Roll7 is one of the hottest indie studios in the UK right now.
It was behind the popular and infuriately addictive skating title OllIOlli, which launched on PlayStation Vita in January of this year. It was a smash hit, and garnered a cult following.
But the studio wasn't always producing indie smash hits.
Roll7 has been going since 2008, when we started out making educational games,” the studio's director Tom Hegarty says.We did client-based games. There was a title for kids with ADHD, another about knife crime for Channel Four.
"As we developed as a studio we wanted to work on our own IP. The idea was to save up enough money that we could make our own games. We then made Gets to the Exit, which released on various app stores. It wasn't financially successful, but it received some great reviews.”
Indeed, mobile development was a mixed bag for the firm.
There is no gatekeeper on mobile, so you can put something out there, you can test it, you can work on it,” Hegarty explains.But it's very hard to get traction in the mobile space and you need to be good at marketing to get your name out there. It is a great place to put ideas out and get people playing your game and see what works.
After we released Gets to the Exit we realised that we needed to move to console or Steam. The kind of games we make are hardcore, twitchy scoreattack games. We were limited by the touch screen with our mobile games.”
So the team set to work developing test versions of various games, one of which was OlliOlli.
In 2012, in our rush to get towards console and PC development, we produced a load of prototypes,” he says. OlliOlliOlli – as it was called back then – was one of them. It quickly became mine, [creative director] John Ribbins and [director] Simon Bennett's go-to game.
We took the iOS prototype around to various events. We went to Develop in July 2012 and ended up speaking to [FuturLab boss] James Mardsen who really liked it, and recommended we speak to Sony.
We had an email introduction to Shahid Ahmad [PlayStation Strategic Content], met with them but they weren't very impressed with the prototypes we showed. Then we decided to show them OlliOlli and Shahid picked it up and couldn't put it down. He handed the meeting over to the other people there. They signed it right then. We wanted to move towards consoles and they were looking to get some exclusive Vita content. It was a no brainer for us.”
There is no gatekeeper on mobile, so you can put
something out there, you can test it, you can work
on it.But it's very hard to get traction in the mobile
space and you need to be good at marketing to get
your name out there. It is a great place to put ideas
out and get people playing your game and
see what works."
Tom Hegarty - Director, Roll7
And now, around one year after the first OlliOlli was completed, the team is hard at work on OlliOlli 2, which Hegarty refers to as the ‘difficult second album'.
We started working on OlliOlli 2 before the first game came out,” Hegarty says.We finished the game in October. Because of various QA issues with Sony, and then the Christmas period, we decided to hold off until January, so it was three months before the game came out. We deconstructed it in that time.
By the time the first OlliOlli game came out we thought the game was terrible. OlliOlli 2 was a completely different game then OlliOlli came out and it was really well received much to our surprise and delight. We went back to the drawing board. We looked at what people liked about the first game and decided not to tear it all apart.
Everything comes under so much more scrutiny the second time around. And you do worry so much more about every minor decision. We get lost in so much tiny detail, but it's very hard to know what to focus on and what to put aside.”
He concludes: Overall it's a really nice problem to have, that there are fans and expectation out there, but that's countered by the worry that we did something really well received last time. We're trying not to mess it up.”