The other day GameBuz had a privilege to visit Eipix Entertainment, one of the most famous gaming companies in Serbia. Just by entering the premises, I was greeted professionally and couldn't not-notice a huge purple "history wall" right next to the entrance.
The wall presents all their milestones, stories and challenges they overcame, including the most important peaks (such as an exclusive partnership with Big Fish Games and the beginning of self-publishing) and the most interesting memories (like organizing their own Game Jam).
Zoran Milanko, COO of Eipix, gave me a tour of the office building and we had a chance to talk about everything game enthusiast ever wanted to know. During the interview, we went through a lot of topics, but the most shocking one was the exclusive information about their upcoming direction change, regarding the genre they will be focusing on and 2 new game releases no one knew about.
Eipix was founded in 2005, regardless of all difficulties in Serbia considering bureaucracy, out of pure love for gaming. "Our passion to play games motivated us to make games", explained Zoran. That passion drove them to the biggest milestone for the company so far - the exclusive partnership with Big Fish Games in 2011.
Mirko Topalski, CEO and the founder (accidentally introduced as "our owner" by Zoran, followed by laughter and explanation that no slaves work for the company lol) approached Big Fish and, with a great pitch, got the deal that made a 10-people company grow to over 400 employees. Understandably, that growth brought them fast and well-deserved fame.
After the "boom" and numerous successful HOPA game titles, Eipix decided to try something (everything?) new. Up until now, they released free-to-play games, text adventures, VR and Voice adventures. So, naturally, I had to ask Zoran about all that.
GameBuz - Voice adventure "Path of Discovery: Europa" was one of the first games on Amazon Alexa. What is the story behind making voice adventure and how is it different from making other games?
Zoran Milanko - It's completely different and we faced a lot of challenges because we never made a game that you need to play with a voice. We decided to do that just to try to discover more opportunities besides BigFish games and try to discover more platforms.
We reached out to Amazon and they were really excited to have us there because we're… Well, we are not that famous, but they knew about Eipix and they wanted to reach out to us, but we did it first.
And it was a super cool and interesting experience. But the biggest problem with that platform is that you can't monetize those kinds of games or it's harder to monetize them because it's a new platform and Amazon is still struggling how to do it perfectly.
GameBuz - Tell me about VR game Althora. How did it start and what does it take to make a VR game?
Zoran Milanko - Like the narrative game for Amazon, we decided to go on VR to be the first on the market and to face that challenge. It was super fun to make it because it's the first time that you can put something on your head and to play like you're directly there. But, still, that market is also very young.
You can monetize that, but the biggest problem with that is that people have a problem "leaving this world", to say it like that. When you put that mask on your head, you are leaving this world. You're in the game and it's super scary. And I think that's the biggest problem with VR - it still needs to be developed to make it more user-friendly.
On the other hand, the great thing about VR is that you're getting visible really easy because they don't have content and marketing guys all over the world like to write articles about VR games. And it's definitely super fun to make VR games.
GameBuz - How was the experience to design for VR?
Zoran Milanko - It's completely different because you have different problems with the view or with dizziness. And we definitely had problems because when we started making the game, we wanted it to be an open-world game where you can walk around and see whatever you want.
But, as soon as you start moving in VR, your brain thinks that you are moving IRL and you will fall. So we decided to have points and teleportation. Your brain will think "Oh, it's just teleportation, I'm not going, I'm standing".
Trying something (everything) new also includes self-publishing, which the company began in 2016. Thinking out loud, I was wondering how important that is for developers and do they actually have more or less freedom, considering that the market dictates their every move.
Zoran Milanko - You definitely have more freedom if you're going alone or self-publishing because you can do whatever you want. Yet, it's a double-edged sword because sometimes it's easier to have someone to hold your hand and to walk you to the right path. But other times they can walk you to a completely different direction from where you wanted to go. So, if you go alone, you'll get much more potential to succeed and to do whatever you want, but it's super risky.
While we were on the subject of challenges, I just had to ask what their biggest one was and how did they overcome it.
Zoran Milanko - To find good employees. I think that the biggest problem here in Serbia is to find the game developers. That's because we don't have faculties, schools or anyone to teach people how to make games. Basically, 98% of our employees are self-taught.
GameBuz - So, that's where Eipix Academy comes?
Zoran Milanko - Yes, yes, yes. That's why we decided to make Eipix Academy, but if we want to make Eipix Academy successful, we need to bring our best employees that are super busy with the projects. So, it's really, really intensive for those employees.
Eipix Entertainment opened their Academy for game development in 2016. At first, Eipix Academy was open for public, with the idea to share the knowledge and potentially make students their employees, which they did. But, while walking around the office building (where I definitely felt like a kid in a candy store) Zoran mentioned that that's no longer the case.
