Camshaft Software pictured above (left to right: Andrew Lamb, Isaac Blomfield, Robert Hoischen, Caswal Parker and Jaye Suridge), the company behind Automation: The Car Company Tycoon Game, recently relocated to Wellington from Melbourne in April 2014. Their game is currently on Steam’s Early Access platform and is enjoying a great reception from the public with almost 400 reviews and a ‘Very Positive’ rating. We sit down to talk with Andrew Lamb about their journey over from Australia, and how living and running a games company in New Zealand is treating them.
First of all, tell us who you are and what you do! What is Camshaft Software, and what are you working on?
AL: I’m Andrew Lamb, the lead artist and co-founder (with Programmer Caswal Parker) of Camshaft Software. We’re a small PC games studio working on Automation: The Car Company Tycoon Game, which is a game all about running car company, designing engines and cars in complicated technical detail and trying to make your company successful. It’s pretty much a tycoon game and engineering simulator for car enthusiasts.
We’ve been a full time two man studio since 2012, funded from early access sales on our own website. But in March this year we went on Steam Early Access, and have sold over 25,000 units there. Since then we’ve been able afford some proper office space, and to get our producer/designer (Robert Hoischen) to quit his day job as a nuclear physicist to move to Wellington from Germany and work for us full time. We’ve also as hired a part time artist (Jaye Suridge) and a junior programmer (Isaac Blomfield) to help with our move from an old in house engine developed by Jaye, over to Unreal Engine 4.
It’s been a really long, complex and generally huge project for a small team like ours to take on and we’ve still got a way to go. Thankfully we’ve got a fantastic fan community who are patient, supportive, and have had loads of input into the development, design and testing of Automation.
What caused you to make the move from Melbourne to Petone to establish your office?
AL: Not so much business reasons as lifestyle reasons. Whilst Melbourne does have a lot going for it; vibrant game dev scene, government funding programs for game developers, exciting big city culture. it also has it’s downsides. It gets really hot for a great deal of summer (40C+) housing and office space is similar to Auckland prices, and it’s also a huge sprawling city, meaning you can end up with some pretty huge travel times, and are a very long way from nice wilderness areas to go hiking in.
Because we can move our business anywhere, we figured we may as well move somewhere that’s cheap, enjoyable to live in and has a good culture and Wellington fits that perfectly. It’s also got a really good motorsport and car culture, which for the team members who love competing in motorsport and messing with cars (most of us!) is perfect.
Whilst I think Wellington’s game development scene is still a few years behind Melbourne’s current boom, but I see so much potential and talent here and I think we could absolutely on our way to having a world class games industry, particularly in the small independent studio model that Australia and New Zealand seem to do so well at. Part of why I like being here is I feel like I can be part of making that happen.
What’s the biggest advantage of your business being in New Zealand, in your opinion?
AL: Business wise? I’d say probably the cost of property in general. Housing is a lot more affordable, so we can pay ourselves less and live a similar lifestyle, plus office space in the suburbs is a small fraction of what it would cost in Melbourne. The exchange rate to the USD is very helpful too, as is the much broader coverage of fibre broadband compared to Australia’s tragically crippled NBN rollout.
NZ is also just generally a great place to run a business, in terms of fairly simple and reasonable taxes, not too much red tape etc. According to the World Bank it’s the 2nd easiest country in the world to do business in, so you can’t argue with that. I do think it’s a huge shame that we’ve not yet got the level of government support and funding that places like Victoria, the UK and the Canada have, but that’s something I know a lot of people are campaigning for. It’d make a huge difference to the small startup game developers, and seems to provide a pretty good return on investment for the countries that do it.
How does the game development community in New Zealand affect Camshaft Software?
AL: Community is fantastically important, and is a huge ingredient in a successful games industry!
I started the game developer meetups here in Wellington mainly because I think there is a lot of value in spending time with other people in your industry. Just sharing skills, war stories, plans etc. with people who’ve worked in all different places is both very inspiring and often very helpful in terms of expanding your knowledge of all kinds of aspects of games. So often I’ve found a better way of solving a problem, or gained the motivation to do something new just by talking to other people at those kind of events.
We’re in the middle of a real renaissance of game developer community and events now too, we’ve now got at least 3 regular game dev events in Wellington (Game Developers of Wellington, Wellington Unity Users and Wellingtaru). Auckland has their IGDA events and the NZGDA meetups, also bigger events like AnimFX and NZGDC and on the game jam front we’ve got Global Game Jam Wellington and Auckland, Kiwi Jam and PixelJam. It’s a pretty exciting time, so if there are any kind of developer events in your town, start going to them! And if there aren’t any in your town, start running some!
I’d also like to suggest that it’s totally worth reaching out to our friends across the ditch. IGDA Melbourne are a particularly active chapter, and have a lot of successful indies like Hipster Whale (Crossy Road) involved, there is also the week at the end of October where you can go to GCAP (for all the developer talks, networking and parties), PAX AUS (to show your game, or just check stuff out) and Unite (for Unity stuff). It’s a pretty damn good deal if you can get cheap flights. And maybe you can lure some of the Australians to come visit us in return! They’re just on our doorstep, so we should totally be making friends and sharing the developer love with them.
How are you finding living and working in Wellington?
AL: Pretty great. Wellington is a lovely city to live in, the natural beauty of all the surrounding mountains has given us a new found hiking addiction while the fantastic craft beer places and restaurants have probably more than compensated for all the extra calories we’ve burned. The people are great too. Lots of awesome smart, friendly, techy and artistic people, it’s a very easy and welcoming place to move to for people like us.
Working is very easy too, we’ve managed to buy a house for about a third what it would have cost us in a similar location in Australia, and it’s a 15 minute commute to a good office space with very fast internet. Plus I can always be assured of access to great coffee, which is a huge productivity bonus!
Did you make use of any initiatives to help make the move, and if so, which ones?
AL: We did have quite a lot of advice and a very good tour of Wellington and it’s games and tech companies from Grow Wellington. If anyone is thinking of moving their business to Wellington I highly recommend getting in contact with them, they’re really helpful.
For more information about Camshaft Software and Automation, check out their Steam page.