Melissa Heidrich of PassionFruit Games conducted an interview with GameJobHunter to talk about her experience with being victim to a layoff in the video game industry, and how she and her team have started up their own video game studio.
GJH: What are some of the most important things to start thinking about if you’re laid off? What were the first steps you took?
Melissa Heidrich: I’d say if you’re laid off, the most important thing is to stay positive – instead of viewing the situation as an ending, you have to see it as a new beginning. I’ve been laid off three times now, and each time, it’s opened the door to fresh and exciting new opportunities that weren’t possible with prior companies. It’s a cliché, but a positive attitude really does get you farther in life! When I was called into the conference room to receive the news of my company’s layoff, it was probably a couple of minutes into the big we’re sorry to inform you speech when my mind started racing, thinking of what to do next. I’m not the type to dwell on things. I’d had this idea for a new type of romance-casual game and thought that this could be the perfect opportunity to accomplish that vision. Besides, my team was the best I’d ever worked with, and it would be a shame to split up a group that had such great dynamics and so much talent. The next day, after we all cleaned out our desks, I had the team gather outside the building to hand out NDAs, and PassionFruit Games was born. The fact is, you never know what’s going to happen in life, and keeping a few what if plans in the back of your brain never hurts.
GJH: What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered that you didn’t anticipate when starting your own video game studio?
Melissa Heidrich: We’re probably still going to run into a host of challenges that have yet to rear their heads, but the ones we’ve come across so far have mostly been related to legal or financial issues. We had to decide what kind of company to set up given our size, we decided an LLC was best, and we needed to work with a lawyer to help us create a legal agreement between all the members. Forming the agreement was a much more complicated and time-consuming process than any of us had anticipated, mostly because there were so many possible scenarios that had to be covered. By the way, I’ve heard horror stories about other startups that didn’t set up legalities from the start – NOT a good idea! And, all that legal stuff cost a lot more money than anticipated expect to pay a few thousand dollars, which we had to squeeze from our self-funded budget. Another challenge we’ve faced is the problem of self-motivation. We felt like it was a lot of fun going rogue and starting our own studio without the “(wo)man” telling us what to do – but sometimes the temptation to goof off together caused our productivity to plummet. It’s helped that we’ve broken the development cycle into milestones that all culminate in public focus testing – the thought of an outside eye scrutinizing our game adds a lot of pressure to get work done on time!
GJH: What sacrifices if any did the team members have to make when you decided to band together as a new studio? Did it take any convincing of anyone?
Melissa Heidrich: Because we had all gotten along so well, everyone on the team was really excited about the prospect of starting a company together… but there were definitely doubts. I remember in the beginning having to convince people that making a romance game was a great idea with profit potential. The most difficult part is that we’re self-funded, so we’ve all had to sacrifice a lot in terms of our basic standard of living! Yes, we survive off Costco snacks, mooching food from others, and mastering the art of stuffing 3 meals’ worth of food into a takeout container from an amazing Indian restaurant that offers $5 buffet lunch! And due to financial woes, we’ve actually had a couple sad stories – the worst was when one team member had to give his three-legged cat away because he could no longer afford vet bills. But amazingly, spirits haven’t been too low, since we’re going through all this together, and we have high hopes for the game we’re creating.
GJH: Do you think that the success of the studio will lead to new video game jobs with Passion Fruit Games?
Melissa Heidrich: I will have a much better answer for you in April, when our first game comes out! We’re counting on Tiger Eye to do well in order to continue making games together as a studio. Our goal is to sell enough copies to at least be able to say okay, I can survive on this amount of income – let’s keep going and shoot for more success with our next title. But if our game does better than that and we have extra cash flow – you bet we’ll want to hire additional team members so we can produce future games faster. Regardless of the outcome, I think everyone on the team would agree that the experience we’ve gained over the last six months has been worth it.
You can learn more about PassionFruit Games by visiting http://www.passionfruitgames.com/- their first game, Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box, is now available for pre-order.