Not every student team that finishes their final year in college is as fortunate to have a game picked up by a major publisher. But Stunlock Studios got a golden ticket from Norwegian online game publisher Funcom and is now working tirelessly on their first commercial game called Bloodline Champions, a multiplayer online battle arena using Microsoft XNA. We asked Stunlock Studios’ CEO, Tau Petersson (the only lady in the team), about her team’s experience starting their studio fresh out of college, getting a publishing deal from Funcom and the lessons they’ve learned during their journey to becoming professional game developers.
Gamesauce: Tell us how your team came together in the first place?
Tau Petersson: The team met each other and worked together on different projects and courses during our years studying game development at the University of Skövdes. Most of the team took a course during their final year where they were assigned to build a game. That’s when our team was formed. The result was so good–many people that tried it liked it–we thought we might as well continue developing the game.
Gamesauce: How did you end up partnering with Funcom? Do you have any tips for young developers aiming to find a publisher to work with?
Tau Petersson: Funcom was our last meeting at Game Connection in San Francisco 2010. We almost missed out on booking the meeting because their schedule was fully booked. The first person we talked to couldn’t meet us, but he told us to e-mail his colleague. I almost forgot to do that, but remembered before it was too late. And I’m very, very happy about that. Game Connection was a real help for us to meet potential business partners and we won free participation through Game Connections Level Up program for the 2010 edition. Without that free pass, we never would have had the money to go. So if Game Connection is still around and you have a good product to sell, it’s a great way to meet potential business partners.
Gamesauce: What was it like to go from having a student project to starting your own studio? What were the biggest challenges there?
Tau Petersson: Starting a company is a totally different world than just developing games, so of course it’s something we didn’t know much about when we first started. Luckily, we had the chance to work at an incubator in Skövde called the Game Incubator. It helps students who want to start game development companies. The incubator helps with things such as offices and business development. The support they have given us has made our journey from a student project to a game development studio a lot smoother than it would have been if we had tried to do it on our own.
Gamesauce: How did you come up with the concept for the game? What were your main inspirations?
Tau Petersson: The idea came up when the team members discussed what types of games they enjoyed playing. So, a lot of the inspiration came from games that were mentioned: World of Warcraft, PvP Arena, Guild Wars and the Warcraft 3 mod DotA. Before Bloodline Champions, a couple of members in of the team had made a similar game for Xbox 360 as a school project. Since that game was so much fun, it felt like a good concept to start building on.
Gamesauce: What have you learned from this entire experience? Would you have done anything different?
Tau Petersson: We’ve learned that it takes much more than just building a great game to survive in the gaming industry. When we got the idea to start a company to make a commercial game like Bloodline Champions, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. It’s a lot of work. But it’s going great, and we’re very happy we took the chance to start our own studio. Having Funcom on our side has been great for us. As a new small company, there’s a lot of things you don’t know or think about. When it comes to online games, Funcom’s experience has saved us from learning a lot of lessons the hard way. I don’t think we would have or could have done anything different. We started out as students and now we’re professional game developers. The next project will of course be very different, but the mistakes we have made on this one had to be made to get us where we are now. It’s part of the process of becoming a game developer from a student.
Gamesauce: How is the development of Bloodline coming along? What are the major challenges you’re facing in development?
Tau Petersson: The development is going forward quite nicely at the moment. When we first decided to start a studio, we had no idea the project would become so big. As I said earlier, making a great game isn’t enough. When we began working as a company, we also had to start thinking as a company. What will get people to want to play our game? What will make them keep playing our game? It’s a great and fun game, but that isn’t enough anymore. Players expect a lot of features that aren’t really connected to the game, such as friends lists for example. With these questions in mind, the project grew much bigger than we had expected from the beginning, but it’s all worked out well by now.
Bloodline Champions is in development by Stunlock Studios and is currently in its third beta phase.
Vlad Micu is managing editor of Gamesauce.org. He previously has been a freelance game industry professional for over five years and traveled around the world while running his company VGVisionary. Starting VGVisionary during college, Vlad was able to work independently as a pr & marketing consultant, event manager, industry journalist, speaker and game developer. He just returned from Bangkok, Thailand, where he pursued his dream of making video games as the game producer at arkavis, an up and coming casual game studio.