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Skip Navigation LinksPlayHard > In English > VSTEP. Interview with Frank Dolmans

Название: Ship Simulator 2008: New Horizons
Разработчик: VSTEP
Издатель: Lighthouse Interactive
Официальный сайт игры: перейти
Жанр: Simulator, Sea
Игра вышла: 04.04.2008

Having completed over than 30 projects and becoming one of the leaders in the European serious games industry, a company from Rotterdam founded in 2002 and named VSTEP has got rich experience in this field. While for now it's still hard to say the exact training simulators world market size (some analysts define it in more than $100 Million a year), no one doubts that the demand for such products has been growing steadily. Frank Dolmans, VSTEP's Chief Marketing Officer, has done a great job answering all our questions about the studio, its business and the game industry in general. The second part of the interview which is focused more on the Ship Simulator series can be found here.

- Greetings! Please, introduce yourself.

- Hi there, my name is Frank Dolmans and I am responsible for marketing and business development within VSTEP!

- Give us some background about your career.

- Back in the 80’s when I was a teenager (I’m now  33 years old, which instantly makes me into a games veteran) game studies were non existent. I’ve studied accountancy and business management, and have been involved with games for as long as I can remember. After my studies I started my career as Games Editor of PC Gameplay Magazine Benelux, the biggest PC Game Magazine in the Benelux and later became Editor-in-Chief. After ten great years at PC Gameplay it was time for a new challenge, which I was offered at VSTEP. Making the cross-over from games press to developer is very exciting and gives a unique and very detailed insight in all aspects of the games industry.

VSTEP's Headquarters- What are the particular qualities of being a game developer in The Netherlands?

- I can’t speak for all developers of course, but you could say that most Dutch developers are not afraid to take on new challenges and explore new paths. Game developers in Holland have a great focus on their projects, while at the same time they don’t like to make compromises about the quality of the final product! Also there is a great awareness and willingness within Dutch developers groups to work together and exchange knowledge. Although we do not (yet) have the benefits of tax shelter constructions in Holland like say Canada, the Dutch government is starting to take the industry seriously and there are substantial governmental grants and subsidiaries to be won for Dutch game developers that bring innovation. There is also support for starting developers, so although there is still a lot of room for improvement, the government is certainly on the right track!

- Is the undergoing world credit crunch able to make people spend less on buying games?

- No I don’t think so. The advantage of working in the entertainment business is that it is always the last one to be influenced by economic crisis. Whatever happens, people make little compromises on entertainment. Sure, people in the US and Europe are feeling the crisis, but while they are – quite rightly - complaining, you’ll most likely find a big flatscreen TV and an Xbox 360 in their living room.

VSTEP's Logo- Why did you pick “VSTEP” as your brand name?

- It is short for Virtual Safety Training and Education Platform, a direct link to our Serious Games activities. 

- What were the problems encountered after the company's foundation?

- Besides all the standard startup hiccups, in 2002, when VSTEP was founded, the term Serious Games and Virtual Training was still very new and people often frowned on the concept. Nowadays, it is a "hot" topic and it is much easier to convince people of the advantages.

- Why did you bet on serious games?

- Our Chief Technical Officer has a history in virtual simulation games and thus it was the logical choice. It is also a very new and exciting market with a lot of potential, and VSTEP wants to be a pioneer in the Serious Games business. Also, it gives us a lot of satisfaction to create games that actually help people.

- What are the main goals to achieve in the next 5 years?

- Maintaining our growth and further develop our position as one of the leading European Serious Game developers. Expanding and evolving our business models and continuing our growth in Entertainment Games as well as Serious Games.

- Who are your clients?

- Our development team consists of experienced industry professionals with a proven track record working on games. At VSTEP we have delivered virtual training and simulation solutions for lots of clients, like Shell, DSM, Siemens, the Royal Navy, Amsterdam Arena, Port of Rotterdam, etc.

- Can a game studio save its independency nowadays?

- Of course, some studios want to be acquired and have made it their goal. However, it is certainly not inevitable. Thanks to the new digital distribution options and solid management, it is perfectly possible to stay independent nowadays.

A good publisher can always tow any developer's plans- Is it easy looking for publishers nowadays?

- If you want a publisher that is! Nowadays a small team can make an innovative game and distribute it digitally (STEAM, GamersGate, Gamesload, etc.) without having to make any compromises to any publisher. A big change and opportunity for every aspiring developer to live their dream and go for it! If you still like to go with the traditional publisher model, we can advise you to play it safe. First develop a prototype in relatively short time, showing off your gameplay and innovation. Then go to a publisher with this prototype and see if there is interest to fund the rest of development. Publishers are often very open and negotiable (even though general opinion tends to think otherwise about them) and you can find a financial agreement that best suits the both of you. You could of course also go for the risky way and first finish and fund the entire game yourself and then go looking for a publisher. But unless you are certain you’ll find one, this is a risky route and could get you into big financial trouble!

- In your point of view, where is the modern gaming industry heading?

