Payload Studios’ Russ Clarke – “The guiding philosophy of Tentacle Zone is to think back to the challenges we faced, and ask ourselves how we can help new teams get over those hurdles.”

Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight. This month, we talk to Russ Clarke Founder and CEO Payload Studios

TerraTech just keeps on growing, what’s the key behind its success?

In a word: community. We built the company with the idea that growing and maintaining an engaged player community, from the earliest stages of the development process, would be our secret sauce.

Even before we had an office and a full-time team, we were putting out demo releases, doing live events and finding other ways to get players involved, learn from them and build anticipation. That process continued through early access, console launches and is still going strong, six years later.

Why did you start the indie-focused Tentacle Zone and what are its aims?

It came about almost by accident. We were taking TerraTech to game shows, many of which had a free-of-charge ‘indie zone’ – but when something’s free, you don’t get much choice and you can’t complain too hard when things go wrong! We wanted a bit more control over our space, but when we looked at buying a stand, the costs seemed astronomical – so we came up with the idea of clubbing together with other indies, to cram loads of fun into a small area and spread the expense. The Tentacles were just a random attention-grabbing decoration, which stuck after gamers got used to seeing them at every show.

When we moved to a bigger office, after TerraTech took off, we had some spare space and saw a chance to continue that ethos of sharing resources. Pretty soon we had half a dozen other teams working in our office, and we found lots of other ways to generate value – sharing knowledge, helping each other out with specific skills, running group events and so on.

The guiding philosophy of Tentacle Zone now is to think back to the challenges we faced when starting out, and ask ourselves how we can help new teams get over those hurdles. The Incubator program we’re running now is an amazing chance to do just that – it’s incredibly exciting to see these new founders coming up, bursting with creativity, and know that we can help them avoid some of the pitfalls we stumbled into in our early days.

What was the greatest single moment of your career to date?

It was probably the day during the summer of 2015 when I came to work to find the Steam sales curve had skyrocketed overnight, going from about 60 daily units to nearly a thousand.

We had been running very lean up to that point, there were eight of us crammed into a 200 square foot room next to a building site in Hammersmith, everyone was on two-thirds of a salary and we were wondering how long we could last like that.

We didn’t know what had happened at first, until we found a major YouTuber had picked up TerraTech, after seeing the game at a show we had done earlier that year. He made a whole series, other creators started jumping in, the sales curve stayed high and we knew we had made it.

Do you feel the games industry is headed in the right direction?

For me, video games remain one of the most exciting, vibrant places to be. The business constantly evolves – commercially and creatively – and there’s always something new around the corner.

Empowering communities is a fascinating and important trend, which we continue to focus on at Payload: bringing players into the conversation, supporting content creators and building experiences around user-generated content.

I’m also really pleased to see the industry as a whole seriously engaging with the need to improve diversity and inclusion – in both team makeup and content – and proud to be able to play a part in that, with our Tentacle Zone initiatives and within our own team.

About Chris Wallace

Chris is MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer, joining the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can regrettably be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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