The Rice People Podcast

Luna Javier, Co-founder and Creative Director of Altitude Games: Pioneering the Gaming Industry in the Philippines, the Game Development Process, Trends in the Gaming Industry Today, Why and How they got into Blockchain Games, NFTs and How to get started if you want to work in the Gaming Industry.

Episode Summary

Luna is the Co-founder and Creative Director of Altitude Games, a leading gaming studio based in Manila. Her team has developed popular free-to-play mobile games like Kung Fu Clicker, Dream Defence and Battle Racers. These games have been downloaded over a million times on Play Store alone. In this conversation, we talk to Luna about how she was part of the pioneering team that helped build the first game title to be launched in the Philippines. She also shared about how she and her co-founders founded Altitude games, the game development process, how gaming has evolved, how and why they got into blockchain gaming and NFTs, how things are changing in terms of gender balance in the industry and also advice for folks looking to break into the space. We also touch on a variety of fun topics like why she decided to take up Krav Maga and become an instructor!

Episode Notes

Luna is the Co-founder and Creative Director of Altitude Games, a leading gaming studio based in Manila. Her team has developed popular free-to-play mobile games like Kung Fu Clicker, Dream Defence and Battle Racers. These games have been downloaded over a million times on Play Store alone.

In this conversation, we talk to Luna about how she was part of the pioneering team that helped build the first game title to be launched in the Philippines. She also shared about how she and her co-founders founded Altitude games, the game development process, how gaming has evolved, how and why they got into blockchain gaming and NFTs, how things are changing in terms of gender balance in the industry and also advice for folks looking to break into the space. We also touch on a variety of fun topics like why she decided to take up Krav Maga and become an instructor!

For the full show notes, transcript, and links to mentioned content, check out the episode page here.


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Episode Transcription

Luna Javier, Co-founder and Creative Director of Altitude Games: Pioneering the Gaming Industry in the Philippines, the Game Development Process, Trends in the Gaming Industry Today, Why and How they got into Blockchain Games, NFTs and How to get started if you want to work in the Gaming Industry.

Wong Lei: Welcome to the show Luna.

Luna: Thank you for having me! Very excited to meet both of you.

What made her decide to pursue a career designing games and ultimately what led to her starting Altitude Games?

Wong Lei: Maybe we can start with, what made you decide to pursue a career designing games and ultimately what led to you starting Altitude Games? In one of your sharings, you said that you actually didn't know Unity when you first started designing games?

Luna: Wow. you dug deeper. Yeah, so I actually ended up making games by accident. When I started, there were no games courses in college. The company that I joined right after college was actually the first Filipino game ever.

I didn't want to be in games. I was trying to get into film. So I thought if I got like a 3D artist credit in this job opening that I saw in the paper, I could go apply to Pixar and be a screenwriter. And that was my dream in college. And, so I got the job as a 3D artist.

It lasted only for a few weeks. They said my 3D skill was terrible. But maybe I could write instead. So I ended up writing for the role playing game that we were making, and that was the first game ever made in the Philippines. 

And yeah so I had no idea how I ended up pioneers for some strange reason, and I fell in love with writing games and designing games. Just so much more creative and interactive than film and fast forward, almost 20 years later, I ended up starting out with two other people from that pioneer team, Gabby and Mark. So the two of them are my co-founders plus two other people we had worked with also throughout the years. 

We started Altitude because we wanted to make mobile games and do our own thing after we had spent all the time making games for other people. We wanted to make games for ourselves.

It was a great decision. Seven years later, we're still doing it. So I'm pretty happy.

No one in her first game studio knew how to actually make games

Adil: I'm quite curious, you said you already had some prior skills in writing. How did that skillset transfer over to like writing for video games?

Luna: Well, I was lucky because I studied arts in college and our training was doing film and radio. I had theater experience in grade school, high school as well. And so kind of like media entertainment, creating stories for people. That's something that I was familiar with.

But when we were in that first company, none of us knew how to make games. Right. Because we couldn't learn anywhere. It wasn't an industry yet. So. We really just learned on the job. We got books from the US. We went to conferences and the internet was around, but not the way that it is now.

So we just learned as we went, the game  we made was okay but not great. But it was our first try. Right.  and it's the same even now in Altitude. So you need to learn something, just learn it. That's kind of how we've approached it. How I've approached life too. If I don't know how to do these things, I'm just going to learn it.

Why her role as a Creative Director is to empower her team to come up with their own decisions and make their own mistakes. 

