Halfbrick are arguably Australia's most successful development studio right now. By making the leap into the digital distribution domain, they've managed to make compelling, approachable video games for a broad market and are now reaping the rewards.
We caught up with Michael Dobele to ask him a few questions about his job and what he does on a day to day basis. Michael Dobele - we want your job.
Can you tell us who you are and what you do? My name’s Michael Dobele and I’m an Executive Producer at Halfbrick Studios, an independent games studio based in Brisbane, Queensland. I’ve been at Halfbrick for five years now.
Halfbrick is split into four main development teams that are able to run pretty much autonomously from each other. We’re given the freedom to pick and choose what we want to work on and as this teams lead it’s my job to ensure we’re working on a quality title that can be financially successful. Most recently it was my team that just finished the Age of Zombies iPhone/iPad game. Go Barry Steakfries!
Can you run us through a regular day in your working life? Every day is fairly different which always keeps things fresh and enjoyable. As we are a small company of only 35 staff and my whole team is only nine guys, everyone needs to be very agile and flexible in their skillset. For example, in Age of Zombies I often had to put on a designer’s hat to work out how the controls should function or what the achievements should be. Other days I’ll have to put on a boring producer’s hat and talk to publishers or go crunch some numbers with finance to work out how much money we can spend on our next IP. That’s the same for our artists and programmers also; while people have their strengths and weaknesses nobody specialises in just one task like they tend to do at the bigger companies. Everyday is always something new and challenging. How did you get into this role? What do us plebs need to do to steal your job? About eight years ago I was working in a dead-end council job and hated it. I was a passionate gamer ever since I could hold a control pad but never realised it was possible to get a job making them. Games were just these magical items that appeared on the shelves. I was reading through an issue of Hyper when I saw an ad for a Games Degree at QANTM. I decided there and then to pack in my job, live on noodles for a few years and follow my dream. Once I finished my degree I squeezed myself into the industry as a QA tester at Auran, using my time there to absorb as much knowledge from the talented people around me as I could. I was contemplating my next move within the industry when an old university lecturer called me up and told me they were looking for a Assistant Producer at Halfbrick and he thought it was a good job for me… so there was a good life lesson - always be nice to your teachers!
My advice for newcomers is if you truly want a job in the industry you need to be passionate and work hard at your dream. Take every opportunity to hone your skills and get better, try to make contacts within the industry and learn from them. Get online, find like minded people and start making small games with them from home. You learn so much by doing!
These days you don’t even need to get into the traditional industry to be successful and achieve your dream too. Five years ago if you weren’t an established developer with a publisher you had no chance of getting a game in front of a large consumer base. Now with markets such as the iPhone/Android stores two guys making a game in their bedroom on free software tools and just a few hundred dollars worth of hardware can make a game that sells several million copies… it’s crazy! The entry barrier simply doesn’t exist anymore so if you’re serious about making games you really have no excuse. Go do it!
If you could change anything about the games industry, what would you change? Australia is seen as a minor player in terms of mainstream console game development and we’ve been hit pretty hard the last few years with several of our big console developers like Pandemic and Krome being completely shut down, and others such as THQ go through periods of redundancies. We have quite a large currently unemployed talent pool of game devs around here and I’d hate to lose that talent to overseas jobs or career changes.
I’d love to see all those talented individuals band together, form some smaller indie based studios and start to make a real splash in the digital distribution market. iPhone/Android/Windows 7 are all massively expanding markets hungry for quality games and we have a real opportunity for Australian companies to become the market leaders in this area. We’re already halfway there with companies such as Firemint, Infinite Interactive and of course Halfbrick making a big name for themselves and I’d love to see more Aussie names added to that list.