Finnish studio Almost Human has been attracting more attention that you might expect for a company which is working on a niche, PC only title for a core market, most recently by altering the UI on their old school dungeon crawler Legends of Grimrock at the request of a disabled fan.
With the team's attitude and work on Legends of Grimrock continuing to impress, GamesIndustry.biz got in touch to get the lowdown on the studio's ethos.
Q:You've chosen a pretty niche and uncompromising genre - is that a personal or business choice?
Olli Pelz:It is mostly a personal choice. We love the genre and we feel the community deserves a modern dungeon crawler that reflects the magic of the good old ones, like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder. This is a mission for us, and the only way to do it was as an indie studio. I guess the big studios just can't take the risk with such an approach. On the other hand, it is easy to differentiate from the big guys with this kind of approach. And there seems to be a demand for such a game, so everything happens to work just fine also business wise.
Q:Do you think that the industry would operate more efficiently if niche interest groups were targeted specifically rather than games trying to be everything to everyone? Do we need more Dwarf Fortress, less CoD?
Olli Pelz:There will probably always be mainstream games that try to please everyone. It is a fact that some of them do sell very well. But it looks like there is definitely also a demand for games that are targeted to the niche market. In a way there is less risk in the niche market because there is less competition. But of course, you have to be prepared for lower sales than in the mainstream market. That's why the niche market is better suited for the small indie studios.
"The main problem in the bigger studios is that the decision bureaucracy is more complicated and there is no way they can response to the requests of the their fans in such an interactive way."
Q:I noticed that the other week you altered your UI in response to a request from a disabled gamer, which shows a pretty personal touch. Is it more important for small teams to be involved with their fans in this way?
Olli Pelz:We are very humbled by the publicity our response created. We never imagined anyone would care. Right from day one it has been very important for us to have a close relationship with the community and fans. After all, they are the ones we are making the game for! We think any developer could benefit from it, despite the size of the studio. The main problem in the bigger studios is that the decision bureaucracy is more complicated and there is no way they can response to the requests of the their fans in such an interactive way.
Everything has to be approved through management and weighted against maximizing profits. The only way this kind of close relationship can work is when the developer himself is the one making the decisions, like it is in an indie studio. And we think the community appreciates the fact that they have direct access to the decision maker. It makes them feel like they are taking part in the development of the game. And they are actually playing a very important role. They are kind of our fifth member of the team.
Q:Where do you draw the line?
Olli Pelz:We treat the feedback the same way we treat any feedback from any team member. We take it seriously and try to understand the reason and meaning behind it. In case the reason is valid, we project task to our schedule and resources and make a decision about it.
Q:Can social game players ever 'graduate' to hardcore?
Olli Pelz:We are not on a mission to convert social games players to hardcore. The old-school player community is our core target group and we do our best to serve their needs. Of course we hope that also other players will find Legend of Grimrock appealing and take on the challenge of old-school dungeon crawling. In fact, many newcomers that tried Legend of Grimrock said they would definitely want to play it more because it feels like a refreshing change to the mainstream games.
Q:What sort of sales are you projecting? Grimrock has attracted a lot of attention for a specialist game from a small team...
Olli Pelz:All this attention has mixed up our sales expectations and it is now impossible to say what to expect because we are still talking about a niche genre. However, we hope that the sales will enable us to continue on our mission to bring old-school dungeon crawling back to life. The next steps would be to port the game to Mac and iOS, and perhaps other platforms as well. And there has been a fair amount of requests for modding support. And of course, a sequel is also on our wish list!
Q:Are you taking anti-piracy measures?
Olli Pelz:What we are concerned about is that if piracy hit us too hard, we will not be able to continue making these games. Small indie studios are really dependent on the goodwill of the players. The best thing we can to do is to stay connected to our community and fans, and let them know that we care about them.
What we offer to the community is more than just another game. We are here to share their passion for the genre and cultivate it with love.
"Small indie studios are really dependent on the goodwill of the players. The best thing we can to do is to stay connected to our community and fans, and let them know that we care about them."
Q:Have you decided on things like distribution and payment models?
Olli Pelz:Legend of Grimrock will be sold using a traditional single payment. We choose digital distribution because it enables us to self publish the game. It is part of our indie approach to the business. The more we are in control of our work the more open is the relationship with the players.
Q:Have you considered OnLive or other streaming services?
Olli Pelz:As a tiny studio we can only concentrate on a limited amount of fronts because in-between everything we still have to work hard on the game itself. It is best to keep things simple and concentrate on digital distribution for the initial release. We will later consider other options if the initial release is successful.
Q:The Nordic region seems to have transposed perfectly into the resurrgence of the model of small team indie development - why do you think that is?
Olli Pelz:We really don't have a definite answer to that question. All that comes in mind is that in Finland we have this thing called "sisu". It means that you don't care about difficulties, problems or danger, you just keep going. It is an inseparable nature of our identity, and it gives us the confidence we need to reach for big dreams, even as a small team.
Q:With the Nordic Game program looking more and more like it could be on its last legs, do you think it has played an important role in the region's industry development?
Olli Pelz:Although we have not approached the program ourselves we are aware that that it has helped many Nordic companies to succeed. We hope that there will be more programs like that. It definitely encourages many indie studios to make the best games they can.