Three years ago, n-Space was in bad shape. The Florida-based developer had been running on the strength of its Wii and DS development acumen. But with the DS sunsetting in advance of the 3DS launch and the Wii market fallen off a cliff, n-Space didn't have enough work to support the studio's headcount.
There were multiple rounds of layoffs, and then-president Dan O'Leary was compelled to write a blog post publicly refuting reports that n-Space had closed entirely. Given what's happened to the dedicated handheld market in the last three years, the outlook wasn't so great for the studio.
However, n-Space seems much better situated these days. Last week the company announced EA veteran Dan Tudge as its new president, with now-CEO O'Leary calling the move an "inflection point" in the studio's history. He added that the company is once again stable, and poised to grow in the years to come. In a follow-up interview with GamesIndustry International, O'Leary discussed how the company found itself in a tight spot, as well as where it goes from here.
"Like many independent developers, we were overextended and waiting on a couple deals that were processing," O'Leary said. "One of them fell through at the last minute, which put us in a bad situation. So we had to kind of roll things up for a couple weeks and put them back together."
"The handheld market, in terms of the media and press you read, is definitely the red-headed stepchild."Dan O'Leary
O'Leary said the company took the time to refocus the studio, build on its strengths (specifically flexibility and a commitment to one another within the team), and form new relationships within the industry.
"We're a known quantity that's known to deliver," O'Leary said. "There's still a need for product development from experienced developers able to put product out there and deliver on their promises. And that put us on the top of a short, challenging chart to get work placed."
O'Leary said at the beginning of the last generation, n-Space made a conscious decision to become one of the leading handheld developers in the world. While the company didn't have much experience with handheld gaming at the time, O'Leary saw an opportunity. The conventional wisdom of the time, as he saw it, was that Sony's PlayStation Portable would dominate the DS in the market, but n-Space was convinced Nintendo would have the more successful platform. At first, there was plenty of demand for DS titles, with O'Leary saying the company was probably working on as many as five titles simultaneously for the handheld at its height. However, the 3DS has not proven quite as successful, a fact that has not gone unnoticed in the industry.
"The handheld market, in terms of the media and press you read, is definitely the red-headed stepchild," O'Leary said. "It's not as sexy in today's market, or as social in the market of six months ago. But it's a strong market in its own way...There are certainly challenges in that market. But I don't think everybody is making a boatload of money off mobile games, either. There are a lot of mobile games being downloaded and played, but it's a very, very challenging market as well."
"There's just very low demand right now for [3DS and Wii U] work through the publisher side."Dan O'Leary
So n-Space isn't going to move all its eggs into the mobile basket, but it's not about to stick with handhelds, either. O'Leary said the plan now is to adapt and diversify across different platforms. It shouldn't be too difficult for the studio, as O'Leary notes that despite the company's specialization, it has worked on every major console and handheld from the original PlayStation up through the 3DS. But in branching out to new platforms, the company is leaving a few behind as well, at least temporarily. For the first time in "probably 10 years," O'Leary said n-Space is not working on any projects for Nintendo platforms.
"It's kind of a sad thing to say, because for a long time n-Space has been known as a Nintendo-friendly developer. We certainly have loved all our time working with them. We think their hardware's great. We think more often than not they have the right mindset in the difficult game world we live in...There's just very low demand right now for their work through the publisher side. Which is ironic, I think that'll probably swing back. The news was just talking about how Nintendo was beating everybody with hardware sales. The DS and 3DS sales curves have been slower than publishers would have liked. That may change, but I can tell you right now we're not working on anything."
As for what the company would be doing, O'Leary played coy, saying only that the company's reputation would change drastically in the coming years. The company's last project for a Nintendo platform (for the time being) is Skylanders: Swap Force, which is set to launch this October.