In our short but colorful time on this here internet, CGC have had the privilege of speaking with some incredible people of all walks in the gaming industry. From indie developers Temple Door Games, working on their very first outing Swordcery - to influencers like Danny O'Dwyer changing the videogame YouTube landscape with his unique documentary channel Noclip.
We’ve been able to share some of these unique perspectives and there are still many more to tell. Today, is another one of those times as we speak to Jordan Taylor, Studio Head of Kentucky based Hitcents. A full-service video game publisher and developer, responsible for creating indie hits like Draw a Stickman and A Robot Named Fight.
As publishers they’ve been a paragon for the indie development community, providing a service to help up and coming developers create and follow their passion projects. With Jordan, we speak at length about working his journey through the company, working with the indie community and touch on the current trends in gaming.
So, how about an introduction for us then? A bit about your backstory and how you joined Hitcents
Well, it's not an uncommon story! I graduated with two degrees, one in mathematics and the other in secondary education, but realized I didn't want to be a teacher. My first job out of university was in retail. Eventually worked up into a management role, but retail sucks so I didn't wanna do that for long. So I quit that job without a backup plan, just kinda resting on my little bit of savings while I looked for other stuff.
Lo and behold, Hitcents had a position as a Project Manager.
So I came onto the team 4-5 years ago. We were doing quite a bit of client work at the time, but I wanted to push us more into publishing and development kinda stuff. I certainly didn't expect to be "in the game industry", considering I live in a smaller city in the southeast US. Definitely not a hub for the game industry. But a good location to be nonetheless. Certainly some advantages compared to places like Seattle, SanFran, etc.
Initially positioning itself as an internet advertising company in the late 90’s, Hitcents did not enter the videogame space wholesale until the arrival of Draw a Stickman, an internally developed browser game that helped spark the companies interest in broadening their horizons.
What made the idea of game publishing so enticing for the company and indeed for you?
I guess maybe a good way to put it is that, back in the day, it was a team of people who enjoyed video games that were making apps and sites for B2B clients. And then one day, it was kinda just like "let's try something that's a game"
So the team at the time made a little Draw a Stickman webisode, the sorta thing that was perfect for the internet back around 2010/2011. And it took off like crazy, which then evolved into standalone titles.
Those titles were successful, and I said to myself "if we can make our own titles successful, let's help indie devs do the same" It's enticing for a lot of reasons, really. Primarily, I get to work with and be a part of a lot of games. And I get a lot of personal satisfaction from being involved in such a wide array of products. I've made a cognizant choice to not focus on any particular genre but instead work with a variety of genres. There is room for all!
it's nice to see that your decision to pivot your portfolio slightly towards video games came from such an experimental yet ultimately positive experience. From a publishing stand point was it tough to get off the ground then, or did Draw a Stickman help solidify Hitcents name in the indie scene?
I wouldn't say the Stickman games really resonate with the "default" indie community; their natural appeal is toward a younger audience. I would say the Stickman games were beneficial in terms of talking with developers, especially in the early days, because they're a great example of success and experience.
But honestly, I think there are some people in the at-large gaming community that would be dismissive of the Stickman games as "kid games".
And in a way, they are. But so is Minecraft.
My goal is to make a good game, something fun for everybody. Interesting mechanics, good gameplay, etc. Why would I discriminate based on the age of other players? It's not some cheap cash grab, like a crummy Barbie game from the 90's.
Minecraft is a great example of something that on the face of it, seems mostly for kids and yet people will regularly reference as a mega popular title that really encompasses the "all ages" approach so well. Draw a Stickman, I feel, is similar in this regard, a rather simple game on the face of it that allows the player to use their imagination in unique ways, to create their own fun if you will!
Draw a Stickman has grown since its browser based beginnings. Encompassing more tools to help spark the imagination in its most recent entries. Like Stickman and Minecraft before it, proves how a simple concept, on the face of it, can bely a depth and creativity that can be brought forth from a dedicated community. With the success this series brought Hitcents, they were able to diversify their portfolio.
Taking on indie developer projects such as Ilya Rudnevs Shores Unknown; an upcoming tactical RPG in the same vein as Final Fantasy Tactics to Arcade Coin’s GTTOD (Get To The Orange Door); A blisteringly fast-paced FPS that mixes the neon soaked visuals of Tron with the frenetic pace and brutality associated with the most recent Doom entries.
