Inflorescent games is a newly formed worker co-operative of video game developers in Sydney. They are in the process of building, developing, and prototyping wonderful games to sell through online storefronts like steam and itch and possibly on console. This month, Molly from The Co-op Federation is speaking with the charismatic Mateja Simovic, who is one of the founding directors of Inflorescent Games Co-op.
Mateja, can you take us behind the scenes and tell us how games get made?
Producing games is often a big experiment. You try, you fail, you go back to the drawing board and start again. Sometimes, you’re making a game and things just break! Other times, the game will work but it may not be fun to play, in which case you get to decide, do I want to make something that’s just fun or do I want the game to have a different sort of meaning?
Games are a true artform with a potential for a wide array of expressions beyond just ‘fun and joy’. My background is as a writer, so I mainly focused on things like narrative and artistic meaning. It’s been interesting to apply my writing to games and explore the added dimension of interactivity
What other work roles are involved in game production?
There are designers – They decide how a game is designed. Most of the people reading this will probably have played Monopoly, all the decisions about the rules are made by a game designer, it’s the same with video game. Designers basically just make lots of decisions: If this happens, what happens next? There are also programmers, producers and artists and beyond that, there is specialisation among those various roles depending on how big the production is.
The big studios in game development are what’s called “AAA” studios with big budgets and staff. Inflorescent is an independent studio which means we are building games on a wing and a prayer trying make a name for ourselves, create a following and make that next big thing!
What kind of co-op are you?
We are a distributing workers co-op, so we pay our (potential) profits to our workers. We currently have 5 members, our original founders. The goal of Inflorescent is to provide employment, grow and hopefully succeed and make excellent and interesting games!
How old is the co-op?
We formed earlier this year under the night of the blood moon which we took to be a very auspicious sign, so we are now almost 6 months old.
How did you first come across the co-op model as an option you could choose?
The games industry is notorious for having terrible working conditions (to put it diplomatically) so, we needed an alternative model and I went out searching for that. I found The Co-op Federation, got in contact with Sam and he gave me lots of information. He was able to come talk to my colleagues and help us to form and register the co-op. We are very proud that Inflorescent Games can claim the title of Australia’s first co-operative game development studio!
Why is it important that you are a co-op?
We needed to improve conditions in our industry, so our workers weren’t being ground into dust like happens in the bigger studios. Unfortunately, the bigger studios are focused on profit which often comes at the cost of creativity and the wellbeing of the workers. As game designers, we want to experiment and push the limits of our medium! Being a co-operative allows us to focus on more than just profit which means we can innovate in ways that the big studios can’t.
What has been most difficult so far?
As the prime mover of this project, I’ve had to get my head around bureaucracy with government agencies and banks and all that wonderful stuff. The Co-op Federation has been an immense help in our registration which was delayed due to a global pandemic, so hats off to The Co-op Federation.
What has been the most joyful thing so far?
To see my co-operators working together, bringing our projects to life, it’s a joyous thing. If we make some hit that goes gangbusters, I’m sure we will continue to go on making video games, for free, for the rest of our lives!
What is next for the co-op?
Our next goal is to break even! Unfortunately, making video games is a cut-throat, boom and bust industry. Being able to survive is going to be an act of cunning, skill, guile, talent, and just plain old luck! So, for right now our goal is modest (being able to pay ourselves) but in our industry, that can change overnight.
I didn’t realise the big game production industry was so bad, can you tell us more?
Big studios contract workers only for a particular project and then if the game makes a million dollars, workers never get a cent of that. The fact that we will distribute profits to our workers will address that inequity.
Another common industry standard we hope to avoid is a practice called “crunch”. This is when someone in management has made a bad deadline estimate and they say, “Everyone is pulling overtime until this thing is done”. During ‘crunch’ you are working more than 10 hours a day 6 days a week and it may go on for months. There was a recent case of a big studio who engaged in ‘crunch’ for over a year, then it becomes what they call a “death march” and it’s not about if you’re going to lose people, it’s about who’s going to be left at the end.
So, in the co-op we will prioritise the wellbeing of our workers over arbitrary deadlines. We will say “We need more time and we want to get the best thing done and we want to do so comfortably”.
What do you want the world to know about co-ops?
Co-ops aren’t some “design by committee” organisation. We just have some extra rules about how we distribute our profit and how we treat our workers.
What’s your next project?
It’s called UFO tofu Hex it’s a cool UFO puzzle matching game, where you create visual palindromes as you connect symbols together. The new version is soon released on steam, itch, IOS store, android and available within the next couple of months.
Acknowledgements: Molly, The Co-op Federation, Australia and Oryema Jimmy Martine