Games designers Sam Browne and Josh Unsworth have both completed internships at TT Games and Creative Assembly, two of Britain’s biggest games studios. But rather than using their experience from junior roles on Lego Worlds and Alien Isolation to move up the ranks, the pair – who met at the National Film and Television School in Buckinghamshire – cut loose and formed their own Brixton-based games studio in January 2017.
Sam and Josh told us about the things they’ve learned since planning Three Knots over a year ago. Here are their top tops for setting up a games studio.
The most important thing is to come to the industry and want to change it
1. Have a unique identity
Sam Browne: The most important thing is to come to the industry and want to change it rather than accept it for what it is when you arrive. If there’s something you don’t like, change it. One of the powers of indie is that you can make a difference.
Josh Unsworth: It’s important to know why it is you’re making a game and what it is that you’re contributing to the industry. What’s your unique voice as a studio?
2. Get experience at a big studio
SB: I would always recommend that anyone starting up an indie studio should see what’s what in a big studio, especially how they operate and what you can take from that system. Also, the things that you don’t want to take.
I worked on Lego Worlds, which was really great fun, and I got to write some quests which was great. I wanted to go indie very passionately and I’d heard horror stories about Triple A [games], but I found it such a rewarding experience. TT are fabulous – they put out so many games a year, and their speed is incredible.
3. Work out your strengths
JU: We both enjoy different aspects and that’s one of our strengths. There are bits that we’re better at than each other – it’s just recognising those and that it’s OK for other people to be better than you. So Sam is better at the production side – things like art – and I’m better at the more technical aspects.
SB: When we realised that we might start a company together, we spoke about our skills. Where do we overlap? What roles do we want to do in the company and do we want to share roles? We still refer back to that stuff.
4. Go to events
SB: Something we wanted to do before actually making the studio legal was to go around and see what everyone else was doing. We went to Antwerp for Screenshake, a conference for indie developers, and that was amazing.
We try and attend a lot of regular events so we don’t have a blinkered view of the industry.
JU: Meet-ups give you a lot more knowledge, and make you feel like you’ve got your finger on the pulse.
5. Start with the boring business stuff
SB: We wanted this to be a slow burn, so we started with business rather than a game, which is not always satisfying – you want to jump in with development. But we spent a long time building up that solid foundation from which to build a game.
6. Stick to a healthy working schedule
JU: Chinese Room [the studio behind Everyone’s Gone To The Rapture] are a really big inspiration for how to run a studio that keeps everyone healthy and excited. They treat people nicely and we really like that about them. People work better when they have proper rest.
SB: We have lists of what we want to achieve in the games studio and what we want to achieve in life. Josh recently ran the Paris Marathon, and our hours are nine to six so there’s a bit more time in the morning to go for a run.
Keeping fit helps, 100%. One of the things I really like about running is being outside and having some breathing space.
JU: Keeping fit helps, 100%. Even going outside for a walk. One of the things I really like about running is being outside and having some breathing space. Just relax a bit and have your own headspace for a while. First half of the marathon, I spent most of it designing a board game in my head. That was before the pain kicked in, and then I was like, 'Arghhhh'!
7. Take ideas from everywhere
SB: I tend to take three different things – whether it’s a piece of music, a certain artist that I’m into or an idea from a book that I thought was really weird. They don’t seem like they would go together, but stick them together and see what you make of it.
I really like tales that make you reflect and change your opinion on things and make you think morally.
I really like tales that make you reflect and change your opinion on things and make you think morally. I think games that make you reflect, that’s the pinnacle – the things that make me think about my actions and the interactions that I’ve done, I’ve always found those the strongest experiences.
8. Get an advisory board
SB: I really recommend getting an advisory board of people who have done it before. Always run your crazy ideas through them. We did that really early on.
9. Work with other artists
SB: I managed to work with a cinematographer on Betwixt, my project for the NFTS. She was absolutely fantastic – she didn’t understand how to put together a game, but she understood lighting. We could talk about how light goes through ice and it really changed how I wanted things to work on a level. I want to do more of that.
JU: We’re working with artists – getting all these different people interested in how games are made is really important for the industry as well as our studio.
10. Build a community
SB: We want to start with a small game to find our audience, the sort of people who are interested in the stories that we want to tell. That’s something I crave – putting it out there and seeing what people do with it. Who is interested in what Three Knots is?
JU: The idea is to build an audience, a community around the studio – people who really care about our games.
Three Knots are getting close to starting work on their first game. Follow their progress at threeknots.co.uk.