Whether you’re established or a novice, BeefJack Create is ready to turn your game ideas into fully fledged productions
The world of videogames may be full of many different types of entertainment today, but a clearly defined division of labour has been established. It’s one that is furiously productive, but it doesn’t always favour those starting out with little more than a great idea. Studios make games, engine and middleware firms forge the tools of the trade, and service providers bring the likes of motioncapture and testing to the table. The rise of digital distribution and free-to-play may have dramatically affected all of those specialities and many more besides, but aside from a handful of high-profile examples such as Valve, the structure of the game-making process – and the companies that practice it – forms a neatly compartmentalised framework. And then there’s BeefJack.
BeefJack began life in 2008 with BeefJack Magazine, an editorial website from founder and creative director
Shaun Leach. Leach devoted the site’s focus to indie and alternative releases, and it quickly expanded its reach to include a Flash gaming portal. It made sense, since Leach was a prolific Flash-game developer at the time, and was compelled to share what he both created and loved. BeefJack soon evolved to become a fully fledged development studio, tackling both in-house projects and client work, and in 2012 the company was about as conventional as it would ever be. In the following year, however, the team began to look at how its editorial experience could inform the creation of a new PR and marketing arm aimed at alternative games, and BeefJack Promote was born, giving game developers the means to find, reach and engage audiences.
Today, BeefJack performs a tri-fold function. Along with its Promote business, the studio now also offers BeefJack: The Game Agency, which builds games to extend brands and help organisations reach and serve their audiences. BeefJack Create, meanwhile, is a collaborative indie game development service that defies convenient definitions and offers a distinct way for indies – and individuals – to bring game concepts to life.
“Working with other businesses, with other game developers and with indies is really interesting to me,” Leach says of Create. “And it’s a space that nobody else in the game industry seems to be really owning.”
That space is one where a flexible, collaborative development service can support studios needing extra headcount, or sole creatives with a great game idea that requires an injection of experience and guidance, along with a team shaped to bring the concept to reality. The latter point is BeefJack Create’s most striking distinguishing feature, and one that is founded on flexibility.
If a small
or medium-sized indie developer with a good degree of experience needs to bolster its team with a couple of animators, that’s the kind of gap Create can fill, since BeefJack has at its disposal all of the tools and people needed for every aspect of high-end game production. But that same team is also poised to assist individuals with unrealised game concepts in their heads, and a sense of
“THE BARRIERS HAVE DROPPED. IT’S POSSIBLE FOR ANYONE, FROM ANY WALK OF LIFE, TO MAKE SOMETHING NOBODY HAS EVER SEEN”
the role they’d like to serve bringing those notions to life.
Leach and the Create team partner with a broad sweep of development talent, including graduates, creative talents from far beyond games with an interest in the industry, and just about anyone that has a game idea, even if they’ve never worked in the sector at all.
“Everybody has game ideas, and a game idea is really powerful,” asserts Leach, who is at his most enthusiastic when he talks about helping those who feel they might not have the experience or diversity of skillsets needed to bring ideas to commercial reality. “Even my mum has had an idea for a game. That was 20 years ago, though, when getting an idea past the concept stage was very difficult.
“But now, the barriers to entry in making games have dropped, and tools have become more available and accessible, so a lot of the heavy lifting has been cut out. It’s not just triple-A studios dominating any more. So it’s now possible for anyone, from any walk of life, to make something nobody has ever seen before, and actually for a brief period of time have the world stop and stare.”
But while he has an optimistic take on the opportunities that exist today, Leach is quick to highlight the gap between the accessibility of game-making technology and the reality of bringing a project together, requiring adept artists, coders, animators and audio specialists to hit a quality bar, before distribution, marketing and publishing are applied meaningfully.
The game industry may have more than its fair share of multidisciplinary auteur developers, but they alone aren’t the only group capable of delivering concepts that can be both critically and commercially successful. And Leach and his colleagues want to help the novice and auteur alike, especially when their partners are prepared to punch above their weight and embrace a full game production model.
BeefJack works with Create partners in an entirely bespoke manner, the process decided on a case-by-case basis. “If somebody really experienced approaches us with a really competent game design then we’ll usually try to have them at the front point of the development process,” Leach explains. “We’d let them lead it, and we’re there for support and resources so that person can achieve what they need.”
Equally, BeefJack Create’s approach has been applied when an individual partner wants to see a game idea brought to reality, while carving a niche role for themselves away from the game director’s chair. When joining forces with indie James Wheeler for the in-development Chieftain’s
Challenge – pitched as ‘ Angry Birds meets crazy golf’ – BeefJack found a collaborator not only with a strong idea, but also a desire to input most significantly as a level designer. Leach and his colleagues built a team around Wheeler and his idea, supporting him so the relatively youthful developer could see his concept realised while developing his skills in a particular role.