Wong Lei: You're also the creative director for Altitude Games. What is your day-to-day? What is your role like?

Luna: Sure. So being the creative director means that I am the head of the game design team. So I have seven game designers now. They all have different game projects. And so my day to day is really just checking in on them, making sure that. You know, if they need consulting with me on their design etc

So if I need to pitch something to a publisher or if I have meetings, I do that as well. And then there's a lot of thinking about strategy. So, thinking about, okay, so how do I train the designers? What assignments am I going to give them and what tools should we be looking at to move on to the next piece of software that we can try as a team?

Actually the joke in the executive team that we have is that I'm banned from using unity because they know if I use unity, I will. For example, if we need to prototype some things, so I'm right now on the hyper casual team.

So we have a hyper casual branch of Altitude and we're just making games. I'm the product lead right now for that. But when we were starting out, if there's a thing that needs to be fixed, I'm just going to open unity and let's fix it a little bit.

And the executive team is like, you know, you're not supposed to do that anymore. You have the team who should do the things you're doing. So they have banned me from unity. 

 I do miss it sometimes, but there is a real joy in empowering other people to come up with their own decisions and come up with their own mistakes. That's something that I had to learn as a creative director, it's not my job to be there on the field anymore. And my job is just coach from the side and if you train your people well enough, they'll be fine. They’ll be able to make the decisions on the field. Then you're kind of like cheering.

Why hiring talents is a key challenge for game studios in the Philippines

Wong Lei: You have come a long way from a very small team to where you are now. What were some of the challenges that you had to overcome when you were building the team?

Luna: The most obvious challenge had to be experience. So the bad thing about being in the pioneer team is nobody is more senior than you. So, we had to hire a bunch of fresh graduates. For example, when we started, you know, I was the only game designer.

There were seven of us when we started and we all worked on the same game together. It was still us founders making the games. And then as we hired, we had to either find people who were senior enough, which means we had to get from other companies because our industry is very small here or we had to train from scratch.

And we actually ended up doing a lot of that. We would hire fresh graduates or people who were not from the industry and train them. That's how we got the seniors in the company now and most of them have been with us since the first two years. So that was tough. We can't just scale up.

Like if we get a new project now, we can't just be like, we're just going to hire 10 more people. Hiring takes months ahead of time. Like we really need to plan. So scaling is still a challenge, but I'm very glad that people that we have are still around and they're still with us.

And they're very good at what they do. So they've been teaching the juniors. The other challenge would just be being in games in general. It's a very hit-driven industry. So it's like a film and you can have the best script and the best Hollywood actors, but it's still might bomb at the box office.

You have no idea what the box office will be like at that time. And games are like that in the sense that we can plan as much as we like and test as much as we like, but there's no guaranteed formula that this game we spent six months on or one year on, it's going to hit. And if we could do that, I would be rich right now.

That's still a challenge. It's just trying to make the right decisions, be validated as much until it's out in, in shape or form.

Adil: Yeah, that's quite a long feedback cycle. What's the product development timeline you guys take to develop a game. 

Luna: It depends on the type of games. So I say in general like mobile game, the idle games that we make, maybe like six to eight months, are fast already, but if we work with publishers, they usually market very early on. They'll kind of get the validation as early as possible, like they'll, you know,  do a survey of their user base and they'll do AB tests. And for hyper casual games, which is our newest thing. The cycle is one week. It's insane.

Oh it’s so much fun being on that team. We're just prototyping all the time. So, yeah, it depends really then. 

We have a blockchain team as well. That one takes much, much longer, like years to get out. But then, because it's very community driven, you get feedback from the community and they're very active every day. And so you get to talk to your users directly.

Adil: I guess you guys have many ideas of games, through your brainstorming but how do you evaluate which ideas you want to invest time and money in, right? 

Why you have to know your players really well to design games that sell

Luna: That's a really good question. If I'm pitching to a publisher, I have to research, what does the publisher want? What do their users want? What's their portfolio? What are the top games right now and why are they in the top charts?  

The more that you know about your user base, the better your pitch will be. We've done this before where a publisher will request a pitch and then anybody in the company can pitch.

So Kungfu Clicker came out like that actually. It could be a game designer or it could be anybody, pitch it and the executive team will be the ones to ask, so, how do you think this will go in the market? Right? Like what kind of user are you targeting? Who's your target market?

