Interview with Studio Fizbin: Keeping a Small Indie Studio Afloat

Interview with Studio Fizbin: Keeping a Small Indie Studio Afloat

Alexander Pieper, Co-Founder of Studio Fizbin, discussed how their team juggle contact work and game development, manage to work on multiple titles at a time, plan projects, and more.

Introduction

Alexander Pieper: Studio Fizbin was founded in May 2011 by Sebastian, Mareike, and me. Sebastian studied Interactive Media, Mareike – Motion Design and I studied Applied Computer Sciences. With these 3 areas, we covered what we called "the magic triangle of interactivity".

We started working together during our studies on our first game The Inner World. When we finished our studies in May 2011 we founded Studio Fizbin in order to keep on working together on the game. Since then we've released The Inner World, The Inner World - The Last Windmonk, and several projects for clients. The studio grew to the current size of 25 passionate folks working on our own games Say No! More, Minute of Islands, and Lost at Sea.

About Minute of Islands

Minute of Islands is an adventure game that places players in a strange and beautiful archipelago, polluted by dangerous spores. The only thing keeping the series of islands safe are mysterious antennas built when Giants lived alongside people. But the machines are now failing, and the only person who can repair them is engineer, Mo, and her versatile Omni-Switch.

Driven to protect her family and friends, Mo sets out on a quest where she encounters a cast of curious creatures along the way. But, as she uncovers the truth of the islands and the giants living below the surface, she will begin to learn that maybe her focus and stoic ambition are not always the assets she believes them to be. It’s this realisation that leads Mo on a journey over the haunted islands of her homeworld and into the depths of her subconscious. It’s a journey that will have players discovering more about the islands and Mo, while also having them examine their own lives and priorities.

About Say No! More

Say No! More is a No!-them up about saying No! to mean coworkers and a stolen lunchbox. The key idea is that video game players rarely get a chance of saying no to anything happening in-game. "Collect 31 seaweed!", "Bring back the princess!" – this is what players usually have to deal with. What if players could actually say No! to a request a video game throws at you? What if you could ONLY say No! to every request a game throws at you? Plotwise, it's about an internship at a company that encourages its employees to say Yes to everything. The rest is for you to discover. 

About Lost at Sea

Lost at Sea is a game about life set on a beautiful island, where every biome represents a phase of life. You will explore your surroundings and solve riddles to reclaim your memories, while the fear of death is hunting you, trying to take you to the other side before you have tasted life.

Love, friendship, family, career, freedom – no matter who we are or where we come from, these are the things that make life worth living for all of us. And we are all afraid that something will take these things away or take us away before we have experienced every single bit of it. But death is inevitable and it doesn't make sense to be afraid of it. And the more we experience, the more we know and remember – the more the fear of death loses its power. Lost at Sea brings up an essential question: what are the most important moments of your life?

Keeping the Studio Afloat

Our studio was built on the premise to work on our own projects but also do some contract work. That way we could keep an income flow after delivering the gold master for a project. But of course, that brings its own problems when you have to start doing contract work but your game needs a lot of support once it's out in the open. That happened with our first release. We had to postpone the mobile release of The Inner World because we didn't manage to deliver the mobile version on time. At the same time, we already had to start contract work to keep our studio financed.

Project extensions are a regular issue in game development because you face challenges that are very hard to anticipate, and also because you want to deliver the best product possible. That brings timing issues to the table when you have to start working on other projects to generate income for the studio. As long as you don't have a product that sells very well it's very tough to build up a financial buffer to be able to extend your own project without having to worry about cash flow issues. Every project we finish teaches us new lessons and we try to implement these learnings when scoping the next project time and budget-wise. Our first investment came from federal-state funding and was allocated for our first project The Inner World.

Coping with Big Projects as a Small Team

During the development of our first game, we learned that designing the game in subsequent stages makes it easier to focus more on small bits than on the whole thing all the time. So while creating the overarching vision for a game it’s always important to break it down into smaller bits in order not to get lost in the whole concept.

Sometimes, we do get overwhelmed when our timing projections for one or multiple projects are off. We evaluate our performance in each project and take those results into account when planning upcoming projects. In order to do that we started very early on keeping track of our time spent on each project.

Working on Several Titles at a Time

After completing two titles following a classic “one game at a time” routine we grew a bit to try working on multiple games at the same time. When you talk to publishers you often hear that their strategy is compared to having multiple arrows in your quiver. You can shoot multiple arrows but you only need one of those arrows to hit the bulls-eye in order to finance your next quiver full of arrows. With our current three games – Minute of Islands, Say No! More, and Lost at Sea – being very close to release (keep an eye out for the release date announcements!) we hope to increase our chances of having one of those games really succeed.

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On the Marketing Side of Things

We're working on the development of the games and have been working with publishers for the marketing part so far. But still, we're gaining experience in marketing with each project made as we also do some of it ourselves. The PR campaigns are usually outlined by the publisher and we work together to find out what works best for the game.

Hiring Decisions

The decision if we need to hire someone or outsource some tasks usually comes during planning sessions. When we lay out the project timelines (including upcoming and possible projects), we distribute our team across the plan. If we see that there are more positions needed in the long term, we adjust our financial planning and start looking for possible options. Right now we're working on a new structure together with some business coaches. We want to explore a more team-centric approach within which the team itself can have a bigger influence on the decision if we need more people. The process itself is pretty lowkey: we post our job offers in our networks (online and offline) and hope for the best.

Plans for 2021

I guess, our goal for 2021 is to get some rest from the wild ride that 2020 had brought? We're finishing up all our own projects at the beginning of this year and we hope to get some rest before the new projects that are coming in the first quarter of 2021. With the next projects, we aim for several prototypes that we can pitch to partners to increase our chances of getting financial support instead of working on only one prototype and then having the pressure to get that one project signed.

Alexander Pieper, Studio Fizbin

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova

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