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Trinket Studios Interview with Tom Eastman

Tom Eastman,
President of Trinket Studios

Interview with Tom Eastman 

The full transcript is below, but here are the main points:

  • In less than a year Tom and his couple of partners struck out on their own and have created 2 great Android games that have gotten a lot of recognition (Google Play Featured, Google Play Staff Picks, New York Times, Kotaku, etc.)
  • The members of Trinket left Disney/Wideload primarily to regain creative control of their projects.
  • As a new entrepreneur the challenge for Trinket has been managing the business aspects of running a studio, such as marketing, but the real scary thing is being responsible for choices the determine financial impacts.
  • Tom advises new indie developers to invest in their art/artist, suggesting that it’s made the biggest impact on Trinket’s being recognized so quickly by the press and the marketplace.

Full Transcript:

IAN:     So this morning I’m speaking with Tom Eastman, president of the Chicago-based game studio, Trinket Studios.  Trinket Studios developed the new Android hit Color Sheep which was featured last month on Google Play and last week even got a spot in the New York Times.  Trinket Studios also has another title starting to get noticed.  A Google Play staff pick Orion’s Forge.  Thanks for joining us.

TOM:     No, thank you.

IAN:     So Tom, correct me if I’m wrong.  But you and your partners Ben and Eric left Disney WideLoad just last year?

TOM:     Yep.  Back in–we quit in about June and then we started up Trinket in August.

IAN:     Awesome.  And what motivated you guys to strike out on your own?

TOM:     I think the big thing was–regaining some creative control.  As growing up–and especially in high school and college, when you major in game, you do whatever you want.  And that was definitely lacking in a larger corporation and especially, Wide Load–when I–went full-time to Wide Load back in 2009, it was a small company and had all the creative control in-house, working on their own intellectual property.  But then Disney bought them a month after I joined.  And it definitely complicated those sorts of issues.  And then we were working on a Marvel game about two years after that.  And so then, there are a lot of overhead between Disney and Marvel, especially working on small mobile game.  That made it somewhat frustrating.  But I think the other larger share is that, in any size corporation, over like 10, it’s really hard for single people to have many roles.  And in games, that especially manifests itself as programmers don’t get to do game design, or artists don’t get the new game design.   Game design is for game designers.  And that was an area that I think all three of us at Trinket found really frustrating.  And we wanted to be involved in larger decisions.  And there’s just not a space for that in a lot of companies.

IAN:     Yeah we’ve been hearing a lot in the news just this last week about the real gap between programmers or developers, and publishers.  And how publishers really get to steer the big picture direction of the game but they’re not ones playing the games.  And how frustrating that can be and why a lot of people have been migrating towards any development because of that.  Did you get a lot of that from your publishers?

TOM:     Most definitely.  I think–in some ways, it can be really powerful and really good.  And Disney brought a lot of play testing and marketing support to our games.  But if they can also have a huge amount–a huge impact on the game that we would have our director in-house who are directing every day.  And then we have Disney art director and a Disney tech director in California.  And that just seems sort of redundant and–when they needed to make sure that they were important and useful to the project, I would mean changes that we didn’t necessarily agree with.  And that’s sort of–just oversight and overhead.  Just doesn’t make all that much sense especially for small games.

IAN:     Right.  So how has your experience been shifting from a corporate environment to an entrepreneurial one?

TOM:     So we never–we definitely would be taking on more roles like marketing and business and–but didn’t really realize how many emails. (Ha)  Then, like I mentioned, the many roles aspect like, we never really thought about how screenshots got taken for instance the iOS apps store back at Disney.  But that was a lot of time.  Just last week, we finally wrote a tool to automatically take all the different iOS or Apple stuff and Google Play sizes.  We need like seven screenshots for every shot we want. For all these different devices and they all have different resolutions and aspect ratios.  So that’s what we’re saying that you didn’t really ever think about–or writing an apt description, but there’s a lot of writing involved that we didn’t really thought too much about.  There’s a lot of time that isn’t just on game development.  And that can be very frustrating.  But I think probably the largest and probably scariest aspect is, this increase in responsibility means that there’s really tight relationship between the decisions we make and the financial results.  Things like the [inaudible – static – from 00:04:38 to 00:04:42].

IAN:     Sorry.  You cut out for a second.  You were saying the decisions and their financial impact?

TOM:     Absolutely, yes.  So there’s really a tight relationship between decisions and financial results.  And it’s reflected in how publishers treat developers and like, figuring out which makes the back of the box. We just submitted a Color Sheep update featured by Apple.  And thinking about like how many game center achievements should we have?  Is it worth adding new items to Color Sheep?  Or new cute creatures and background of Color Sheep?  Are we better–is our time better spent focusing on hardcore players who might be more willing to talk about game or more interested in telling their friends?  Or new players and adding easy modes?  And making these decisions we now understand (ha) has a very clear relationship to our finances, or not.  But they feel like they do.  And that can–that’s a lot of responsibility but it’s a lot of fun, but also really scary.

IAN:     What advice can you give to some other developers who might be considering branching out on their own, or maybe some other students who are just starting to do their own development?

TOM:     I think that awareness of the importance of business development and marketing is pretty important.  But looking back, we really have–I mean, we try really hard to market our games properly and craft really nice emails to all the press people, and make really cool trailers.  And we’ve gotten a surprising amount of press and Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times and Kotaku.  But a lot of the things that we did didn’t impact any of–or like, there’s not significance between the marketing efforts we did and the marketing results we saw.  So I think that the biggest thing for us really looking back, was just finding an amazing artist–in our case, Eric–and let them do whatever they want to make something beautiful.

IAN:     Well, awesome!  Thank you very much.  If you guys would like your own opportunity to talk to Tom, you can catch him later this week at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Convention.  Thank you for speaking with us today Tom.

TOM:     Thank you, Ian.

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