It's not that you can't be creative or that. Obviously ideas that have never been seen before and if they are really interesting, they are the ideas that people get excited about.

It's not just the business side whether this makes money, but does the team like the idea? Because if the team doesn't like then they're not going to put their heart into the work. It's not going to look nice. And if you look at our portfolio, all our games are very, very strong in terms of joy.

I know it sounds really cheesy, but we had a lot of fun with them, right? These are the games we wanted to make.  

Adil: Absolutely.  I think even watching some of the trailers, there's this, I guess the only word I can describe it as like fun.  

Wong Lei: I spent half my Sunday playing Dream Defense, when I was supposed to prepare for this conversation.On this, what defines a hyper casual game?

What is a hyper casual game?

Luna: Just a disclaimer, we're super new to hyper casual. From how we understand hyper casual, these are very short experiences for non-gamers. So the top hyper casual games usually look nothing like the computer games players are familiar with. It could be just slicing cake or painting nails or something like that. 

But it's a universally understood and accepted experience that if you see an ad for it, a non gamer, a random person who has never played a mobile game before would play that. So it's a really mass market - very quick, easy to learn. The levels are less than a minute long and so they go very quickly up charts and they don't last very long usually. But the more viral it is, the funnier it is, the better it will be and popular.

That's how we understand hyper casual now.

Wong Lei: I see. So what made you guys decide to venture into this area? 

How they started blockchain games and NFT years ago.

Luna: Well, it's really us betting that this market is promising. It's kind of how we approached blockchain gaming too. We got in pretty early, when it wasn't like a normal thing. People didn't know what NFT is and we already had an NFT game. 

Back then, we had a little team that played around with blockchain gaming to see what we could come up with. And it's the same now for hyper casual, we have a very small team.  We're testing a few ideas in the market to see what sticks. It's really a bet that okay, if we can learn and be good at it, then maybe we can make it big.

But most of the company is still doing mobile games and co-developing with publishers.  So it's kind of like our little strike team, a side project. 

Adil: I guess in terms of a skillset to venture into these different types of verticals, maybe it requires a different type of skills or experience. When you're venturing to these new areas, how do you guys level up? How do you acquire the necessary knowledge to excel there?

Luna: Well, we just learn. Literally hyper casual was me Googling, what is hyper casual and just embedding myself in it for like three months.

And I would go to these conferences, like I went to blockchain conferences where you take all the notes, you meet all the people, you kind of pick their brain over skype or whatever it is.

And we did the same with hyper casual. I attended all the talks and took the notes and called all the publishers and, you know, just try to learn as much as you can. And then there's no better way to learn how to make a game than to just make it. So we just did it and it was pretty awful.

So we just kept doing that until it's okay. Now we're better now, but yeah, you just go in.

Adil: Now NFT is the name of the game, it's on everyone's lips now. But back in 2018, the only NFT was CryptoKitties and it was mainly within the blockchain community. What got you to develop a blockchain game so early on? How did you see this early? 

Luna: Well, the credit for that goes to our CEO, Gabby. He got excited about blockchain very early. And I remember it was a very stressful conversation when he told us, I think we should go into blockchain. We were like, why would we as a gaming company go into blockchain?

How do you design a game that maximizes blockchain technology?

I attended a blockchain conference in Hong Kong back then and that's when I met other blockchain people and they were all making blockchain games specifically. That was interesting to me - you design a game that maximizes blockchain technology.

Because we were game developers first and a blockchain developer, second, we really worked on the game play very early on. 

The game is still around now. There're still weekly tournaments and things like that. It's super interesting to take our experience in what makes a good fun multiplayer game to merge with how do I make money from the assets that I'm playing around with, which is kind of like what the crypto model is. 

I think you can have both at the same time. It doesn't always have to be just about flipping these NFTs, but it can also be about what you can do with these NFTs. And that is what is fun for me. For example in a racing game where you can build a car and make it out of parts.

You would think, do I want this car over that car? If I am a collector, maybe you're getting that car because it looks nicer. You know, you can flip it, it's expensive, but if you're a gamer, you look up the stats of the parts of that car and kind of see, okay, so how can I put these parts together. How can I race and upgrade this? 

Like hyper casual, it was a bet. It could have gone either way. And it didn't get traction immediately. It was really a long game. And I am grateful that we have a community stuck around. 

Adil: For people without much understanding of blockchain and NFT, can you elaborate more on how you marry gaming and the blockchain together? And what is that additional value? 

