Develop 2013: Barry Meade talks The Room - the game with no great plan, but a lot of success

Fireproof man on the business of ignoring business

Develop 2013: Barry Meade talks The Room - the game with no great plan, but a lot of success

"Apple's guys are really uncomplicated – they don't care about your business plan," said Fireproof's Barry Meade when asked whether The Room being featured on the App Store was as a result of 'backroom deals' with the Cupertino giant.

"They don't care about any of that stuff. They're just like, 'hey, we like your game'."

Speaking during the second keynote at this year's Develop conference in Brighton, much of Meade's on stage interview was centred on developers freeing themselves from the preconceived ideas they have about making games.

Having previously released himself from the pressure of working in the "high pressure environment" that was Criterion, Meade suggested that even the smallest of mobile studios are falling into the trap of focusing on analytics, on user tracking, or on metrics rather than the game they're creating.

With The Room, he said, Fireproof simply looked to produce something the team behind it would enjoy.

A matter or priorities

"We didn't want to make a great business, we wanted to make a great studio," opened Meade.

"The motivation that really bound us together was, 'we don't want to make rubbish'. [The Room] actually came really easily. We didn't plan it really – The Room was the second of the games we trialled, and we knew that as soon as we started making it that we liked it."

That's an approach Meade suggested isn't necessarily possible on console, where making games is so expensive and the pressure to succeed hangs like a heavy shadow over the development of many games.

Mobile, in comparison, helps free up creativity.

"I think we knew in our heads we wanted to do something console-ish on mobile, but The Room was an experiment – it was called Puzzle Blocks for most of development," added Meade.

"The difference between mobile and console is that, we made up that game every day when we came to work. There was no game design or plan – the game idea was literally 'wouldn't it be cool to play with puzzle blocks'. It all just fell into place – I've never worked on a game that was as easy to make as The Room."

Room for improvement

Much of The Room's success, Meade said, is down to its simplicity, both in its development and in its delivery.

"With The Room, we didn't want to over-complicate things – we wanted to make things we like, and as long as we crafted it well, it would be commercial," he added.

"When iOS and Unity came along, it was the perfect storm for small groups of people with small ideas. Even if you're a total console graphics whore, Infinity Blade makes you realise that this machine can do quite a lot if you get clever with it."

The Room

But if mobile has been such a positive force, why aren't more developers enjoying this new found liberty? Why do – as Meade put it – 90 percent of games still fail?

"It's a very high pressure industry, and it really shouldn't be – it's a bloody laugh when you're doing something you like," contested Meade, suggesting that too many developers get distracted by unimportant issues during development.

"Within the industry, there's this big debate about free-to-play – what's ethical. I don't think anyone really cares about that. Who cares how people pay for games? The gamers don't care, but for some reason we seem to care."

Joyless and reductive

Meade also thinks that independent developers need to be just that – independent. Running to a publisher for a leg up, he suggested, isn't necessarily going to be an advantage.

"The way publishers think about videogames is so joyless, it's so reductive," he added.

"No-one actually talks about what the end user is feeling, because that's not measurable."

Even when left to their own devices, many developers have "forgotten why they do it", Meade claimed, adding that studios don't need to focus on "all that business horse trading stuff to make a good game."

"If you don't at least make something people like playing, none of that stuff matters anyway. None of it matters if your game fails.

"The industry is taught to think that gamers want to see what they've already had. 'This is what the market wants' – this is sold to us as what you should do. But gamers don't want to see ten versions of the same game, they just don't. So why do we all believe this stuff? We've lost sight of the simple delight of playing a game.

"It took us years to save up the £100,000 we needed to develop The Room, but it was our money, so we just ignored the press, we ignored the publishers, and we just had a 'it's our party and we'll do what we want' attitude.

"We were honest with ourselves and admitted it was probably never going to make any money, so we just made a game we knew we'd like."

Keith Andrew
Keith Andrew
With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font. He's also Pocket Gamer's resident football gaming expert and, thanks to his work on, monitors the market share of all mobile OSes on a daily basis.