Games startup seeking a big debut

Trish Dromey talks to the people behind an Irish gaming startup as it plans the international launch of ‘Little Acre’

THE first Irish games company to secure publication rights for Xbox One, the Dublin startup Pewter Games is preparing for the international launch of a new game called ‘The Little Acre’.

A hand-drawn graphic adventure game being published next month on PlayStation 4 and PC as well as Xbox One, it is according to creators and company founders Ben Clavin and Christopher Conlan, unique in a number of ways.

“It’s a hand-drawn game which involved a team of artists producing thousands of drawings. Few companies are doing this now because it is time consuming — but people pay attention because it is different and the effort is completely worth it,’’ says Mr Clavin.

Pewter Games is also unique in developing a console game in a country where most companies are producing free- to-play games for mobile phones.

Although free-to-play games are popular, Mr Clavin says the console market is thriving and there are now 125m PC game players.

“A recent article projects that PC games and consoles will bring in revenue of $60bn this year,” he says.

Also unique is the theme of the game.

The adventure is set in 1950s Ireland and tells the story of Aidan and his daughter Lily who are transported to a strange new world populated by bizarre creatures.

“It was inspired by fantasy movies in the 1980s about kids and adults being transported to fantasy worlds such as Don Bluth’s animation ‘All Dogs go to Heaven’, as well as ‘The NeverEnding Story’,” Mr Clavin says.

The Pewter Games founders met four years ago while studying for a masters degree in digital games. Collaborating on a number of small game projects, they came up with an idea for a hand-drawn game they wanted to develop.

After graduating, they set up Pewter Games and started working on ways to make it happen.

Despite the uniqueness of ‘The Little Acre’, the founders initially found it hard to get funding for such a novel project.

“The fact that there is no arts category for video games funding made it difficult to develop this game.

We needed a team of artists for the drawings and actors for the voices but we were competing for funding in the IT category alongside manufacturers of medical devices,” Mr Clavin says.

The two animators had met in a Starbucks to plan their dream game. In 2013, they got office space through the NDRC Launchpad scheme.

They subsequently brought a ‘vertical slice’, or a five-minute portion, of the game to the US and secured funding through the id@xbox programme.

“Getting support from Microsoft was huge — it gave us contacts and development kits and made it a lot easier to get Competitive Start Funding,” Mr Clavin says.

In 2015, Pewter Games raised €200,000, including so-called High Potential Start Up funding from Enterprise Ireland. They hired artists and voice actors and built a team of 10 people for the production.

“For the voice of Aidan, the main character, we hired a YouTuber called the Terroriser who is one of the top YouTubers in the gaming sector in Ireland with over 1.6m subscribers,’’ says Mr Clavin

Pewter secured the right to publish on PlayStation as well as Xbox.

Earlier this month it signed an agreement with games publisher Curve Digital which plans to release the game in six languages at the end of October.

In recent weeks, renowned game designer Charles Cecil came on board as executive producer to provide the final polish.

“The creator of ‘Broken Sword’ – a hugely successful game, Charles is one of the biggest names in adventure gaming. Having him on the team is a huge endorsement,” says Mr Clavin.

The founders hope to establish Pewter Games as a multi-project studio producing a range of original games.

“We already have an idea for a new game. Our next step will be to get a team together to make it. We plan to fund it from revenue from ‘Little Acre’,” he says.

Company: Pewter Games

Location: NDRC Digital Exchange Building, Dublin

Founders: Ben Clavin and Christopher Conlan

Product: Animated games



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