Why you can actually own your game characters instead of letting them live on game servers with blockchain 

Luna: Sure. I'm going to try to see if I can summarise it. It's always a difficult question. Go back to things like, World of Warcraft, right, you could have a World of Warcraft character that was maxed out, you had all the best gear, you could play it but you didn't own the character. The character would be owned by Blizzard. It lives on their servers. If for any reason they decide to shut the game down or the servers get burned or whatever, you would lose everything that you've made. 

So, for gamers, what the blockchain gives you is it gives you ownership of the things that you're playing with and working on.

So that means that these characters, these items, the gear that you collect, these things you can take out of the game to sell or, or trade. Sure people have been doing this kind of like illegally, or maybe like a second-hand marketplace. But the blockchain, because it's automated, you could actually put a bunch of cool stuff.

So for example, if I had a sword from World of Warcraft and it was built into the smart contract and the original owner, which was me, would get 1% of every future trade where this goes around. And this is why NFT art is a huge thing. Crypto art. That's a huge thing right now because suddenly, something you own can be profitable long after it's not with you.

So if you were looking for an investment of your assets and kind of earning from this hobby that you love, then the blockchain is interesting, but there are also other ways to use blockchain technology. Our games don't do this, but there have been games that are built to use like the blocks of the blockchain.

So for example, it will generate a dungeon, or the enemies will be spawned based on blockchain technology. There's a bunch of cool stuff that you can do with this technology and this technology just runs. I think that the most interesting thing for me about blockchain gaming. If you think of it just like a platform, it's a PlayStation or it's an Xbox, right.

So what can I do on this platform? Obviously, if I had a PS4, I could do a different thing than if I had a game boy.  For us old people who know what the game boy is. 

The blockchain is the same. So what can I do with these smart contracts? How do they interact with each other? How do I interact with other players on the smart contracts?  So there are some new features of Battle Racers that are very interesting. I don't think I can talk about them yet, but they do use the blockchain specifically to kind of make your cars more interesting. 

Adil: Looking forward to that. Building on to our discussion is the game asset itself on the blockchain or is it just the record of it that I own. Where does it exist? 

Luna: There are some people saying that about crypto art too. If I have a screenshot of the art, do I have a copy? Technically, yes, you have a copy, but no, you don't have the original copy because the original copy is what's recorded on the blockchain. And then another thing about blockchain gaming that I failed to mention is because these assets are not tied to a game they're on the blockchain, you can use them in multiple games as well. We've had tie-ups with other blockchain games where if you own a character in this game, I can use it in multiple games and it could be a completely different thing in the other world that it's in.

And you own that copy. They do not have the copy, but you own that asset, but as it goes around with you, taking different forms.  So yeah, I would say there is still one copy of the item, right? To answer your question, there is one original thing and even if you screenshot it or record a video or whatever, it's not the same. 

Adil: I love that idea of the asset being portable across different gaming worlds. Have you watched Ready Player One? 

Luna: Yeah, exactly. 

Adil: Yeah, that's the future I want to live in. Right. I mean, besides the real world dystopia, but the virtual world, I'm super excited for that.

Just to touch on one last question about this space, I guess, as someone building, within this intersection of gaming, virtual worlds and blockchain, what do you see, in maybe next five to 10 years down the road, how the space might look like and how this would evolve?

The intersection of gaming, virtual worlds and blockchain

Luna:Well, I think because the NFT space is now becoming more mainstream, I would hope that in five years, you know, a lot of people will have wallets. Like crypto wallet was the hardest thing for people to understand because just the UX was so bad.

Now there are phones that just come with crypto wallets or browsers that just come with crypto wallets. So I’d imagine a future where everybody just has a crypto wallet, the same way you would have Apple, Google pay or pay or whatever you have on your phone. And people understand what an NFT is because of these things.

They own sneakers and cats and whatever it is they like to collect or play with on their phones. And then these assets you could use in a mobile game that you have, or a browser game that you have, or a Steam game that you have. And it's a normal thing to own these things, the same way you would own, you know, baseball cards and paintings and toys and all these things. I would hope that in five years it would be anormal thing and it's not like a buzzword, but it's just a normal thing that, oh yeah, I totally got an NFT of my favorite singer, you know?  

What is the value of video games in this world?

Wong Lei: A question that I've been thinking about, what do you think is the value of video games in this world?

