Interview: Two Tribes Explains Development Closure and Starting Again
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
"We're still in the game making business, albeit in smaller form"
This week we reported the news that Two Tribes had shut down its development company and, in its own terms, rebooted with a smaller development studio. As Two Tribes Publishing B.V. was a separate company — as the name suggests — responsible for publication of both the studio's own games and those acquired from others, Two Tribes games on the Wii U and 3DS eShops, as well as other platforms such as Steam, were unaffected by the news. As explained in the announcement, however, a number of full time staff had been let go as the new, smaller development studio was formed.
The original Two Tribes founders Collin van Ginkel and Martijn Reuvers are still in place within the new structure, and we've caught up with the former to learn more about the circumstances of this closure, the new company that's been formed, as well as the implications and intentions for future projects in general and, specifically, on Nintendo platforms.
Nintendo Life: First of all, can you give a high level summary of what this bankruptcy means for Two Tribes, as gamers know it?
Collin van Ginkel: For gamers not much actually. We're still in the game making business, albeit in smaller form, operating under the same name.
NL: You explain in your blog post that you started the shift to being an independent developer in 2009: can you provide an outline of those years, perhaps highlighting where your financial situation began to deteriorate?
CvG: That's hard to say, since each game you release provides a boost in income. Sometimes the boost is bigger than the investment, sometimes smaller. The main difference is that when we worked for a publisher, all costs were covered up front, while as an indie we only have income from sales after the game is released.
NL: Can you clarify the situation of Two Tribes Publishing continuing, but the development company being closed?
CvG: Behind the scenes Two Tribes was actually two companies. The one who handled development is gone, but the publishing company is still there.
NL: Will you be adopting the same structure moving forward, and can you clarify whether the fates of Two Tribes Publishing and the new company will be intertwined? It seems important as the two aspects — publishing and development — have been separate entities up to now.
CvG: We'll use the same setup but with a different development approach. We've set up a new development studio that's much smaller and future games will still be funded by Two Tribes Publishing. So this means all our existing games will stay available and if someone buys our games their money will go straight into the development of our new 2D side-scrolling shooter!
If Toki Tori 2+ did much better we'd now be celebrating that our gamble paid off and perhaps we'd have continued with that approach.
NL: Toki Tori 2 had a fairly lengthy development time, is that a luxury that simply can't be afforded for independent developers or, more specifically, small companies with a reasonably-sized team?
CvG: We surely couldn't afford it, that much is clear. But I think it's too simple to say it can't be afforded in general. If Toki Tori 2+ did much better we'd now be celebrating that our gamble paid off and perhaps we'd have continued with that approach.
NL: Was the company's viability largely dependent on Toki Tori 2+, then?
CvG: It wasn't our plan to let the company depend on Toki Tori 2+, but because of the many delays it turned out that way.
NL: The Two Tribes Classics, particularly RUSH and EDGE, are relatively simple concepts — is that likely to be reflective of future projects from Two Tribes, as you emphasize the need for quicker development turnarounds?
CvG: We've had many discussions about what to do next and our next game will definitely be smaller in scope and ambition. The focus will be on just one or two innovations, while Toki Tori 2+ tried to innovate on every front. By doing this we can deliver a smaller game that's easier to talk about and excite gamers for.
NL: You've highlighted the challenges and resource issues of creating custom game engines and so on. Will your focus now be on using existing engines such as Unity, alongside the Toki Tori 2 engine?
CvG: You can't really combine the two, so we're sticking with what we know for our first game. We're pretty sure Unity is our long-term future, but for now we know we can quickly make more great games with our existing technology.
NL: As you've stated that the next project will be a side-scrolling shooter using the Toki Tori 2 engine, can you tell us any more about that, in terms of its style and target platforms in particular?
CvG: It's too early to talk about game specifics, but it's definitely a gamer's game instead of a game that tries to please every type of player. Our engine runs on PS4, Wii U, PC, Mac and Linux, so those are definitely considered, but don't view this as an announcement just yet!
NL: Two Tribes has been well known for supporting and publishing on Nintendo's platforms; are the eShop stores a part of your medium to long-term plans moving forward?
CvG: Certainly yes, and perhaps we need to stress this more. We get a pretty significant part of our income from Nintendo's eShops, it just wasn't enough to run our existing business on.
NL: So from your perspective, the eShop stores represent a potentially profitable platform for the business?
CvG: Definitely, you just need to know what you're making and who you're making it for. I think companies such as Shin'en are proof that it can be a good strategy to focus on the eShops.
NL: Your publishing company is unaffected by the bankruptcy, but are you confident it'll maintain its level of activity in the coming years?
CvG: I think we need to in order to be successful. Our back catalogue is mostly available on Wii U already, so perhaps we'll see less releases, but our goal is to make more games in less time.
NL: As you've explained in your blog, you've sadly had to break-up the old team. Will you be a two-man studio in the foreseeable future, or are you hopeful of having a few more developers on board?
CvG: We're actually with three main developers now and make use of talented interns from time to time. It is still early days, so we're trying to divide the work among these people. If it turns out we miss manpower to complete our games in a timely fashion, we'll look at hiring more people, but we don't want to become too big for our own good again.
NL: Finally, do you have a particular message for Nintendo download fans regarding this news?
CvG: We've been overwhelmed by the responses on Twitter, forums and our own website. It's great to see so much love for the games we've made in the past and it reminded me personally of the fact that there are a lot of people really waiting to see what we create next. We'll do our best not to let them down!
We'd like to thank Collin van Ginkel for his time.