Jon Holmes is the founder of Liverpool-based animation and visual effects studio Milky Tea. Having received financial support through Creative England’s Business Loans Fund, the studio has recently transitioned into the world of game design.
Their debut game, a colourfully macabre racer aptly titled ‘Coffin Dodgers’, received the green-light go ahead from Steam’s gaming community in just nine days. Not bad from a small studio in the North.
We caught up with Jon to discuss local talent, creativity and why he loves working in Liverpool...
As a creative company, how have you found working in Liverpool?
If I were an entrepreneur and I wanted to develop a product or IP in the gaming space, then I don’t think there’s a better place to be than Liverpool right now. The reason I say that is because of the low overheads. To give you an indication, we are in the Baltic triangle in Liverpool and there is a cluster of about twelve game development companies working within a stone’s throw of each other, all of different shapes and sizes. We all help each other out and advise each other which is a really fantastic thing.
Does Liverpool have a supportive creative scene?
Yes. I’m really good friends with the guys at Lucid Games and they came over and gave us some advice on ‘Coffin Dodgers’ because their background is racing games. We’ve also had the guys from Play Rise Digital, who are also connected to Creative England, over to take a look at things and give us some pointers and advice. So you have got this very good, close community spirit and everyone doesn’t mind helping each other out.
What can Liverpool offer creative businesses?
There are some great office spaces for a fraction of the price that we used to pay in London. The other side of it is that there are plenty of skilled people around. Having Sony down the road and Evolution Studios, and we have a history of big studios working here with Bizarre Creations and others since the 1980s, there has always been a lot of creative coding talent in the area and you can get these highly skilled people at the fraction of the price compared to places like London and Brighton.
Is Liverpool quite supporting for emerging creatives?
Definitely. I used to work as a designer in Manchester and I’ve got loads of friends who own studios and agencies there and in some aspects Liverpool is a lot cheaper than parts of Manchester at the moment. Also we have some amazing studio spaces like Baltic Creative which is like a mini Google Campus, located just over the road from us in the Baltic Triangle area of the city. Here you high-end broadband connectivity and awesome creative working spaces whether you're a two-man band or a thirty person studio. The whole area feels like it’s thriving and set up to enable people to collaborate. Also you get the business community hanging out after work in the local bars and cafes, discussing ideas and really trying to make great things happen. I just wish businesses here had access to investment opportunities like businesses in places like San Francisco do, for instance.
Is Liverpool a good place for networking?
I have a good network of contacts all over the globe and I try my best to share these with some of the local businesses if I can. I go out to San Francisco and New York quite often and I’m forever building that network. We’re quite fortunate as a studio that we have direct contact with and links to places like Apple, Pixar, Disney and Nickelodeon.
What about internationally?
The Americans have a very good opinion of Liverpool. If I speak to someone in New York or San Francisco they’ll be like ‘Oh my God, you’re from the home of the Beatles!’ It’s a totally different vibe which is great. The US must be the only place the scouse accent works.
Are there a lot of employable people in the area?
Yes definitely. In big game studios, skilled people often feel they are part of a big process or big production line, and then they come here to Milky Tea and they can have a massive influence on the design and look and feel of games. I’ve tried to create a studio atmosphere that encourages creativity to thrive and everyone to have a say. Games companies shouldn’t be dictatorships, they should try to encourage responsibility. I try to make sure our team at Milky Tea are proud of what they create and if we fail, then we fail fast and learn from it. If I disagree with an idea someone has in the team and they are really passionate about it, I’ll ask them to put the idea on one of the forums and get the gamers to offer feedback. If in doubt ask the customer. Overall the team here at Milky Tea are highly skilled and I always believe that you should hire people who are better than you and are determined to be successful.
Why do you love working in Liverpool?
Milky Tea isn’t just me, Milky Tea is the people who create the games, animation and breath-taking illustrations and ensure everything runs smoothly behind the scenes day to day. Without them the brand is useless. I believe Liverpool will always be our home as there is a certain grittiness installed into you when you grow up here that makes the locals very determined and passionate in every aspect of life. It must be in the water (or the tea for that matter) but there is a great vibe here at the moment and the city is a great place to live, with lots to do for all types of creatives and none creatives. It's a very multi cultural city and since moving back here from London I’ve started to appreciate the place a lot more. I think Liverpool has something very special to offer and encourage businesses and individuals to come and see if for themselves.
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