Almost a decade ago, I wrote about Mindblock, one of the first (or more specifically, the first) development studio in El Salvador that focused exclusively on game development (unfortunately, Mindblock is currently on hiatus, but I hope that will change in the near future).
In the last 10 years, a few things have changed in the country (although not as much as I would like). We now have a few more companies, and Gunstone Studios is one of them. Gunstone Studios is a small game development studio developing games for mobile devices.
The company was founded a couple of years ago, and has released four games worldwide (with a couple more on the way): Vector Squad (iOS), Ark Defenders (iOS), Stretchy Legs! (iOS and Android) and Fire Panda (iOS and Android). And to keep an eye out for our upcoming games!
This time, I take the time to have a small conversation with Juan Pablo Bolaños, one of the founders of Gunstone Studios.
Can you tell us a little about Gunstone, the founders and the team, where the idea came from, how and when it began, and what drove you to start your own game development company?
Making video games has always been a dream of mine. I started studying and preparing myself as best as I could (Back when I was a student, we did not have any video game - related careers in our Universities), so a lot of that prep happened in internet-based platforms and small academies. Once I had acquired enough experience (and a talented team) I decided it was time to start the studio. I had been talking to a possible investor that shared my vision (that in this globalized world, digital products such as video games can be produced anywhere and sold everywhere) and that is how we founded Gunstone Studios. Our main drive is to touch people across the globe and also to educate and demonstrate to other Salvadorans that we can compete with great products in the global market.
What was your plan when the company started? Has it remained the same, or has it changed as time has passed?
My plan was to start small, not overly ambitious. I have seen other video game initiatives die out because devs became too ambitious in what they wanted to create. I still needed experience in commercialization of games... creating a game is one (very challenging) thing... but selling the game is another process that is as much or even more challenging than creating the game itself. I wanted to learn, meet and work with good partners and experience the market before venturing to do something too complex. This is why we decided to focus on mobile games at the moment.
So far this state of affairs continues. We have published 4 games globally (with the 5th coming along in the next few weeks). Our hope is to garner enough capital with these games to start developing for PC and (possibly) console.
Does that mean you would move away from mobile, or you see Gunstone being a multi-platform developer, making games for the different platforms (mobile, PC, console)?
My dream is to move away from mobile. Although it's a cool industry and we see examples of amazing games being made for it, and its incredible growth, Our aim is to end up developing only for pc and console because it enables the dev to tell more ambitious stories and use a wider variety of mechanics. Although we never know... we may stay developing for mobile if we find a big success there.
I see you've developed your own original IPs and also developed projects for companies. How many projects has Gunstone worked on so far, and how many of each?
So far, we have developed 7 original games, but 2 of these have been cancelled due to low metrics in the early stages of the games (soft launches). We have also provided Art (Concept, Final art and Animations, and UI design) for 2 mobile games (One for a French studio and the other a North American studio) that will be released in the near future. We also produced all the music and sound effects for another project (I have a partnership with a local Music Studio). Finally, we created an educational app for a pharmaceutical company with a variety of games, features and activities that aims at challenging kids’ imaginations and strengthen their brains.
What kind of challenges, technical or non-technical have you faced during these years? Has the geographic location played a part in those challenges?
Well... competition is really big. We have studios all over the world creating games for all platforms and all audiences all year round. Getting people to see and download your game is a challenge when hundreds of games are released every year. This is why I chose to work with publishers, since they have the experience and resources needed to reach the masses. It is also very hard to find people that actually know what they are doing (when I need to hire people). And I have had to educate them and teach them a lot. We don't have many professionals here in El Salvador so the pool from which we can choose people to hire is very small. Other than that, having to come up with new ideas for new games all the time (to never stop producing) is also quite a challenge. We have to keep looking at what is trending all the time and sometimes we feel like we run out of ideas.
In the past, you've attended GDC and Game Connection. What was the experience like, how did those events change your perspective of game development?
It was an amazing and eye-opening experience. First of all, it makes you realize how big of a deal this industry is around the world. Tons of professionals from many disciplines join forces here... you have PR people, artists, musicians, animators, writers, programmers, marketers, so-called 'influencers', e-athletes.
I believe it is necessary for anyone that is even considering developing video games to go to one of these fairs, at least once every 2 or 3 years. The number of professionals you meet and connections you make can really be the difference between life and death for the game studio. I am still discussing and working in collaborations from contacts I made last year in GDC, and still get emails from people I met with interesting opportunities.
What engine do you use to develop video games, and why?
We use Unity. Unity is incredibly versatile, and is constantly improving. All the SDKs and Plugins we need are Unity friendly, the documentation is ample and well written. Also, it does not require you to have monster computers to run.
Part 2 of this interview is coming soon! In the meantime feel free to check their website.
Gunstone Studios: https://www.gunstone-studios.com