Luna: Well, games have been around for like, since, you know, the beginning of time, right? People like to play. Play is a way for people to connect with their friends. You can think of the board games that you play with your family. Card games you play with your friends. It's a social activity that creates connections between people regardless of what kind of game it is. Right. So for example, I could make a single-player role-playing game and even if that's a completely fictional world, it helped me feel connected to this fictional world. Video games are entertainment, especially video games, mobile games, computer games, they are entertainment, but they have a chance to represent the human experience. It lets you experience other people's shoes, other people's worlds in a way that no other medium can do, just because it's interactive. It's immersive. You have all the elements. You have sound, you have death, you have all these great themes that you can handle in games.

 And you can experience it and feel it. We're not even going into virtual reality and all that stuff, but you have that 

Like it's the most immersive medium you can get into without being on stage with people and it feels like it's happening to you.  And so I feel like now more than ever when we're in a pandemic, gaming actually just spiked, especially like multiplayer games, things like among us. They all hit an all-time high because people are trying to connect outside their homes and there's no better way to do that than to play a game together and share this experience together. And so I think even long after this pandemic is over, gaming will still be a way for us to connect with each other to dream and experience the world, and just make us realize what it means to be human.

Wong Lei: I feel like games are even more immersive than books and movies. Because they give you decision making power.

Luna: Yeah. For sure. You feel like it's happening and your actions affect those around you, right? It's as close to real-life as you can get it.

Adil: I used to play FIFA every day. I think in secondary school, my teacher asked me, what do you want to be when you grow up? And I said, football manager haha.

Wong Lei: Building on this, do you feel like there are changes or trends that are emerging in the game industry for example in terms of the people who are playing games or why we are playing games.

More and more people are turning to games to connect with others

Luna: Well, the big buzzword of, you know, maybe the past two or years was hyper-casual because what happened was that non-gamers like people who don't identify as gamers and they probably have never played a mobile game, they play these hyper-casual games. So for a while, that was the trend. And then with the pandemic, what happened was more people who are non-gamers would search like” the best game to play on my phone”.  So now you have conversion even more from those who have never play games before, but because they're stuck at home, they are starting to play games on their phones.

Gaming has been an industry that’s doing pretty well in this pandemic. And especially the social aspect of games. So there was a good talk about this at a conference recently, where in places like China, they have hangout rooms in these games where players just hang out virtually and it has nothing to do with the gameplay itself. Those are becoming so popular just because people want to connect. 

Adil: That's like the Ready Player One. They have the waiting room after they enter the game.

Luna: Yeah. But people are hanging out there on purpose, and that’s why they're playing these games. And so I think that's the trend now is non-gamers are becoming gamers because they're looking for something to do with their families and with their friends. I predict that when the pandemic over, they're not going to stop doing that just because it's become a normal thing for them. And so, yeah. So I'll play with my nephews, you know, with them. Fall Guys, Fortnite or Roblox are what they are playing now. 

Oh, and another trend they say is if you're a gamer, a mobile gamer from before, normally you have events on the weekends, right? Events where you can earn this thing or that thing. And now it's no longer just weekend events. The events are all week because everyone is at home. So it's not like your gaming activity goes up on the weekends. Everybody's playing all the time now.  It's really becoming part of daily life.

Adil: Actually I'm surprised we haven't asked you, but are you yourself an avid gamer? Do you spend hours playing games? 

Luna: I do, but it's not the games most people are playing. So for the longest I was a PC gamer. And then, when I started Altitude, I was travelling all the time. So I gave up a desktop and, you know, you can't play anything on a laptop. So I became mobile game player. I play a lot of mobile games simultaneously daily. Because of the pandemic, I'm playing a lot on the PlayStation 4 as well.

So right now I'm playing Final Fantasy Seven Remake, and I need at least two hours.

Adil: Your studio develops mainly mobile games. Do you see any challenges, developing for mobile versus other platforms? Do you have less screen space and real estate to tell a story or put things in context?

Challenges developing for mobile versus other platforms

[00:40:26] Luna: Yeah, For sure. Normally mobile games are much simpler in terms of being able to play it without understanding what the context is or the story, et cetera.  but the real big challenge in mobile games is the competition because there are hundreds of thousands of games on the app store and play store.

And so if you're not featured on the front page, you, no one will find like you. Just think about the number of games that are uploaded every day. You have to be featured, to be a big brand to get known. That’s why we work with publishers. We're lucky to have publishers that do like co-development with us in the sense we know that we can rely on their user acquisition and marketing knowledge.

