Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight. This month we talk to Joe Brammer, Studio Head and CEO at Bulkhead Interactive
Bulkhead looks to have found its space in the market with competitive FPS titles, was that always the plan?
Ha, what’s a plan? We had some cobbled together strategies in the early days like “Let’s use UE4, everyone else’s games look like the same drab Unity games.” But really we just made Battalion 1944 because well… we wanted to? We were bored of modern day FPS games and it just turned out that we struck a chord with shooter fans. We’re still learning how to execute our idea and our dream, we haven’t quite nailed that down yet… That’s where all this planning comes in now 😉
One thing I will say is, we specifically targeted The Turing Test at Square Enix when we were looking for a publisher, because we knew we aspired to make FPS games and Square Enix didn’t have any FPS games or studios…
Bulkhead has grown considerably over its seven years, is it set to grow more in the immediate future?
Yes, we’ve got a lot going on behind the scenes. We’re at 100 people now and we need a lot more.
You’ve built a great fanbase with Battalion 1944, has that changed how you’ve approached developing PROMOD?
I think we’re good at wearing our heart on our sleeves. For a professional video game studio, we’re pretty up front about how we feel about things… and to some extent, we don’t really fucking care if people don’t like that about us… But something clearly needed to change with Battalion.
We (the devs) were exposed on a very personal level to players. Yes, we chose to do that but I’ll be honest, it took a huge toll on us mentally.
So we’re trying again, this time with thicker skin. We do love engaging with the fanbase, but… I can remember waking up in the morning at 6am and checking the Battalion reddit to see the feedback and replying… That wasn’t healthy. We won’t be doing that this time.
What are the biggest challenges today in the games industry?
Getting consumers to understand the value of your work. The last 10 years has been a race to the bottom, now we’re building back up again. With work from home post COVID; I think we face a very real threat of creating a gig economy if we aren’t careful.
Nobody wins there, short term the employees might but long term they’ll devalue themselves [versus] countries with either less strict labour laws and cheaper devs. I’m not saying I don’t like working from home personally… But check out virtually any manufacturing industry since the 60s… games will be prototyped, managed, and published in California then developed in the East.
Is the games industry headed in the right direction?
There are a lot of similarities between what’s happening in games right now and the music industry. If I say it’s not the right direction, I just sound out of touch. I don’t like that big platforms are moving towards paying revenue based on activations and time played… That’s just forcing us to make scummy shitty mechanics that I personally am not a big fan of. That said, I think things like Game Pass are amazing value for the consumers. But I personally don’t want video games to go down the route of the app store… where the most secure route to success is a $20m Super Bowl ad.
But you’re asking the wrong person – I like making old school shooters with a fun group of devs 🙂
You used to play American Football, are you still a keen fan? And does it have parallels to the type of games you make?
I like playing sports, I’ve never been a huge fan of watching any sport really. Do I think it has strong parallels? No more than chess, I guess if I had to make a sporting comparison I’d choose basketball, specifically the NBA. Those players capture the attitude, skill, showmanship, hubris, and underdog hero stories that competitive shooters like PROMOD are all about. We want you to feel like you’re in a fragmovie when you’re playing. The same way a kid playing on a court wants to feel like he’s in the NBA.