Grey Area is the maker of Shadow Cities, a location-based MMORPG for iOS. The company wants to change the way games interact with the real world. CEO and Co-founder Ville Vesterinen talked about the company and his thoughts on the current market.
Gamesauce: What got you interested in video games?
Ville: Good friends really pulled me in. Eventually I got really interested in video games’ natural universal appeal to almost everyone on this planet.
GS: What skills have proven useful to you in your current position?
As an entrepreneur, I don’t think anything has been as important as persistence and the nearly-blind-belief in what we’re doing. Another one is empathy. As a CEO, you want to do all you can so your employees are happy and enjoy their life. It’s hard or impossible if you only think of what you yourself want and can’t put yourself in their shoes and understand what they care about.
GS: Can you tell us about the creation of Grey Area? What challenges did the company face?
None of us had an extensive experience in the game’s industry even though most had played games all their life. This is good and challenging at the same time. It still allows us to do games that others think are impossible or unorthodox, but early on it also meant we had to learn the ropes of running a studio from scratch. This took some time, but I think we’re better off because of it. We’re also facing an educational challenge by being a location-based games pioneer. Since we’re not just doing what most others are doing, we also need to recognize that not everyone understands what a location-based game might look like before they have played it.
GS: Can you tell us a bit about Shadow Cities? What difficulties did you face during production?
I guess the biggest challenge, but also the bit that was the most fun, was doing something completely new.
This takes lots of experimentation and iteration since you don’t have a ready-made blueprint to follow. At times this is challenging, but once you develop the right process for it, it’s also the most rewarding part for all the employees. Now we’re in a super good spot by having a super experienced team with real gamer DNA, and we are all extremely excited about our vision and about the type of games we want to build together.
GS: What new technology has impacted the industry the most?
There are two developments I would point to. The first one is the Internet. The Internet has broken down old structures industry by industry. The games industry is not an exception.
The second is mobile. Just as high-powered mobile handsets have massively impacted the trajectory of society during the past ten years, they have impacted games and continue to do so.
Both of these developments are ongoing and nobody has really seen the full extent of either.
GS: What is a common mistake developers make when creating for a new platform?
They copy what is currently successful on the given platform. They should look where the buck is going, rather than where it is now. It’s hard to see that, so it requires relentlessly testing different hypotheses and believing one’s convictions when everyone else is doing what the current top players are doing. It’s hard-to-impossible to know where the next success comes from, so it takes a bit of risk tolerance and open-minded experimentation.
GS: What do you predict for the future of location-based games?
I know it’s going to be a very bright future. It has taken a while to nail the exact model, especially when we’re at the same time building the future technology platform for new type of mobile games. Location really enables the creation of whole new game worlds, which when done right can be absolutely massive on mobile handsets. It allows us to bring the deeper triple-A gameplay experiences to mobile handsets and enable connected game worlds. We at Grey Area are out to create a connected global game layer and believe it will no less than redefine mobile games. It’s a big sentence and requires a lot of work, but that is exactly what we are seeing when stealth testing our next game due out later this year.
GS: What new ideas can we look forward to from Grey Area?
You can expect to see our next game coming out in late 2012. We have taken everything we have learned from Shadow Cities, pushed it a ton further and made it much more accessible for the large audiences. Shadow Cities was really the early tip of the iceberg– it was literally made by the three founders in a bedroom. Now we’re a fun-loving team of 19, and for the first time we have the resources to execute what we set out to do in the very beginning: to create mobile game worlds that bring deeper gameplay experiences to a mobile handset, which most of us are used to seeing only on triple-A games.