No ad to show here.

RetroEpic Software talks us through growing a game studio in SA

Ventureburn recently had a chance to sit down with one of South Africa’s older game development studios, RetroEpic Software. We spoke to co-founder Niki Boshoff (pictured top left) and brand manager Megan Hughes (bottom middle) about the company, its interesting business model and product pricing.

Game development in South Africa has never been the easiest of undertakings. Many developers tend to end up taking on contract work for other brands instead of relying on tricky pricing models for consumers. RetroEpic is one of those studios and is showing the industry how it’s done.

No ad to show here.

Having started programming from a young age, brothers Niki and Keith Boshoff (pictured bottom right) founded RetroEpic in 2007 as an educational software developer and based the company out of Cape Town, South Africa. They started gathering most of their work from overseas forums. The company slowly evolved into a game developer specialist; it is something that has always been on their wish list, but the opportunities were not available in South Africa.

Most of their work comes from companies trying to push a brand across. As Boshoff puts it: “We enjoy developing software, which is why it’s called RetroEpic software and not RetroEpic Games. That’s where it started.”

As with many startups, the brothers kept the company lean. When RetroEpic was founded, the company didn’t even have any computers, which is something Boshoff likes jokes about. Its growth model was a slow one which involved building up the required capital to hire a single member of staff and continuing the process — it is one that has worked for RetroEpic.

Read more: Cracking the nut: An indie game startup’s mission to balance passion and profit

Most of the RetroEpic ten or so staff are self-taught programmers with a range of specialties. While two of the staff members, including Megan, have a tertiary education, their degrees aren’t related to video game design or programming.

Even with two founders, the RetroEpic offices have no hierarchy and rely on a flat structure. Each staff member has equal weight, power, and input when it comes to decision-making, even on what projects they should take on. No one solely makes all of the decisions. “That evolved naturally. Who has the experience to run a game company in South Africa. We don’t,” quips Boshoff.

According to Boshoff, game development isn’t easy and is a very unpredictable industry:

We sit on devices that are changing on a yearly basis, on APIs that are changing on a monthly basis, on technology that’s changing as we speak. It’s constantly a new challenge, new things we need to figure out, new techniques, and new opportunities that we try to pursue.

When asked about game development studios, Nikki Boshoff said running a studio isn’t the easiest of business to do. He constantly tells people: “The day you open a studio is when you stop doing what you love and you start running a business.” It requires a lot of time, dedication, understanding, and curiosity. Right now there are more developers coming out of college than what the industry demands, and the South African market isn’t as strong as its international counterparts.

Read more: 8 startups taking the African gaming scene to the next level

RetroEpic tackles a range of different projects and always have several on the go. One of its recent collaborations is Jungle Beat, a mobile game based on the popular children’s show of the same name. The company handled the development and inner workings of the title.

As many entrepreneurs offering services and agencies will know, gaining clientele isn’t easy. It’s not always about finding the clients, but having them understand what the realistic cost of a project is. RetroEpic has had its fair share of companies wanting to offer it “profit share” or “exposure”.

The company’s staff has to manage those expectations, explains Boshoff, and the team decides on whether a client’s project is viable or not:

We don’t take on projects that we’re semi-interested in. We take on projects that we think is something that will be really interesting for us and something we’ll be proud to have in our portfolio.

Its recent in-house re-release, A Day in the Woods, had been created as more of a portfolio piece. It’s a way of showing prospective clients what the company is capable of. Ordinarily, the RetroEpic staff would need special permission from IP owners of titles they have handled in order to show off the work RetroEpic is capable of, but A Day in the Woods allows them full control of this process. Due to the high review scores of the release, it “indirectly brings work through to us”.

Read more: SA developed game platform company lands NBC and Sony deals

While mobile is becoming the norm, Hughes notes there is a difference between the Android and iOS markets:

You can see the difference between the Android and the iOS users. iOS users are not very interactive; they’ve bought more overall as it’s been out longer. The Android users Tweet, they email us, they review. There are more reviews on our Android version than our iOS version. We don’t have anything in the game to tell you to review so that’s pure free will.

For A Day in the Woods, RetroEpic’s team decided on charging a set fee to consumers. As with any businesses, correctly pricing a product will always be a huge factor. In video game development, there are several ways to price a game, which includes giving away the product for free, setting a standard price, or adopting the freemium model.

“There is no way to know, until you have released, how many sales you’ll get at that price point and whether we would have gotten more sales at a lower price point. It’s not something we can know either. It might not have made up the same numbers in terms of how much money we make. It’s not about the money, but it is a very trick subject at the moment on what is the correct price point,” states Hughes.

Boshoff notes he does enjoy certain freemium models, such as Team Fortress 2. Customers are able to play the game without ever paying the developers unless they want cosmetic changes. RetroEpic has given thought to using the freemium model, but don’t currently have a project that would fit it.

Read more: Self-awareness is key contributor to entrepreneurial growth

Kickstarter is another model that has intrigued Boshoff. He notes many people have gotten the wrong idea about game development from the platform, such as companies asking for much less that what’s needed and hoping they’ll be over-funded, or others not being at all transparent about the development costs. Though there have been many successes through the platform, such as Star Citizen, which raised in excess of US$2.1-million.

No ad to show here.



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Ventureburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.

Exit mobile version