Jaspal Sohal in Games


Developer Diary: Pixel Squad's Will Mallouk on Creating 'Crime Coast' with Greenshoots

Nottingham based studio Pixel Squad Ltd recently graduated from Greenshoots round 2, emerging on the other side with their colourful stratergy epic 'Crime Coast'.

Available now on Windows PhoneiOS and Google Play stores, 'Crime Coast' combines smart city building with the shady world of crime and corruption. Watch the teaser below to get a feel of what Pixel Sqaud have created...

The game was developed as part of our Greenshoots programme which pairs emerging studios with Microsoft experts to give them everything they need to create a brand new IP for the Windows platform. 

With 'Crime Coast' finally available for players to download, we caught up with Pixel Squad Ltd CEO Will Mallouk to discuss the inspiration behind the project, his time working with Microsoft and how small studios can survive in today's competitive gaming marketplace...

Can you tell us a little bit about Pixel Squad?

We’re based in Nottingham. I use to be a game engine programmer at a small company and I left in 2012 to start my own business. I started FunGameCo Ltd and Wet Productions, and Pixel Squad as a side project because it was something that I thought would be exciting to do. Then things started getting serious when the Greenshoots programme appeared. We decided to apply and see how it went. The team really liked the concept of Crime Coast from the build we had so they accepted us - that was great, and it became a lot more serious after that...

How did Greenshoots help the development of Pixel Squad and 'Crime Coast'? 

It was everything for us. If it wasn’t for Greenshoots I don’t know if the game would exist at all now.  

What inspired the idea for 'Crime Coast'?

In the beginning it was just me working on it. I love those city building games with battles like BattleClans and I also love GTA and all sorts of crime games and it occurred to me that this was a great opportunity to mix the two genres, which was something no one had done before. That was the main inspiration behind it.

At the time I was watching the TV series Breaking Bad and if you play the game there’s a lot of inspiration from that TV show in particular but there are also elements in the game that were inspired by films like Iron Man.  

What made you want to apply to the Greenshoots programme? 

It appeared to us as an opportunity to become serious and to be able to invest a decent chunk of our time into the project. It really was the money that we received from Greenshoots that enabled us to increase the quality of the game and invest our time in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.  

Did it help add new features into the game that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise? 

Yes. Not only in the game but other aspects such as marketing – we wouldn’t have been able to do a marketing campaign like the one we’re doing now if it wasn’t for Greenshoots because we wouldn’t have had the funds to do that. We wouldn’t have had access to the Microsoft platform, and being on Windows Phone was a benefit because it pushed the quality of all the other builds - the iOS and the Android build, as well. The fact that we had the guys from Microsoft always working with us, checking the builds and giving us instances of things that could be improved in the game, that was very important in shaping the game to make it what it is now.

How did you find the support and advice that you received throughout the whole process? 

Microsoft have given us technical support in the back end with Azure credit. Also as part of the technical support that they give us we have access to their team if we have any questions. We have two managers from Microsoft who are always ready to help, whatever requests we have. I just have to shoot an email and they send the answer back. It’s been really good. Now we’re working on the game launch so we’re working with a new team at Microsoft who are helping us create the right marketing materials for us to promote the game in the Windows store. That’s helped the game overall on the other platforms as well, so that’s been nice of Microsoft. 

As for Greenshoots, if it wasn’t that we wouldn’t have Microsoft with us. They’ve also been great at helping us promote the game; giving us advice, looking at the game and giving feedback. Also, the contacts that were possible because of Creative England were instrumental. I’m speaking as if we’ve won already but we’re quite confident because the game is looking really good now.  It’s exciting. You can never count on it being a success until it actually is, so there might be obstacles in the way still to be overcome. Everyone in the team is really enthusiastic about the launch being a success. It’s exciting. Of course you can never count on it being a success until the numbers come, so there might be obstacles in the way still to be overcome. 

What was the most useful thing you took away from working with Microsoft? 

I think just the fact that we had a whole team of Microsoft guys ready to help us whenever we needed. We felt like we had an extension to our team in a way, so that was the most positive thing. If someone’s joining thinking of applying to Greenshoots, you know Microsoft’s going to be great.  

What’s the key to survival for emerging game studios? 

The lessons that I learnt so far in this project and overall in my career in the apps industry, is that if you have a small team try to look for something that’s really unique and really different to everything else that’s out there. If your team is small look for a niche, I think that’s going to make your life way easier as a small developer. If you’re focusing on something unique, you don’t need a ten million dollar investment to bring something out that’s going to have a relevant impact.  If we continue to be a small team and have a next project after this, I’d definitely focus on something that’s even more unique than Crime Coast.  

Crime Coast has a lot of unique things in it: it has the prison system, you can snitch on people or you can protect them, we have a lot of social features and vehicles that none of the games competing in this category have, although the category has become a bit saturated now. It has a lot of people competing in it so we had to make something really outstanding. Everyone who’s looked at the game has liked it so far. The results that we will have  So I’d definitely advise focusing on something that’s unique and trying to find a niche that doesn’t have a lot of competition in it if you’re a small studio. After the game's launch we'll get to see the results of our work. So I’d definitely advise focusing on something that’s unique and trying to find a niche that doesn’t have a lot of competition in it if you’re a small studio.  

What’s next for your company? 

Even if Crime Coast is only a small success we'll definitely continue working on it - we feel that this is just the beginning. Further down the line we may consider some radically different projects, but for the time being our focus is on ensuring that it becomes as successful as we can make it.

Crime Coast is available to download now on Windows PhoneGoogle Play and iOS stores. To find out more, visit the Crime Coast website.

Find out more Greenshoots and our what we can offer games studios by visiting our Games page or following GamesLab on Twitter.

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