These titles cover a wide swath of genres and tastes, and have allowed Hitcents to position itself as a place that can help developers in bringing these projects to life. I asked Jordan on how, as a publisher, these decisions are made when these opportunities arise and they look to expand their portfolio.
As you work with a variety of genres, and keeping in mind the value of creating a good game, what would you say helps when deciding what project to pursue or help cultivate?
I've seen some studios be trend-chasers. This is what's popular in the moment, so let's put out a game like that.And there is some merit in that, I guess? But I feel like that's a little... predatory, almost. The last few years, certainly here in the US, have been full of turmoil. Really taking a toll on people mentally. And you have some devs that are putting out stuff which is artistically reactionary to the conditions, something that's an act of healthy self-expression with the hope that others can relate and find some therapy/value in it. And that's a great thing.
Games are an artistic medium and can possess artistic value. But on the opposite of it, you've got developers/publishers putting stuff out that's geared strictly into "look how cute and distracting this is, buy this and take your mind off your problems!" I'm being a bit facetious, of course, but I do believe the intent is present in those groups. It's emblematic of some of the same core societal/cultural issues that have plagued us for years and years. Contributing to the very problems that they're pretending to help solve.
So coming back around to me.
I certainly don't intend to paint myself as some sort of hero. Because I absolutely want to sell our products. I wanna make money, pay the bills, pay the team, etc. No shame in that. And when we sign games, I'm looking mainly for something unique. I'm not trying to chase the flavor-of-the-day. That's too temporary and fleeting. A unique game in its genre with solid, fun gameplay -- that's more lasting.
I don't want to look back and feel like I tried taking advantage of people in some way just to earn a dollar. I don't want some lousy façade of pretending to care about the cultural zeitgeist and "buy my games, they'll cure your ails" because I'm not a snake-oil salesman. I do want to sell genuinely fun games. And to do that, the game needs to be unique, well-made, and enjoyable to play.
A Robot Named Fight is a good example. It's a great game. Well-received critically, commercially successful, all that stuff. And the dev contributes some of his earnings to really good causes. Nothing performative about it.This is a super-roundabout answer to your question, I know But also worth mentioning: I'm not too particular on the genre. There is some stuff I tend to avoid, probably due more to personal lack of familiarity = not being able to contribute as much to the process.
When it comes to the artistically reactionary stuff that's coming out, I'd be remiss not to mention the pandemic that has taken over the world. How has it been, managing your portfolio and schedule during COVID times? And if you have thoughts on it, when it comes to remote working that many companies now employ, has this been easy for your teams?
I think the situation itself, as this thing that has impacted so many people, has been the toughest part for my team. We've been fortunate enough thus far that none of us have been personally affected or afflicted. And perhaps all of our dev teams also benefit from being homebodies anyways.
Most of the devs were already working from home normally, so I dunno if there's been a big shift in particular for anybody. I think the restrictions and regulations that have come along with COVID have had some impact in terms of scheduling/availability ("can't work, my kids are home all week" sorts of things) for the devs, but I couldn't speak directly to that very well.
As far as I know, progress has remained consistent for everybody. And for my team, we've managed to get along just fine.
We're a small team anyways, so not a lot of moving parts, but we're still up and at it every day. We're all US-based, so seeing the ongoing lack of coordinated national response is a bit of an emotional burden. Not really being able to travel (for conventions or vacations) is tough as well.
But we'll get through it. We've all got each other, and we're a tough group!
It's great to hear teams coming together in these kinds of times, standing together, as they say a rising tide raises all ships. To take a more positive spin out of the beast of 2020 (my pet nickname for this year) what does the immediate future look like for Hitcents and your partners?
If it sounds like I'm digging for juicy news bites it's only a little intentional...
Well, the immediate future looks b u s y
We have some releases in the near future, Q1/Q2, that we're actively preparing for. Plans beyond that are still a little nebulous. But early 2021, we're coming out swinging. Some public demos to share, releases, news, etc. One cool thing we're working on right now is a little ARG for one of our unannounced games. It's fun being able to create that, and then in a couple months we'll be able to take users through that journey.
Speaking with Jordan Taylor was an absolute treat, providing insights into the publishing side of gaming that are rarely highlighted. Hitcents are a company dedicated to pursuing passions and helping those that wish to follow them.
For those looking for help in creating their own games, don’t hesitate to hit the links below to get in touch with Hitcents and keep an eye on the socials to stay up to date with the latest Hitcents news and titles!
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First image taken from company site here
Second image taken from presskit here
Third image taken from presskit here
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