“We can help make something commercially viable too,” Leach says. “Our experience with lots of odd and unusual games [through BeefJack Magazine] has taught us a great deal about knowing who you’re selling to. You can’t really assume there’s just a male 18–35-year-old target; it just doesn’t work like that any more. So we can help look at who a game is being made for, and help with creating the right assets, or the way the game is being put together. That can be really be impactful when it comes to the release of a game.”
The strength at
the heart of BeefJack Create is its flexibility, and it means that there isn’t really any such thing as a typical Create project. The story of Dean Edwards and his game Iron Fish, however, does plenty to capture the spirit and ideology that drives BeefJack’s efforts.
Iron Fish is a psychological thriller set in the deep sea that toys with the possibility of what might exist in the deepest crevices of Earth’s many unexplored oceans. Designer Edwards is a recent graduate who, two years ago, was going through the process of looking for work, before forming a partnership with BeefJack to collaborate with the Create team.
“It’s very rare for anyone starting out in the game industry to be able to create the project of their dreams as their first game,” Edwards says. “I certainly didn’t expect this opportunity to be available to me at such an early stage in my career. After I graduated from college in 2012, I began looking for jobs and opportunities around my area, with little success.
“It was at the beginning of 2014 – after years of looking for work – that I decided I would focus on designing my own games and expanding my contacts and experience within the industry, in the hope of fulfilling my ultimate goal to develop a project.”
Without BeefJack Create, that would have been a great deal easier said than done.
“I’ve enjoyed working with BeefJack immensely,” Edwards continues. “I feel very privileged, actually, to be working with some very talented and experienced people. They’ve added a lot of value to Iron Fish across the board – design, marketing, production and support. They’ve been great at showing me how the industry works and what it’s like to bring a project to life from start to finish. I feel like I have already absorbed so much from working with them, and this experience has made me excited to learn more.”
To an extent, the Iron Fish story can be understood as one of education through practical experience, though Edwards had no need to serve as a junior beginning a long climb up the career ladder, or a tester tackling the coalface of QA.
“A big part of what we do is provide education,” Leach explains. “If this is your first time in the game industry, there are a lot of big players to understand, and it’s a business. A lot of people with a great idea need somebody to hold their hand through that, and that’s what we can do. We don’t want any of our partners having it blow up in their face because they released something too soon, or a certain part wasn’t good enough. A lot of our role is about nurturing and protecting those we partner with to ensure a game does as well as it can do.”
While BeefJack Create is on hand to serve experienced and large-scale indie teams, and can even help with processes such as securing finance, it does provide something unusual to an audience largely ignored by the mainstream videogame industry – specifically an opportunity for entrepreneurial individuals to take a shortcut to fully fledged development, without any noteworthy sacrifice of quality.
“Dean was interested in being a game designer, and now he’s seen our entire design process as we’ve worked with him,” Leach says. “That’s something many new game designers never get to see, and I think that’s been really empowering for him. We gave Dean a massive head start with how to do all of this, and we’ve shown him a modern way to approach it all.”
With the tools
and specialists at BeefJack Promote on hand, the Create offering also extends to include a broad arrangement of marketing and promotion services. However, as it is with creating games, so it is with getting them to audiences, and as such ‘bespoke’ and ‘flexible’ remain keywords for how Leach and his team support Create partners in the delivery of titles to players.
The service is platform-agnostic in its entirety, meaning that there’s no agenda to push a particular game engine or technology, and no rigid rules in terms of the framework and pipeline structuring that serves a Create project. Whatever works best for the game, individual or team partnering with BeefJack guides development, with the company’s experts poised to give advice and input when required rather than insist on a certain methodology or piece of technology.
All of which means that there isn’t a typical BeefJack Create project, even though what everything has in common is the company’s taste for independently minded games and a focus on collaborative development. That makes its services applicable to a wide range of people, from budding designers with fledgling game ideas to seasoned developers, including those who may consider themselves far from ready to begin real work on their first full game.
“Perhaps you’re a person on a mission, with one game idea that you’d really like to explore, or one area of game development that you’d really like to explore,” Leach says. “We offer a pretty neat way to be able to do that, see results, and have a far more accomplished game. And you can actually learn a whole load of stuff along the way.”
For Leach, all the variety and flexibility that defines BeefJack Create needn’t make explaining the service a complex proposition. “We’re just empowering others to make great games,” he says.
“THEY’VE BEEN GREAT AT SHOWING ME HOW THE INDUSTRY WORKS AND WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BRING A PROJECT TO LIFE FROM START TO FINISH”
FROM LEFT BeefJack founder and creative director Shaun Leach; Iron Fish designer Dean Edwards; inside the BeefJack HQ, located in north London