Profile – Talawa Games

Talawa-Games-Crew

CEO of Talawa Games, Jesper Engström is a firm believer in an encompassing and democratic approach to management. He shines the spotlight on his background and the studios rise and ambitions. This is their profile.

How did you get started and what led to the formation of Talawa Games?
For me it began with a discussion with our Lead Designer Erik Wonnevi. We were the only two left in school, working late and really just getting to know each other in the first week of school. We then brought up the question again for real a year later before our final semester at FutureGames.

The decisive point for me came during the summer holiday whilst visiting my family and having a conversation with my uncle. He asked me this one question that I never answered before. “What makes you a good boss?” First I said I dont know, but he replied yes you do, just give it a minute of thought. So I did and suddenly it hit me, so I answered “responsiveness”. That put a smile on his face and something about the whole moment made me determined to give this a shot. He works with teaching Bosses all over Scandinavia to be better bosses. He told me that most Bosses become leaders because they know how to fight their way to the top, typical alpha males and that is not necessary a good leader.
I believe that if you take the hierarchical pyramid so that the boss is in the bottom holding everything else up then you get a more accurate picture. In other words, I am more like a cleaner, listening to everyone’s needs and feelings trying to keep a healthy work environment so that everybody is happy. Because that is key to a healthy creative and productive work space.

Once I and Eric decided to make this happen it all fell into place very quickly since those we wanted to join us did so with little to no fuss. In short, the company kind of formed itself. You see, we saw the opportunity through school to build something strong since we have been working together in teams on several projects and getting to know each other for a year already so we know who fits together and complement each other in ways that you never could be too sure of if you try to put a team of 9 people together through interviews. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of us are part of the older generation from our classes because we have all done our fair share of labor and know that the worst thing that can happen is that you fail and try again or do something else. Life is too short to never try and give it a real shot.

Jesper Engström

So I started calling companies, asking for tips and just trying to be better prepared. I visited incubators, talked to potential partners and learnt everything about startups and how to go about all the legal stuff and such. When our FutureGames work placement began in January 2012 we had started our company and signed a contract with Paradox Interactive to be part of their incubator during the 6months of work placement. They acted as our publisher and we learnt a lot during this time. In our spare time we finished work on Unmechanical and released it on Steam just as our time at Paradox was coming to an end. 6 months later we released Unmechanical on iOS.

In 2013, we moved away from our basement in Fridhemsplan (Thank you Zeal for letting us stay there for free) and moved in at Nygränd 10 in Gamlastan as a result of meeting the folks at Amagumo Games.

What is the company culture and how much of an influence is that on the games you create.
Back to school we understood that the only way to be able to make this possible was to have a company model that everybody advised us not to have, but every time I asked why we shouldn’t, I never got a good enough answer so we went along and started a limited company with 9 owners evenly shared.

You see, we needed all 9 to create what we believed in and if not everybody put an equal part of themselves into the company. You see, it wouldn’t be long before our individual superior expertise would be snatched by a company that could offer a more competitive salary because let’s admit one thing, 9 people in a startup means a couple of years with not much more than bread and water for salary would be tough for anyone. However, if you invested a part of your being into the venture, it would suddenly be worth a whole lot more since you are actually creating something that you can stand for and be proud of.

We started the company because we wanted to be a counter weight to the very young and sometimes childish business. We don’t want to be just another brick in a big corporation, doing overtime for nothing because you should be happy you are able to work with your passion. Maybe that’s ok when you are 20 but when you are 30 your passion needs nourishment to keep on flourishing. Our aim is to create experiences that affect the mind and your feelings, whether it is through brain crunching puzzles or with tearful atmosphere.

Where did the idea for Unmechanical come from and what inspired its design aesthetic?
To put this quite short for once I must say that the most inspiration came out of restrictions. It started as a 4 week school project; teams made out of 5 randomly picked people. We had a lot of restrictions, like vehicle based game and I don’t remember the 3D 2D memory specifics but basically so that it would be doable in just 4 weeks. So it started by somebody saying, let’s make a lost helicopter boy lost in a meaty mechanic underworld, then somebody draw the helicopter and the rest is history.

When did you realize you had something special on your hands?
We put 2 more weeks into the game after winning the school project and decided to enter SGA (Swedish Game Awards).
We were shocked to be one of the three games nominated for the game of the year award. Only 6 weeks of work mind you so this was probably when the games potential began to dawn on us and we decided to try and finish it.

Unmechanical

It’s been critically well received, are there any successes the studio and the game have received you would like to highlight?
We were nominated for best art, best sound and best game in South Americas first game awards, BIG (Brazil international game awards).
I got to go there and talk about our game. We got best sound and the grand prize best game. We also got best artistic achievement at the Nordic game awards beating games like Hitman and Pid so that was quite crazy as well.

What are you currently working on?
It’s a long road and it’s not easy, just because you make one game that is well received doesn’t mean you have enough money to make a new one so we are currently doing small projects to survive and at the same time creating something completely new, a different kind of kids game.
Empathy and emotional qualities are essential pillars in personal development and EQ is beneficial to any individual in all walks of life. Our primary aim is to nurture skills that prevent bullying, a growing problem worldwide. Find some more in-depth info here.
We are also trying to bring Unmechanical to Android and have some new early stage prototypes going on, nothing ready to announce in a long while.

Who are the Swedish game developers that have been an inspiration to you and the team over the years?
I think what inspires us is to actually be something else other than conventional industry approach and mentality. We like to combine indie approach and a healthy work environment with a sustainable business strategy. Being ourselves and putting our passion into our products, not compromising ethics, social awareness, life experiences and opinions.

For more on Talawa Games, check out their website.
You can also follow them on Twitter.

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