They have those big guns we don't have, but we have these great developers with great ideas. 

Adil: Yeah. I understand. And maybe you could indulge me on this question, but I'm just curious to understand the game development process. Like within your own organization, how does it go from like ideation to sending it out to the publisher yeah. What's that process like? 

[00:41:54] Luna: Sure. So it always starts with a pitch. So whether is us to a publisher or the publisher approaching us, we have a pitch deck where we kind of plan out what is the game we want to make, also how much it would cost, how long it would take.  That's still mostly my job. If it is accepted or greenlit, we start forming the team. Then there's production, usually research, getting all tools up to speed, coming with like art style guide, design document, all the legwork that you need to do, ahead of time.

Why you should prototype as soon as possible

But Altitude is very much into prototyping. So prototype game with crap art very early, like as early as possible. We want to know it's fun, even though it looks crap. If it's not fun when it looks crap, just a bunch of cubes and stuff,, then it's not going to fun once we put art in it.  

And we prototype pretty much throughout the whole thing, but we usually submit a prototype to the publisher with a vertical slice. So vertical slice is like a slice of cake.

Instead of baking the whole cake, you just give a slice of that cake, with all the layers, to give a taste of what the full game would be. And so the vertical slice is a prototype with all the art and all the effects.

And it's all very pretty, but it's only one level.  It's very polished and here's a little slice game and we're all just validating again our assumptions that this game do well. From there, we start scaling it up. So we usually do like early access on the game to get initial from users to see where they're dropping off. How long do they play? Where do they die? When did they quit? We do this until we get to global launch. And so by that time, we have tested it a few times, gotten some data, and we’re trying validate again those assumptions.

You have no idea how the game will go. And then we're slowly scaling content. We don't want to like develop all the content straight up because it is really riskly. So we keep repeating the process - prototype, test, iterate, make a bigger slice prototype. That's pretty much it. You try to scale content slowly until you have enough content to launch with, and try to validate with a market like doing early access, you know, things like that. 

Wong Lei: Was there a time where you actually failed at designing a game and like, what was the learning for you?

Testing game ideas through ads instead of prototypes 

[00:44:50] Luna: I fail all the time! Actually, in hypercalcemia, I can give a recent example. in hyper-casual, the way we do tests is very different. So publishers will test an ad rather than the game itself. And measure how many clicks this ad gets.

And sometimes it'll go to a store and then they'll measure how many people installed the game, but they don't care if they have played the game or not. And so they're actually tracking how popular an ad is or a concept is. As a game designer, I always come from the gameplay, right? Oh, this is going to be a great game idea. Oh this is so much fun. We would make a build, and think that this is so much fun and everybody's going to love it and then nobody installs the thing. And we realize that number one, what I think is fun is probably not what most non-gamers think is fun. Just because I'm a gamer and these people are not gamers.

So like just trying to figure out, what they like, like I'm the complete opposite of who they are. But also thinking in terms of ads first, what would an ad that is fun, viral and funny be like. But an ad has nothing do with what the game feels like.

 So as a game designer, it really challenges me because it's a completely different approach. I like things that I can touch and play. Games that you can test on phone. You need to play it because ideas are always good on paper until you put it on a phone then you're like, no, that not fun. That's crap, but we're not even getting that with ads. So every day I'm challenged in hyper-casual because I have to not necessarily listen to my instincts, but I have to listen to what the market says.

So we started a new thing where we make these mock-ups and before sending them to the publisher, I send them to the whole Altitude team because nobody pays attention to our small team. So there's like 40 people who don't know what we're doing. And so we would post these mock-ups and I'd be like, do you understand what this is?

And people are like, I have no idea what's going on. And then we're like, what? What do you mean?

But you'd learn very quickly that your instincts are probably wrong. And that’s me every day, like in hyper-casual right now. But that's the job, right? There are game designers that design games for themselves, and I am really happy for them if they can survive that way.

There are a lot of indie authors who are making their dream game. And they're fine doing that, but we're running a company with 40 plus employees who have families. And so I need to make concepts that will bring in the money to pay everybody so they can support their families. And so it's not about what I want.

It’s not about what I think is fun but will this trend help us with giving salary every month? And I know that's kind of like, a boring business perspective, but that's the biggest thing I've learned just from running your own company. You have design to something that's fun for the people who are going to play your game. And it's not for you.