- The exclusivity deals for consoles are, of course, too bad for PC owners, but then again, there are tons of blockbuster PC games that can’t be played and aren’t available on console either. The demise of the PC as a gaming platform has first been announced almost ten years ago and gets repeated like four times each year. Same old song over and over again. Yet, the PC as gaming machine is still here, and, trust me, it will always stay. There will always be a market for PC Games and I think rather than consoles replacing the PC, it is more a matter of co-existing and people having a console as well as a PC. As far as the industry is concerned, with the rise of digital distribution on PC, new and innovative gameplay is the key and will dominate the industry for some time. Sure, there will always be a big audience for Action and Shooter games, but thanks to digital distribution, developers can once again be very creative and innovative and that is a wonderful development. After all, gameplay is always much more important than visuals - the basic rule of the games industry.

- Are increasing budgets a cause for worrying?

- Well, the standard is always increasing and with that come higher development costs. Although the A-games are costing an enormous amount of money, it doesn’t mean that a game on a lower budget cannot be successful. There are plenty of examples that prove this. As long as focus is on gameplay and innovation instead of expensive and spectacular visuals, it is possible to keep costs relatively low while still making quality games.  

- How do you see the World market for serious games?

- We don’t see Serious Games demand as a regional based thing, but as a business and customer based thing. We get requests from all over the world as everybody is starting to see and recognize the benefits of Serious Games and Virtual Training.

A screenshot showing the abilities of RescueSim developed by VSTEP

- What kinds of companies are the main consumers of serious games?

- There is no simple answer to this question because behind the name "Serious Games" there are thousands of different products, from management and social awareness games to health and educational games through simulation and virtual training games, all serving different needs and customers.

- Is it possible to deliver a serious simulator to a console?

- There is not one all powerful perfect platform for Serious Games and PC as well as consoles are being used for serious games. For the moment, it is still mostly a PC market, but there are also advantages of using a console. Both PC and consoles have their specific advantages and it basically depends on the target audience for the serious games and the choice of the developer. 

- What can you say about your portfolio?

- VSTEP has an extensive Serious Games portfolio, ranging from Maritime Incident Training (create a disaster on board a ship and learn your fire-fighting brigade to cope with the situation) and Industrial Incident Training (disaster/incidents in factories, chemical plants, etc.) to lock training, train driver training, etc. Each of our Training products has an extensive log with which the instructor can evaluate the trainee and bring back difficult situations instantly for a new evaluation.

- Is there a Fire-Fighting Action game in your plans?

- Yes, we are working on a Fire-Fighting Action Game. Unfortunately we can’t say too much about it right now, but what we can say is that it will be a First/Third person game created with the Unreal Engine 3 and that we will use all our expertise with Fire-Fighting to make it a great experience for players.

- Tell us about your staff.

- VSTEP currently employs 35 people, a fine mix of designers, modelers, programmers, administration and management. We have been growing very strongly the last few years (started out with just 5 people in 2002) and have moved office a couple of times to bigger premises. The atmosphere at VSTEP is informal, and thanks to good project management, our team manages to deliver their projects on time and on quality without having to crunch overtime on a regular basis (although we can if we need to). We regularly have drinks and celebrations as well as some company outings with the whole team, which is excellent for teambuilding.

VSTEP's Team

- What awards have you got?

- VSTEP has received several awards, and it is hard to choose which one is considered the most important. A nice one to win was our latest prize: VSTEP won the prize awarded by the Dutch Government for the best Virtual Training and Safety Enhancement proposal. With this prize came a grant and VSTEP is now working on an enhanced Multidisciplinary Virtual Training game for use by the government and other parties.

- Do you participate in any public activities?

- VSTEP members are regular speakers at Serious Games Conventions and Game Developers Conferences. Our Chief Technical Officer, Pjotr Van Schothorst, and other members of our team have spoken at numerous events worldwide (e.g., Game Developers Conference). Last year we frequented GDC Lyon and San Francisco and will also attend the GC in Leipzig. Public interest can be measured by the contacts you make and so far we have no complaints.

- Your favorite computer games?

- Personally, I like to enjoy a relaxing session of Football Manager and a tense game of Pro Evolution Soccer, but I’m up for blockbusters like Bioshock & Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare as well. Where is the next Half-Life 2 Episode?!

- Is there a game project you’re looking forward to play?

- Well, for the Star Wars fans at the office (including myself), Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is something we’re all very keen on playing!

- What do developers of your studio do on vacations?

- We do play videogames in our free time, but since most of us have families by now, when we go on holiday, we make up for all the lost time and enjoy the holidays with wife, girlfriend (or if you’re lucky: wife and girlfriend) and kids!

- Name 3 things which you associate with Russia.

- Unfortunately I have never been to your beautiful country but it is on my to do list!
1. You have a great football team that totally kicked the Dutch team’s ass...
2. Vodka, of course, there is no substitute!
3. Hospitality, its beautiful architecture and grandeur throughout the country (which is one of the reasons for my wish to visit it).

- Thank you for your time, Frank!
20.07.2008 19:30, Unicorn

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