Zoran Milanko - It will be, but currently we're trying to stay internal, we're trying to teach our employees what they need to do and what they need to know and to expand their skills. So we decided to stay closed for some time and when we get more experts in the game development, we'll definitely open our minds and our doors for everyone. But, we're cooking something…
GameBuz - What are you cooking?
Zoran Milanko - It's super secret, but it's something connected with the Academy and it could be a game changer. It is just a teaser... For now.
All that talk about teaching and learning made me wonder how are they managing all those different paths. Apart from Academy, Eipix has broadened their experience to another field. In 2017, they made Comic division and published a comic book called "Lightstep Chronicles". Also, they are making a game based on that comic. *mindblown*
Zoran Milanko - We decided to do comic books because of Mirko. We try to diversify our company but still stay in Entertainment. And we like games, but we also like everything that is connected in any way to the games. So, we are all passionate comic book readers and we had enough skill and enough people to make that happen.
We signed the deal with publisher Dark Horse. It was a really interesting experience and the comic book "Lightstep Chronicles" is on the market.
We are still making Lightstep game, it will be released this year. We're getting good feedback from the readers, but still, we want to see how it will perform in the game and everything connected to the game.
When researching for the interview, I noticed that on their website they have a category called "Core games" under which was listed a "reverse-tower defense" game Walk the Fort. Walk the Fort is still not released, but Zoran said that the plan is to release it in QA2 this year. And then - the laughter - because he added: "...probably".
Zoran Milanko - We will do our best to release it in QA2. We are facing some problems because it's a completely unique way of playing. Gameplay is unique. We have art, we have everything nailed, but the gameplay and the core mechanics are a bit tricky because we're always trying to balance it and test it internally, and after that, we'll definitely try to release it on the market.
We'll try to go early access with Walk the Fort and to see how people will react. We're also going to reboot in Dubrovnik this year and try to get closed beta testing for those attendees who will be there to play and give feedback.
I was curious about the reboot in Dubrovnik, so we spent some time talking about it, but then Zoran told me something that was never spoken before. Well, publicly at least. The thing is, they will have other games there as well. Why is that interesting? Well, the thing about those games is that they are going to be the company's springboard to rebranding - Eipix is going Indie!
Zoran Milanko - We'll try to switch our vision more to Indie games because we don't want to be 'Eipix HOPA developer', we want to grow as a developer by creating indie games in various genres that we love. We have gained a lot of traction as a HOPA developer, and we hope to achieve similar success with our newer projects - concurrently with our HOPA production, we are developing several indie games in other genres that we love.
We have 3 games in development - Walk the Fort, Refoil and Going Medevil - those are development names, but still, because they're interesting, we'll try to keep them.
We try to make these kinds of games based on what our teams want to make and based on their passion. We decided to go in that direction because whenever we have free time we play those kinds of games and the team is super excited to make them because they always wanted or dreamed about those kinds of games.
Zoran Milanko - Refoil game is Metroidvania, like Dead Cells and Hollow Knight, but it's completely different, in Eipix way. And we'll announce it really soon - it should be released in QA3 in 2019, but we'll see, depends on development cycles and the feedback from the first players. But, we'll definitely go in early access and try to get feedback from the community as soon as possible and to see what their thoughts are about the game and if they want to change something because, for Indie games, you definitely need to listen to the community.
Zoran Milanko - Going Medevil is a colony sim and it's a bit of a bigger game. It will definitely be released in early access this year, but full release will be ready one year from now. That's because you need to listen to the community. Those kinds of games are made by the community, developers are just like tools to make what the community wants.
Eipix will self-publish these 3 upcoming games on PlayStation, Xbox, PC and Switch. I honestly had no idea that they were cooking something that big. They are preparing Discord channels for every game that will be released, so the players will be able to speak directly to developers.
After gathering such information, the only thing left to do was to say a lot of thanks and goodbye. But, being a bore that I am, I had to ask Zoran what advice would he give to young developers just entering the Gaming Industry.
Zoran Milanko - Never give up. (Never surrender?) It's a hard thing, but it's fun to do it. And try to make something that you like, but also try to listen to the market as much as you can. If you're making games - try to make games as much as you can. Never be disappointed or discouraged, just try, try, try and you will definitely succeed at some point.
Feeling kinda like a bad guy asking mostly about the problems and challenges, it would be crazy not to mention their success, awards and great rankings. By asking about the most rewarding part of game developing, I thought that fame will be mentioned. Instead, I got an honest answer: "When you're getting the feedback from the players". He actually told me they enjoy reading and watching players' reviews. Pretty sweet, right?