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Interview: building-the-next-big-thing

September 19, 2017 at 8:49 am / by

I was recently interviewed by Wooga‘s PR department. Find the full interview here.

Recently we were lucky enough to grab a bit of Sebastian’s time and talk with him about his role as Head of Adventure Studio. Up on the top floor of Wooga’s Berlin HQ, he helps the hidden object teams create our next (fingers crossed) big hit and has been with Wooga for a whopping 8 years.

Sebastian, Head of Adventure Studio

[Shuffling of paper, interviewer struggles to figure out the UI in Apple’s Voice Memos app]

OK, I think I’ve got this worked out. Right, hi. Let’s start off with your role here at Wooga. Could you tell me a little about what it currently involves and shed a little light on your work?

So, I’m the Head of Studio in Wooga’s Adventure Studio, where I work on the creative direction we take within the studio. It’s basically what I’ve done with Pearl’s Peril and now, June’s Journey. The team and I start at the beginning with a vision — so, which audience we should build the game for and what kind of ideas we have, as well as how we put the team together.

In the very beginning of June’s Journey, I put together a team that included Rebecca, our Lead Writer, Nikita as Art Lead and Dave Cross who was our Lead Designer. It was clear from the beginning that Georg would be the Product Lead and he would be the producer type, so in this case I was working for him, you know? He was the guy who had to produce the game and say ‘this is enough’. We have a high level of trust, so this works.

So setting up the creative vision for the team, setting up the team itself, working on the setting with the writers and with the game designers, working out which mechanics we want to use. For instance, with June’s Journey, we had a trading mechanic in the game which we kicked out in the early stages.

How does your role as Head of Studio differ than, say, Matt’s in Puzzle Studio?

Because our studio is a bit smaller than Puzzle Studio, and I’m a very creative person, I’m able to dig into the creative process whenever we start a new game in the studio — looking at the vision of the game, what should it look like. I design adventure scenes, really kickstart the project and then hand it over to the team.

What were you doing before you joined Wooga?

I’ve been here for almost 8 years, right? What did I do before? I studied media art and design. I worked, before that actually, at a company that made Gameboy Colour games as level designer. I really liked the limitation of the few kilobytes you had per module to be creative. I got into scripting, through that, was really in love with Flash, because I could create art and attach the software. So I did interactive games and interactive maps, for museums and what-not, in Flash.

After that I worked in an advertising agency, I didn’t like that [laughs]. And, yeah, I also worked for Jamba, where Jens was previously although we didn’t have much to do with each other there. I set up the creative department there who were responsible for most of the ringtones, except Crazy Frog which was before me. I have a platinum record at home, but, I was an employee then so, oh well! [laughs].

So before Wooga I worked for a company that tried to make a German version of Club Penguin, which was called Panfu, so almost like a 3D chat room for kids with minigames and stuff. Which was pretty cool because kids either love something or hate something.

And after that came Wooga?

I joined as a Senior Product Manager, as the title was then. The goal was to build a game, which was Happy Hospital. I think the idea was good, but with the execution we were perhaps a bit too naive. Just missing experience. The goal was 1 million DAU, and we had 600,000 and if I remember correctly the company’s slogan was, ‘We Create Hits’, so yeah, it was the first ‘not-hit’ [laughs].

And then came Pearl’s Peril?

With Pearl’s Peril, I thought it could be a good fit for the portfolio because of the audience. I was playing Gardens of Time, and I thought that could be better and so from that the vision was created. And out of the success of Pearl, the studio was born.

Sebastian with the Pearl’s Peril team in 2013

What would a typical day involve?

Right now? [laughs]

I guess when you set up June’s Journey it would be very different from right now, but roughly, what does it look like…let’s say, today?

I guess you could split it. Because it really depends on the phase. If there’s a game, in early phase or not, right? You could split it into creative work, where I’m helping out Pearl’s Peril right now, really hands on stuff, creating content. But also guiding the studio towards the right direction — which games should we invest in, or not? How fast should we grow, or not? Other conflicts, are there people which need guidance? How can I help people to grow?

What are some of the most challenging times in your role?

Challenges…for sure. There have been a couple of interesting challenges. I think one was when we created Pearl, and we had a full team on it, we were already in production mode and we realised the story was…not good. And then changing the story while having a full team on it without knowing what the right direction on it was, I think that was a big challenge. Another big challenge was Agent Alice. That it flopped, right? It was very emotional. It was a big launch and it didn’t work. Back then we hadn’t stopped too many games.

And how about challenges you face today?

Well, for June I think the most challenging part was to come up with a story that most of the veterans in the studio like. I remember Rebecca and I was running around and working on the story with the writing team. For us it was really good in the beginning, where changes are easier. So it was challenging, but good.

An early hidden-object scene from Wooga’s upcoming title, June’s Journey

How come it was so difficult?

Well, because they have a high standard now, right? You know it’s like, ‘this story doesn’t impress me, can you do better?’ and then it’s like, well, of course.

You studied media art and design. If someone out there wanted to have a position like yours in 10, 15 years, would you recommend the same thing? Or would your recommend something else? Did it help set you up for your future career? I guess that’s the question.

Yeah, I would say so as there was a lot of project management stuff going on and from a business point of view you got a good sense. I think there’s also no classic path towards this job. I think for a creative job, you have to be creative and know your limitations and know your stuff. But the Head of Studio part is also a character question, right? Caring for others, being self-reflective, making tough calls, making the right decisions…all that stuff.

And I’m sure it gets easier with time, with experience.

Yeah, sure.

Where do you look for inspiration? What recharges your batteries?

Of course I do the obvious things, playing games, playing games from our competitors to get a feel for the market. But, I think for creativity, I get ideas from the weirdest places. It would be Sunday, at 4am, when my son asks me for milk…[laughs]

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Toni says:

    I’ve loved and played Pearl’s for YEARS — and now I’m so excited to be starting June’s Journey.

    Just curious…I play on an iPad Mini 2, completely updated (as of right now) to iOS 11.11. I enjoy the fact that with June, we can now enlarge the screen / zoom in. However, what I don’t enjoy so much is that the scenes are not nearly as sharp and clear as those in Pearl’s. The artwork is beautiful and so like that of Pearl…it’s just not nearly as sharp or well-defined, and I’d really live for it to be clearer. Anything I can do?

    Thank you for the years of entertainment in these BEAUTIFUL games.

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