Defiant Development was founded in 2010, correct?
"Yes. We started as just Dan Treble (co founder, tech director), Shawn Eustace (Art Director) and I. From there, we put together a few smaller contracts and rolled forward - we've now grown to about 15 full timers, along with some contractors."
You've worked at some pretty major names in the industry - Irrational Games (BioShock, System Shock 2), Relic Entertainment (Company of Heroes 1&2) and also at Ubisoft?
"Collectively the team here has worked for a huge number of studios, big names and small. In terms of me personally, I started in game development in Australia (at Irrational doing Freedom Force) and from there spent a few years working at studios in Canada. It was hugely educational to see how other studios made games, and that's played into the approach we take at Defiant strongly. I like small (20 odd) person teams a lot better than larger teams, so we've tried to set our sights on making games at that scale. I think you avoid a lot of middle management that way. It also helps that we have a very veteran team, with some members having worked together for over a decade. We all know how to work together to get great results, and that saves a lot of hassle."
So you're based in Brisbane - we've seen some Kickstarted projects fail at least partly due to the running costs of development studios in expensive areas with high median wages - such as San Francisco - how does Brisbane compare in that regard?
"It's pretty expensive, actually. Dollar for dollar it costs similarly to US development, but the Australian dollar has historically been much weaker. Aus dev really peaked in the days when the dollar was at 0.6 of USD, and it all fell apart when it reached $1.10 because development was so expensive. It's at around 0.88 right now, so it's better than it has been."
"Ultimately though we built our studio on the basis that great games should make a profit. We don't try to compete on price, in terms of making the cheapest development shop we can, we compete on quality and make the best game we can for the money we spend. So far we've done okay with that strategy!"
How do you see yourself as a studio - would you class Defiant as an indie studio?
"Depends on the definition. We're completely independent and have no corporate masters telling us what to do. So in the business perspective, we're indie for sure. In terms of genre though, I don't think we make "Indie" games, at least not right now. It's similar to the situation where indie record labels got bought by big publishers and kept making "Indie" music - it's a genre as well as a statement of your business model."
In 2010/11 you were working on Warco, which I remember got a little bit of notoriety in the press because of comments made by a BBC foreign correspondent who was questioning of the game's motivation and - again correct me if I'm wrong - it didn't get picked up by a publisher. How disappointing was that?
"Incredibly disappointing, but we were over ambitious. It was the wrong approach to take with that idea (which I still think is a very strong idea) at that time. Everyone was reeling after the global financial crisis, and no-one was spending big money on risky ideas. It was also before Kickstarter demonstrated what a good home it was for risky ideas that capture the imagination. Ultimately, it was a timing issue for us, and also a big risk for publishers as we were an untested team at the time."
Hand of Fate on the other hand went through Kickstarter and now Early Access - was the decision to crowdfund this game a direct result of what happened with Warco?
"Definitely. We wanted to make sure we had people involved pretty early in the process, both because we decided to make the game ourselves (without a publisher) and because it would help to demonstrate if there was a market for the idea. It turned out that there was, fortunately!"
Hand of Fate was featured on Jesse Cox's Fan Friday! series - how much of a boon is it to get positive coverage from a personality with that many viewers?
"It makes a huge difference. Every time a prominent streamer plays the game we see more people come through to the site, and that means more sales and more input. It's great, and it's been the best think about Early Access from our perspective."
He also spoke about it glowingly on the Co-Optional podcast with TotalBiscuit and Dodger who both seem interested - have you heard from either of those?
"Not directly, although I know TB only reviews finished games. In general we have an open door policy with streamers - if they have an audience, we're always happy to provide keys and answer questions."
In my article on Hand of Fate, I said that it is a very interesting combination of genres - I see in there some roguelite elements, choose-your-own adventure, RPG and CCG - it actually reminds me in some way of the old Amiga game Moonstone - what were the inspirations behind Hand of Fate?
"It's kind of a blend of everything I loved growing up as a gamer in the 80's and 90's. Fighting Fantasy novels, the Ultima games, weird fantasy novels, Archon. It's rooted in that era of gaming, while hopefully feeling modern at the same time."
