Going it Alone

Going it Alone
Sidhe's the One

Colin Rowsell | 5 Aug 2008 13:04
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Defuse the single-game deathtrap
Sidhe grew past 10 people, then 20. They did work for hire and began building a reputation for themselves, making titles like Barbie Beach Vacation and Wordjam Deluxe. Finally, around 2002, things came together on several fronts. They got the contract to make NRL Rugby League, a multi-platform version of one of Australasia's most popular sports. Soon after, they started on Gripshift, an original game for the PSP which later moved onto the PS3 and Xbox 360 via their respective digital distribution services.

The deadly "all your eggs in one project" trap has destroyed many studios, and getting beyond it was crucial for Sidhe's long-term stability. Even better, Gripshift gave them their first taste of original IP, the developers' Holy Grail of game properties. Their success can't be distilled into a single, fundamental ingredient; hard work, intelligence and commitment are not fairy dust. Growing your own company is a tough slog, even more so when you begin with a blank slate in an underdeveloped local ecosystem. But eight years in, Sidhe was still alive and making games, with the opportunity to take a close look at what they were doing and why.

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Tap dancing across razor blades makes you do some pretty sharp thinking about how to run a game studio.

Talk less, think more
While the world is over-caffeinated and underwhelmed at E3 2008, Sidhe's three office floors in downtown Wellington are bustling with activity. Everyone's here, all 85 employees, because they did their industry rounds two weeks ago in a series of appointments across the States.

"We get to have quality time with people. We're not one of 20 meetings in someone's day. It just makes more sense," says Business Development Executive Jos Ruffell, a tall young guy with a beard that speaks of Viking-level South Seas winters.

The ecosystem is now up and humming. There are several projects in progress, the most pressing of which is the PS2 version of Speed Racer, a tie-in to the acid-trip firebomb that was the Wachowski Brothers' movie. Sidhe has emerged from that fiasco looking good: They delivered Speed Racer on a tight schedule, navigated the one-way streets that are Hollywood relationships and produced a game rated highly among movie-based titles on Metacritic. They weren't so lucky with Jackass, another licensed property that garnered schizophrenic reviews; thankfully, they had enough games in development to compensate. The studio is now "one to watch," an outfit of proven ability and contacts still searching for a hit to zoom them up the ladder. Pushing against those limits has made Sidhe think hard about many aspects of their business, from relationship management to staff retention.

"Most of the perceived geographic gap is an illusion," Jos comments. "If there were a crisis, I could be in L.A. tomorrow morning. But we still pay a lot of attention to relationships. Some of our partners comment that they see us more than their local contacts in the States."

The style is different, too, and reflects the founders' personalities: Don't overhype, don't overextend, be upfront and honest about your own capabilities. It unsettles some colleagues, especially those used to the manic overselling so prevalent among American developers; but by the second or third go-around, the advantages of under-promising and over-delivering become clear - not least the fact that Sidhe is mindful of the health and longevity of its own fledgling ecosystem.

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