This article first appeared on The AU Review.
When you say the words “start-up”, thoughts automatically go towards images of a group of wizz-kids creating something ground breaking in their garage (cue Steve Jobs comparison). The underdogs who will eventually go the way of pioneers, if they could only find the people to invest in them. But these days, it seems every company that labels themselves by that humble name has their pick of investors, and hits the surface with a staff of forty and a million dollar marketing campaign.
Well thank god video games haven’t yet been tainted, because there’s a talented and passionate group of Sydney game developers out there who are getting back to the roots of this whole phenomenon and proving there is still some fun to be had in the world of the start-up.
Pygmy Tyrant are an indie video game development company consisting of four young entrepreneurs David Coonan, Trent Naylor, Dhani Wong and Willis Smith. In the past year they’ve released three free mobile games, Meteor Mash, Punfound and 50 Shades as well as one paid for app Bombs and Gems in Space – all from a humble co-working space in Darlinghurst while slugging out separate jobs to keep the dream alive. After some decent success with their second app Punfound both locally and overseas, 2015 is looking pretty solid, and we spoke to co-founder David Coonan to find there’s still some underdogs out there we should get behind.
So tell us about Pygmy Tyrant? How would you describe your company and how did it all come about?
Sure, well really we’re an independent video games studio started by four budding young game designers out of college. Australia is a bit barren in terms of game design work, so we thought the best thing for us to do would be to give it a red hot go and start out own company. So that’s what we did! We knew each other through college, and started working together on our major work and found that we gelled quite well together, so when it all wrapped up it kind of felt natural to not let a good thing stop and just keep it going.
And you’re all still working second jobs at the moment?
Yeah, well we all have to provide alternate means of income, because it’s not a completely profitable thing yet. We hope one day that it will be. We all have our means, Will and Trent do game design teaching on the side and I work two other jobs as well. So we all do what we can.
You’ve released three games across iOS, Android and Windows phone now. What goes into developing a mobile app?
Well we try to do it as much as we think the industry does it, from what we’ve learned. But a lot of it is us walking in the dark at this point, figuring out for ourselves. Typically we’ll have a meeting to discuss what we would want to make, but also what would be the best idea for us to design commercially to find a good middle ground. Then we’ll prototype some stuff, we want to “build the toy before we build the game”, and from there we all go into our respective departments. Dhani will do contents for it, make the models. Trent, who’s our technical guru, will figure out how it will all run. Then I act kind of like a project manager, I’ll give the team tasks and priorities to what will get done. And yeah, then we get into the meat of it, which is the programming, animating, testing and then we kind of cycle all that until we’re happy to release it – which is a whole other kettle of fish. Because we have to wear many hats, one day we’ll be animating, the next we’ll be testing…we all do a lot of work.
So let’s talk about Punfound, how would you describe the game?
Yeah sure, so the way I would describe it to people, is that it’s a word quiz game where you have to solve pun-puzzles. For example, it might be a picture of two hippos talking, and one’s calling the other one fat. And what you’ll see would be “That’s ____ critical”. Then you have to fill in that word from a pool of letters, the answer would be “Hippo critical”. We have about three hundred of those, and that’s Punfound.
It’s easily your most popular release so far, how many downloads are we currently up to in total? (Across all platforms, internationally)
Internationally, it’s up to about 100,000 downloads at the moment. Which in terms of the mobile market, is nothing too amazing but we’re pretty happy with it so far!
Were you surprised by the success of Punfound after such a humble start with Meteor Mash?
Yeah, I mean it’s all baby steps. After Meteor Mash we’re very happy with what we got. We do view it as a success, we’re just taking it day by day and hopefully the next one will be a million downloads rather than 100,000!
You’ve been endorsed by a Nigerian rap superstar? Have you received a boost in downloads or any extra praise in Africa since? Where are you most popular apart from Australia?
Ha, yeah Mr Incredible! He asked Twitter to help solve one of our puns and after that we took off in Nigeria. We’re happy to be popular anywhere but we were quite surprised by that. Botswana was another one, we were number 1 in the game store but that’s kind of plateaued off now. But Botswana, Nigeria, Singapore, those were the three countries we were top dog for a while.
You’ve introduced the “Celebrity Add-On Pack” to Punfound for a small donation of $2.49 ($2 US), and also focused on adding more social sharing elements to your apps. What do you think is the most important thing that goes into creating an app in terms of setting it up for success?
Well, we’re trying to figure that out as we go as well. But I guess our philosophy behind it all is that it needs to be accessible, really simple and you really need to have an idea of who you’re marketing to but at the same time not lose track of why you got into it in the first place. Keeping your passion for it while still making something that’s viable in the market we’re in.
As Pygmy Tyrant grows, will you continue to focus on mobile apps or are you looking to expand into higher-level software development?
Well, for the immediate future our focus is on mobile. Like you said it’s the easiest to develop for now so that’s our bread and butter at the moment. But definitely our plans, or what we talk about all the time of maybe next year or maybe sooner, is developing the bigger type of games. The kind you would see in your Playstation 4 or Xbox One or PC. But yeah, that’s all hopeful discussion at the moment.
We all had that iconic game when we were younger that made us want to make video games for a living (or test them, if you’re me). If you had to pick one game that influenced you as a kid in this way, what would it be and why?
Oh man, I always dread these questions, there’s so many to choose from. I’m just going to say Metal Gear Solid one for the Playstation One. I think that really made me want to get into games because it was just so incredible. The cinematic, the story, not just the gameplay but the characters and the voice acting. I guess it made me realise that games could be so much more and was maybe something I wanted to be a part of. You know, I wanted to see where I could take the medium, where I could find my voice in this thing.
Punfound is available for FREE download on iTunes, Android and Windows Phone, at their respective app stores.
The Celebrity Add-On pack is also available for FREE for a limited time only.
You can follow Pygmy Tyrant’s latest developments on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/pygmytyrantgames or on their official website: http://www.pygmytyrant.com/