Exient is now self-publishing as an indie – and you can too
11 Sep, 2020
Exient’s Chief Publishing Officer Julian Jones reflects on 20 years as an indie developer, and how all studios can grow while remaining true to their creative values. Providing an insight into how Exient is now self-publishing as an indie – and you can too.
Recently I was honoured to contribute some thoughts to this very site’s awesome Ask Indies roundtable discussion, which posed the question: What’s the future for indie games?
While thinking about the many answers to that conundrum, it occurred to me that the indie developer I work for, Exient Games, has just turned 20 years old.
That means it’s lived through at least four console cycles and seen the mobile games sector we call home move from the monochrome understated Snake, through J2ME and BREW to the amazing ecosystem it is today.
Older and wiser?
It also means we’re all very old. That aside, it made me want to elaborate on my Ask Indies answer, explain how Exient has carved its path through two decades and how some of our learnings could be shared with the next generation.
We actually began 2020 by unveiling a new Exient ‘brand’ – not out of vanity, but because we realised the company was evolving into new directions. The new look, we hope, communicates our mission to create welcoming, humble, focused, mass market, fun and playful games.
Those sentiments are shared by lots of other studios in the indie community – for Exient, it keeps us aiming high while also reminding us to remain grounded and, crucially, remain creative at all costs.
And that’s important when you begin managing the kind of changes we’re working through. We’re expanding our headcount across offices in Leamington Spa and Malta to support the development and publishing of self-funded mobile games based on classic games IPs that appeal to heritage gamers, with several titles lined up for the coming year.
But we didn’t get there overnight – we first built our name and reputation as a ‘work for hire’ mobile game studio, during which time we were lucky enough to work on market-leading IP such as FIFA, Angry Birds and F1.
Between big projects like these it’s important to lift your head from time to time and take stock of the wider market. We managed to do that and realised that, for mobile games in particular, there’s an opportunity to re-imagine console and PC titles from the 1990s and 2000s and hand them back to both new fans and those gamers who played first time around.
So, we took our first step into the world of self-publishing last year with Lemmings Puzzle Adventure – its success has given us the confidence to double down on our publishing activity, while continuing to offer work for hire.
But it was also a project that played to the team’s creative indie strengths. Lemmings Puzzle Adventure was completely optimised for mobile, from the reimagining of the original 16-bit artwork, through new ‘tap to play’ game mechanics to layering the experience up with regular DLC based on current world events.
Obviously to get to this stage isn’t an overnight achievement, as evidenced by our many grey hairs. But I think those just starting out on their journey have exciting resources at their disposal that we could have only dreamed of – tools like Unity mean there’s a relatively low barrier to entry in terms of technology.
Plus, when you look at the potential of emerging ‘platforms’ like Media Molecule’s Dreams things really start to get exciting – there are far more channels to market for original content than there were even five years ago.
Which then leads to discoverability – how do you get your game heard among the plethora of titles that make their way to app stores each day? In terms of above the line marketing, user acquisition (UA) campaigns can be expensive and require dedicate teams to ensure they are optimised.
Huge changes are afoot on key platforms which will require all publishers to completely overhaul and reengineer their approach to marketing and user acquisition. We’ve been preparing for his change for some time and believe we’re well placed to benefit by quickly adopting new approaches to the challenges of acquiring users.
We’re bolstering our Marketing, Community and Engagement teams, these are exciting times and we’re extremely excited by the future and building our audiences across diverse platforms.
As I said in my Ask Indies answer: Indies flourish via their creative smarts and intuitive feeling for audiences – given that we can’t meet in person at Develop this year, I’d love to hear what you think…
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