Given that the game is driven by a single character, that character obviously has to be very strong and engaging. How much time did you spend with Anthony Skordi?
"It took a long time to find Anthony. We worked with the unbelievable Mario Lavin who handed casting and voice direction for us, and he really excelled in finding and directing Anthony. I've know Mario for years, and he generally works with big studios so we were very lucky to have his expertise on hand."
How much of The Dealer's character came from your studio's writing and how much came from Anthony Skordi himself?
"A lot of both. The performance is excellent, and it helped to drive our revisions of the text as we worked on our pickup sessions."
Did Anthony Skordi work remotely or did he come to the studio?
"He worked out of a studio in the UK, where both Mario and Anthony were."
Are you planning to expand on Hand of Fate after release?
"Definitely. We already have plans for updates, if it does well enough to warrant them. There's a bunch of things big and small we'd like to do with it."
You've developed games for a range of platforms, including AR - if Hand of Fate continues to do well after launch, will PC be your main platform, or will you continue to work on a range of platforms?
"We make that decision from project to project, but we'll probably lead out with a PC project next. It's been a great experience so far."
Sadly, this week we've seen another battle between a YouTube personality and an indie studio - Jim Sterling and Digital Homicide Studios LLC. Without commenting directly on that ongoing matter, What do you think as a developer when you see this happen?
"I've got to say I'm pretty out of the loop here. The last couple of weeks has been PAX Australia, and us working hard on getting the game to 1.0 release, so I've been very much heads down. I think the short answer is that the whole area around development is changing every day at the moment. It used to be (back in the old days) a bunch of creators speaking directly to each other and the public (do you remember the .plan wars?). Then big publishers took charge of the messaging and almost everything went through professional PR mouthpieces, and you hardly ever heard a developer speaking frankly.
"Now it's back to the wild west, and it's taking people a while to work out the new rules on the frontier. I do think it's sad that peoples mistakes follow them constantly now - if you say one thing people disagree with, you'll read about it in comments until the end of time."
"It's a hard environment to work in, balancing being honest and open with your community and fear of upsetting people. I also think a lot of indie developers simply don't know how to act in public, which is fine when no-one is paying attention but can go dramatically wrong if the internet at large happens to take notice."
Are you sympathetic with developers who acted like Fun Creators did with TotalBiscuit?
"Again, I'm not really informed. I do think the currency of our new age is trust, though. People trust TB, with good reason. That means that if you're a relative unknown and you want to call him a liar you're probably pushing water uphill. That's why I think it's so important for indies (and professionals) to understand that their reputation is their passport in the online world. We spend a lot of time with our community, and it's important for a whole bunch of reasons - but building trust is a big one."
What is your stance on gameplay being used in monetised videos, for Lets Plays and critique?
"We have an explicit statement on our loading screen saying its okay. I think it generally should be okay regardless of whether we approve or not, frankly. I'm a big advocate of remix culture, and I think people should have freedom to riff on the work we do."
Do you think that the 'fair use' law is enough to protect both developers and content creators?
"I think the current legal frameworks around creative work are pretty terrible, and I look forward to the days when we have more freedom around them. At the same time, I'm always keen when there are channels that allow creators to make a living for their work. "
It must hurt when someone with a large following is critical towards your work. How do you deal with that personally?
"We get criticism and personal attacks all the time. Me especially as I'm the face of the studio, but also members of our team. I think you just have to take on board that you can't make everyone happy every time. Also, the people who are most passionate about your game tend to be the loudest, so often someone who's really negative can be turned around just by listening."
Is there any advice you'd like to give to less experienced developers?
"Be careful, be thoughtful, and be honest."
Many thanks to Morgan Jaffit of Defiant Development for taking the time to answer a fair amount of questions. You can check out Hand of Fate on the Steam store page and follow the studio on twitter (@DefiantDev) for the latest updates and information.
Are there any replies you found interesting, or any questions you'd like to follow up on? Let us known in the comments below!