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INTERVIEW: Tony Lay and Rob Murray introduce Firemonkeys

INTERVIEW: Tony Lay and Rob Murray introduce Firemonkeys

Firemonkeys, Australia’s newest developer formed out if Iron Monkey and Firemint, is a combination of Tony Lay and Rob Murray.

Lay headed up Iron Monkey while Murray helmed Firemint. Now that the two are combined in what has become Australia’s largest studio, MCV spoke to the co-heads of Firemonkeys about the new layout.

So why did this come about now? How did this collaboration become official?

TL: I think it’s that we’ve been sitting in the same location for the last 8 months or more, and once you start sitting together, you start looking at all the benefits and ignoring all the things that get in the way of us building a culture.

It doesn’t only start there, but I think there’s heaps of mutual respect between the studios, because we’ve been competitors for such a long time.

It just seemed logical to us. So the name that we’ve gone with is Firemonkeys. The two names together is really cool, so it all kind of works for us.

RM: It’d be more of a question of why we haven’t done this more than why we are now.

So since you are combining, what’s the structure of the new joint venture like?

TL: Rob and I are partners, but our responsibilities are kind of split. Because I’ve been with EA for longer, I can deal with external communications more, while Rob can do more of the running stuff and working on product. The way we work together, however, is exactly the same. We both look after product and we both run the studio.

So I’m the General Manager and Rob is the Executive Producer.

So the changes are minimal then?

RM: A lot of stuff is just happening naturally, really. There’s nothing we have to force or change much. The bigger change for both of us was coming in to EA ourselves and having done that successfully, this just feels natural.

And are the games being made by each studio going to remain – the franchise focus for the Iron Monkey teams and new IPs for the Firemint teams?

RM: The teams already had their focus before we came together, and we’re not going to artificially try to change the teams. Yes, people could move around back and forth if they wanted to and the opportunity is there, but there’s no push to change anything in terms of the teams’ structures.

Also, because we’re a larger studio, we do try to focus on strong, smaller teams which each contain a lot of independence and autonomy.

So how many people were there before and how many will there be now?

TL: We were probably sitting at about 40 odd employees each before. So we were pretty much split even. With any change you tend to lose some people, but we’re actually going to grow in the next few months.

Is that growth a direct result of the consolidation?

TL: The consolidation was probably more of a formality. We’d already been sitting here for 8 months, so I think it’s a result of seeing what we need to head towards and what our strategic goals were more generally. It comes down to that.

As Rob said, every single team is going to be self-managed, so they tell us who they’re missing, and we grow based on their demand.

Does this autonomous, smaller team-based structure mitigate the risk faced by larger studios in Australia?

RM: It more mitigates creative risk than anything business related. We’re just concerned about not making our teams any larger than they have to be. I’m not making management structures anymore, but it makes sense that while those teams can deliver a product, they should do that as autonomously and independently as possible.

TL: And I think we understand that our game development teams’ boss is ultimately the consumers, and everyone else outside of that is just a service. Myself and Rob are here to help them achieve their goals, because ultimately they’ll know what the consumers want, and they should be able to react to that. Keeping them smaller is the best way to move forward in such a turbulent space.

RM: In some ways, we do react to larger companies which we’ve seen in the past. We’ve got a goal to do something very different here. We look to companies like Pixar rather than to our older peers here in Australia – the companies that perhaps haven’t done so well.

So the new brand isn’t coming out of a vacuum. What exactly does the new brand represent, or is that something you’ll find out over time?

TL: The good thing for us is that we’ve been tracking in the same direction. Quality was always number one when it came to our products, and you can see that. We’ve been healthy competitors the whole way through, always trying to one-up each other.

In terms of direction, I see it as us just wanting to be remarkable with everything that we do.

RM: Both companies have a huge desire, amongst everyone in the culture, to make the greatest games, and really win and succeed. We’re building something here that encourages that and grows it, and fundamentally our cultures were the same in that way. Together, we’re able to focus a little bit more on culture and how it drives these teams to succeeed.

TL: We’re in a good spot in that we’re not only leading EA in terms of mobile development, but I think arguably internationally more generally as well. As Rob said, we’ve got something quite special here that we want to capitalise on.

RM: I think we’re going to look back in 10 years and ask who were the most significant developers in the most significant spaces, I think we’re going to be in an amazing place, so that’s what we’re aiming for.

Thank you for your time!


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