. Many studios focus on that one title. According to those we spoke to, that is most likely the direction Halfbrick is headed towards.

It is difficult, after all, to make video games when you don't have any designers.

But according to Halfbrick CEO Shainiel Deo, having no designers doesn't necessarily means that design work won't occur at Halfbrick.

"Halfbrick remains a design focused company," he told Kotaku, "and this change will empower everyone in our teams to contribute to design rather than concentrate design control in the hands of a few. Great ideas can come from anywhere and we want to create an environment that fosters this notion."

As for the suggestion that Halfbrick won't make new games, Shaniel refutes that. According to him, Halfbrick will continue to make new video games despite having no designers on staff.

"Halfbrick will continue to develop mobile games that are fun and innovative while remaining relevant by creating experiences that resonate with what mobile gamers expect today. There are new games and exciting partnerships on the horizon and we will be sharing these with you very soon."


Comments

    Dangit, now I want to know what Luke Muscat is up to at his new studio.

      http://forums.toucharcade.com/showthread.php?t=270646

        Land Sliders looks, dare I say it, pretty great (I know, I'm hilarious).

    > It is difficult, after all, to make video games when you don’t have any designers.
    No, it's just difficult to make GOOD games when you have no designers. The Apple Store amply demonstrates that it's easy to write a badly designed game. (Heck, I've demonstrated it myself in the past.)

      Actually, the one part of their statement that I agree with is that they don't need someone on their team with the title of "designer" because anyone can design a game. After all, for indies you will typically have a small team and collaborative design, with a creative/project lead for consistency, is quite common. You don't have to be a designer to design a good game.

    They're going to focus on mobile and pachinko machines!

      Don't forget the lucrative health spa market.

      I was wondering why "A Luke Muscat Game" had been removed from Fruit Ninja. Now we know.

    We don't have any artists at my work, so I guess we're all empowered to contribute to our artistic endeavours.

    We don't have artistic endeavours, because if you want to have good art, you hire an actual artist.

      Design is kind of different to that. Art takes a specific, practiced skill that can take a long time to learn and get good at. Game design is mostly about a creative spark, which anyone could have, and a general understanding of the video game development process, which I would hope most developers have in any area of game development. You don't need to have "Designer" on your business card for that. I'm sure there are a lot of people who can draw really well who aren't employed as artists. It's possible that Halfbrick can still make something good if anyone on their team is the next Luke Muscat. Only time will tell.
      In the mean time, the current Luke Muscat seems to be doing pretty great since leaving. So in that respect, if that's the kind of talent that's leaving Halfbrick it doesn't bode too well for them, which is a shame.

        It's possible, but given the new direction they're taking I don't think it's likely.

        Last edited 15/09/15 11:34 am

        I am a design director for a mobile game studio with over a dozen designers reporting up to me. I can tell you that creative spark is categorically not what being a good game designer is "mostly" about. Creative spark is only a small portion of the talent I look for in designers.

        Designers need to have good math, excellent communication, strong planning, and the ability to dissect games they play and convert that knowledge into useful experience. They must be able to handle the tedium of writing hundreds of feature briefs and design specs, while tweaking numbers in excel thousands of times during UX and balance testing.

        Mobile systems designers need to be economists capable of modeling player behavior as well as in game economies. Content designers must be able to plan out a content pipeline with programming and art, then act upon it to get thousands of assets working in game with proper stats. Not to mention naming countless heroes, monsters, and abilities without sounding derivative of other games, or like high school fanfiction.

        Halfbrick is clearly shooting themselves in the foot with some reactionary move to losing their top creative members. I don't expect to see anything as fun, balanced, or engaging as Jetpack Joyride come out of their studio in the future.

        I disagree. Speaking as a studio designer, I feel that while yes as you said "design takes a creative spark," to be a great designer you need to hone many skills and form a broad understanding of the game development process. To become a great designer you need as much practical experience as an artist does to become great. It's not just creativity, it's processes, it's intuition informed by previous design and many other things.

        What worries me about designers being laid off is that companies think they can make great games purely based on research data which A/B testing on everything. This is not always true and all the while originality is being crushed out of the development process. This is bad for everyone, game teams and consumers.

          with A/B testing*

    From what I recall, Halfbrick originally started out doing handheld ports of console games. Perhaps they are going to head back towards those roots while cultivating their existing IP stable?

      Ports of their own games to new generations of existing platforms, with market-research-driven updates and 'improvements'?

        And then we follow up w/ more innovations like timer bars and pay walls! SO MUCH INNOVATION!

      Maybe moving into that cool new Apple TV gaming space that has gamers getting super excited!

      Microtransactions and monetization.

      Last edited 15/09/15 11:47 am

    The writing was on the wall when I saw the second Fruit Ninja Kinect - the first was a revelation - but it's had its moment and Kinect's moment is well and truly done.

    I know a few former employees and they have said not so positive things about where HB are going.
    Shame, but I guess glory days don't last forever.

      They've been losing their best and brightest for a while now because, surprise, the top talent wanted to make fun games, not mobile cash harvesters.

      Last edited 15/09/15 11:37 am

        That's pretty much what I heard. Money changes everything.

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