Studio Development with Bedtime Digital Games with Klaus Pederson- Episode 120
Klaus Pederson is the CEO of Bedtime Digital Games. He's been with the team since the team’s debut game Back to Bed., a student project that was successfully kickstarted and launched. Now after shipping Chronology and Figment, Klaus reflects with us all the highs and lows of being an indie studio in Denmark. We also explore versatile business development with Klaus and how the greatest success story from Bedtime Digital Games has yet to come.
Making a Student Project Prototype
Klaus admits that the formation of Bedtime Digital Games is “an unusual way to start.” However, his school took full advantage of the opportunities in Denmark for students making games.
Denmark is a relatively small country so all game educational institutions kind of “knew each other, so there is a initiative that had a collaborative semester meeting students all over for half a year to make games,” Klaus comments. This program allowed students all over to meet people from various backgrounds to compose a game and to maximize the efficiency. A program that “was setup to fail” Klaus remembers. It also was “meant to be a pressure cooker to make a pot of mistakes really fast and learn a lot.” At the time, eighteen students were working together on Klaus’s student project. The main idea of the program was to have students make a prototype that would have promise commercially. After the prototype was completed, his team stripped it down to core people, got funded, and took it to the finish line.
When asked about how the team was able to wind down from eighteen people to core developers, Klaus shares that “it gets really easy when working with someone for two weeks. Some people are team players and you can easily identify people's interest in startups and flourish. And others are attracted to bigger organization, to get the most out of the talent.”
The team of students set out with making a prototype in a week with all eighteen students contributing. There were many trial and error to help the team get to know each other. The core setup of the program is to complete a prototype after six weeks which pushed the producers to get everything organized very fast. Subsequently, roles were defined at the beginning of the projects and “how everyone held each other responsible, was up for the team to find out.”
“You figure this out your own,” Klaus shares. “It was hard to make a game with a team and to study that in a classroom and can only be realized by actually making the game and cannot be studied from a book.”
Back to bed is set in surreal world inspired by artist Salvador Dali. The game started with the idea of a sleep walker and in retrospect Klaus mentions “the prototype ended up pretty close to the final game.” The prototype had ten levels that was put up on the internet for free. This eventually got expanded and polished to make it commercially available on Steam and PlayStation. Overall, the game took a year to make the foundation of the company and to secure funding. And then an additional eight months to finalize the game.
Hiring people and budgeting is a big part of forming a new company. When hiring new people and negotiating salaries Klaus laments the experience as “more daunting for a business owner than for the employee.” Larry jokes “'Oh man, he says he wants double than what we want to pay him. How do we say no?”
Reality VS Expectations From Student Project to a Real Game
“The mentality we had was this was a journey and we were trying to learn a lot. We didn't put ourselves into a position that this was all or nothing or that we need to succeed in order for this to work”
Klaus says “'the mentality we had was this was a journey and we were trying to learn a lot. We didn't put ourselves into a position that this was all or nothing or that we need to succeed in order for this to work. We acquired enough funding to treat this first game as a trial and error experience where we could have some flexibility to what we are trying.” Even as student developers, it was clear when developing a game commercially that it is the “last 10% that takes really long to get it right.”
The Professors and industry professionals in Denmark were helpful whenever Klaus and his team reached out. However since the industry in Denmark is really small, there wasn’t only one know-it-all mentor that had all the answers that they needed. Instead, Klaus and his team relied on many mentors for different aspects when forming their company. Everyone is very open about sharing experiences in Denmark. Which is a great thing about the community there. Klaus proudly says that Denmark has a “us vs the world mentality.” In which Larry adds “Transparency is key to help developers and customers.”
“Transparency is key to help developers and customers.”
One main thing that was helpful that proved to investors that there is public interest was a small Kickstarter campaign Klaus’s team ran. And since “there weren’t many opportunities for funding in Denmark except one main institution,” Klaus and his team got that institution to believe in their project and secured the funding.
When asked about the team’s inspiration for their games, the top companies for Klaus was Playdead and Supergiant Games. These are small teams “with smart approaches to making games.” Since the early days of Bedtime Digital Games, aesthetics fastly became a focal point of the studio. Strong visual identity of the games were established way before design was even decided. Self evidently, the studio’s portfolio are heavily influenced by other mediums like children's book and surreal art.
Branding a Company
Creating a identity for a studio is just as important as creating an audience for a game. Furthermore, Klaus realizes that games usually get more attention than the studio itself. A disconnect he wanted to avoid between the products and a studio’s name. So it was a conscious decision to make “it easy to built upon that brand with the success of Back to Bed” and had the studio called Bedtime Digital Games.
The studio is made up of fifteen core people. Everyone works in the office. The reason for having so many people for an indie studio is there are usually “multiple games in production at the same time,” Klaus shares. Which “enable people to constantly shuffle and not stay idle.” The games the studio prefers to make are usually asset heavy in production. For example, the studio’s latest game, Figment, took three years to complete. Therefore, after Figment was released, the studio shifted to working on multiple games to push releases more frequently.
Public release of a game is something really special and a stark contrast from being a student project or a game jam. But the studio’s mindset was to “continue making games and not stop.”
Klaus accounted that after Back to Bed shipped, he ‘“didn't take time to appreciate that people were playing Back to Bed and just continued.”
Going forward, Klaus gave more thought about his studio’s game’s “aesthetics and world creation to have more replayability.” Because personally he like games “that has very direct goals like Rocket League” which “help me relax unlike puzzle games.”
Thoughts on the Current Market
“There will always be a market [for single player games] even though the trend is leaning towards multiplayer and replayability.” Klaus warns developers to “be on their toes and be ready to adapt.”
It’s an exciting time for indie developers as new markets are emerging from all over the world. There are new opportunities opening up in China, India, and Latin America which means “more people to put your game in front of that helps your product.” Klaus advice when it comes to international publishing is to go to “game business convention to meet potential partners that can help get your games into a new market.” Conventions like GDC, Game Connection, Casual Connect are few of the examples. “Sometimes you are lucky that connections come to you. Like, you create a game that they see the potential in their market,” Klaus says.
“Make sure your game can scale because it’s much easier to finish your game if you are able to scale down the experience and it still works. It will help out tremendously if you make your game flexible.”
The top two things that Klaus would have told his younger self was about patience and scalability. “Early on I was too eager to, like, do everything at once and lack the kind of patience to making games and to making great games,’’ he remembers. And on the subject of scalability he says “make sure your game can scale because it’s much easier to finish your game if you are able to scale down the experience and it still works. It will help out tremendously if you make your game flexible.”
Klaus also gave his thoughts about communication and how “a lot of the hard things with making games is you making it with other people.” As a best practice when looking at candidates Klaus says, “One of the things I'll be looking at when hiring new people is that they aren't just good at that one trait that they do, like they are a good artist or a good programmer, but they are also good at communicating.” He concludes “that's where a lot of the problems come from because lack of communication.” Furthermore, “being able to communicate is a skillet that I’d highly valued. In a company like us where we don't have middle managers and kind of like a strict process on how to do things. We need information to flow organically between the team members so it's really important not only their trait but communicating.”
The tools that help offset the communication issues was Slack, an online chatting software for companies. “It helps me out alot because I would often be on the road or at home working.” Klaus also find it very satisfying and “get the most enjoyment on the daily bases seeing other people leverage their creativity and utilize their skill set” within Slack.
When asked what is it that Klaus is most proud of about the company’s accomplishments he replies ‘yeah the biggest success for the team is... that’s yet to come.”
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