The Pico Tanks tale

Alicia Jakovich's top tips for applying for games funding and the Pico Tanks journey 

On the back of their recent win at South by South West (SXSW) Gaming for Pico Tanks’ and ahead of its soft launch in about two months, we caught up with Panda Arcade’s Director and Studio Manager, Alicia Jakovich.

She shares Pico Tanks’ journey – from 90s inspiration to team-focused multiplayer, what this win has meant for the game, and what she hopes for Panda Arcade’s future – which is about growth with their tight-knit team.

With our latest round of API – Games funding opening soon, Alicia also talks about the kind of impact our funding can have, and shares some words of advice for other developers looking to apply – including the importance of talking about your project’s place in the local games industry.

 

Congratulations on your recent win at the SXSW Gaming Awards! What does it mean to receive the Gamer’s Voice award for best indie mobile game for Pico Tanks?

Thank you! This was the first public showing since Pico Tanks went into closed beta three months ago so it’s really exciting that it was our first award nomination and our first win. It was also really validating to not only see players enjoy the game, but also to know that they liked it so much that many voted for us.

You travelled to SXSW Gaming on your way to the Games Developers Conference, which Film Victoria supported you to attend. How did your win at SXSW prepare you for, and affect your time at, GDC?

The win was definitely a boost of confidence for our team. Our time at SXSW also helped us to be clear on the strengths of the game, and we communicated these strengths and the real world feedback we received at our GDC meetings. We were able to show the publishers and partners that users love Pico Tanks.

What is the value of these conferences, and did you make any connections, deals, or other kinds of advances that you can share with us?

It’s not very often we get to go to conferences and games events outside of Australia. Conferences like GDC are invaluable as we can build a genuine rapport with publishers and partners. It gives them the opportunity to see our enthusiasm and passion for Pico Tanks and our company.

Pico Tanks is Panda Arcade’s first game since you and Paul founded the company in 2016. Where did the idea for this game come from and what’s the journey been to where you are now?

Pico Tanks is inspired by the frenetic scrolling shooters from the 90’s that we loved as kids. The game was originally going to be an endless runner with a multitude of power-ups and swarms of enemies. After some advice from industry experts we decided to make Pico Tanks a team-focused, multiplayer game and haven’t looked back since.

You’ve received our games production funding for Pico Tanks last year. How has this helped with the game’s success, and your company in general?

Receiving funding from Film Victoria gave us financial security and confidence that we will be able to see development through to the finish line.

We’ve been able to hire more people to cover areas of development and production including marketing, sound, and UI, as well as an additional programmer. Having these diverse skill sets in house has helped us maintain a strong and healthy team environment.

Funding also gives us the opportunity to travel to attend crucial meetings and events. For example, we wouldn’t have been able to attend SXSW, which would have meant we were ineligible for the awards.

With a round of games production funding now open, what advice do you have for those interested in applying? If they’re on the fence, should they go for it and what are the first steps to take?

The development of Pico Tanks has been very evolutionary and organic and we hadn’t really recorded that process. Doing the application for Film Victoria funding was an extremely worthwhile exercise because it made us put all the details of the game together in a succinct and coherent document, which is useful for pitch decks and press kits.

It also validates that the team is all on the same page and helps us communicate what is still yet to be done on the game to publishers and partners. It’s also an opportunity to show the game to some more industry professionals. So there are a lot of other benefits other than receiving funding.

When it comes to the application, what are your tips for standing out?

My advice is to make it personable and highlight the people working on the project and their passion for the game. Make it about more than just the game itself. An important aspect of the funding is to promote the health and growth of the industry. Talk about the future of your company and team, and how the success of the game can contribute to growing skills or growing the team. Try to find a way to put your enthusiasm into words – the application needs to show this.

Pico Tanks is a mobile game. What are the challenges and advantages of working in this space?

The mobile platform is bigger than PC and consoles combined, but definitely has its challenges. Achieving a great experience for all our players with so many different devices is a huge challenge that requires constant optimization and testing. Another big challenge is discovery. With so many games flooding onto the mobile platform every week, getting Pico Tanks noticed is going to be tough but we’ve had a great start.

Where and who is your largest audience? And how did you build your audience(s)?

The audience for Pico Tanks is quite broad. It’s a kid-friendly game that will also appeal to older players. At SXSW and PAX Australia, young kids tended to stay at the stand for a long time, while older players kept returning to the stand to play again.

We’ve been able to build a good audience through social media and forums such as Touch Arcade. We’ve had a lot of reach thanks to organic posts on Reddit, where people love to see the development process and technical explanations. Our Discord community has grown the fastest, with almost 1000 members in four months. Discord has been a surprisingly useful and valuable space for interacting with and growing our audience. On the closed beta we have a wide variety of ages and players from all across the world, but particularly the US. We also have a varied type of player from casual through to mid-core strategic.

You’re the Director and Studio Manager at Panda Arcade, which can be a challenging role that doesn’t always get the recognition. Where have you found your support in the community?

I don't mind if my work seems invisible. If the company is running smoothly and it’s seamless then you know you’re doing a good job. There are a lot of great indie communities that are very supportive. For instance, visiting The Arcade gives me access to support from other developers, online there are Slack groups and Facebook groups, and there are a variety of producer lunches and face-to-face meetups.

What’s next? What happens beyond the Pico Tanks launch and where do you see Panda Arcade heading?

Beyond the launch, we hope to grow Panda Arcade. We don't want to just have one game and pin our hopes on the success and longevity of that game. In the future, I hope that the company can work on a few games at the same time, and that the staff we have now will stay and grow with us. We like the closeness and democratic nature of a small team, so we don't want to be a massive company, but we definitely want to grow and work on multiple projects together.

 

Find out more about our API – Games funding. The next round opens on 30 April 2019.