Adil: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I like that, it brings a whole new understanding to me, like in terms of people designing games. You have to make the ad sell first before you make your game sell that's very interesting.

Luna: To be clear, we haven't successfully launched a hyper-casual game yet. We’re still learning.

]Wong Lei: Actually, I wonder if there was a time when some negative feedback or something about the game gets you down? I feel like really you have a lot of energy and you're really positive about games and all the challenges that you face, which sound really intimidating.

So I'm just wondering was there any moment that really hit you bad?

Luna: Well, I try not to read reviews because that's the best way to just get depressed. 

Why you shouldn’t read reviews

Luna: When we were a very small team, I would every day look at our Google play reviews and see this game sucks or whatever.  And then you try not to let that get to you. Even when we started out Altitude, we had a bunch of haters. We announced ourselves and basically, we had investors that came in to invest in us.

So we had a bunch of haters in the Philippines saying you don't need investment to start a game studio, you can just go on Kickstarter or you can just make a game by yourself. Why do you need money? And I'm like, what do you mean? We have employees and we need to pay a salary. So I learned very early on that, there are people who are just gonna dislike whatever it is you're doing.

So what I like to do is to only look at the people who actually enjoy the things that we make. And that's probably why I can stay positive. For example, Dream Defence is a very old game. It's a very, very old game. We don't even update that anymore.

But people are still playing that game. So we must have done something right. We have no ads, like nothing. It's floating in the water.  That gives me hope that the things that we're making, just make somebody happy. If someone's playing it out there today and it makes them happy, that's enough.

So that's probably why. I just don’t listen to the negative people

Wong Lei: That's an important thing to remember. It might be tempting to read those reviews. 

How do you feel about gender representation in the industry? Do you feel like it's changing? Do you feel like there's an issue or actually there's no such issue in the industry?

Why are there more and more female game developers now

Luna: Well, it's definitely an issue and it's better than it was before. So when, when I started in 2002, I was the only female developer on the team. And then I went to another company where I was the only female developer on the team. And then, now in Altitude, I am the only female founder on the team. But there are many more female developers now in all aspects like art, code, design. It's still not 50-50, at least what I've seen.

If you go to conferences, it’s still majority male and especially blockchain, like wow. But it's better now. And it's also because there are more young girls who are gamers right. When I was growing up. The word gamer was a male word.

Like I never thought I was a gamer. I was playing the Sims while my classmates were playing counterstrike. I was very happy playing the Sims, but I didn't think of myself as a gamer because it was the male stereotype, right. 

But now actually, I need to get back to you for the actual per cent, but I think it's at least 40% of gamers are now female.  think it might be closer to 50% for the latest report and that's because of mobile games and hybrid games and these non-traditional, non gamers who are playing games now.

So if you have more gamers in the world that are female, then more people are going to be interested in making games for them. And the young girls see their moms playing games on their Nintendo switch or whatever it is, they start to normalise it too. And now they can take game design and development in school as well.

Back in my day, we didn't have game subjects. So now you have more girls enrolled in gaming courses, knowing that they can make the games that they've been playing. There's no stigma for them that they're not supposed to be playing games. Everyone's playing games, right.

That's totally normal now. And so I've seen that year on year, especially when I was teaching game design at university, that my class used to be just a few girls. And they literally said I'm only here because the other classes were full or I'm because my boyfriend is here.

Luna:  Then I would see slowly see students that would say I'm here because I've been playing games since I was young and I've always wanted to play games. And the best compliment that I ever got was, I'm here because I played your game and now I want to be a game developer. 

There are more and more female developers in the industry now but it's still not enough. It's just going to get better and better. The more younger people are interested in game development. And that also comes back to us making games that appeal to everybody.

It also comes back us making games where different genders are represented or different races are represented on screen, so players can relate to these people.  And that's one reason why I do these things, the interviews and the talks at conferences and stuff.

It helps to see a woman on stage. If you see that okay there's a Filipino girl onstage, or she runs her own company. I wonder if I can do that too right. So, yeah. That's kind of why I do these things too.

Wong Lei: Yeah. I think it's really very helpful. I just attended a game development conference and there was six panelist on a panel and they were all male. 

Luna: That's me all the time.

Adil: Onto fun stuff, we saw that you also do Krav Maga and you’re an instructor now. What got you into doing martial arts?

Why it was scary living alone in Manila and how that led her to pick up Krav Maga

[00:55:59]Luna: Yeah. Well, so Krav Maga is a self-defence system and I signed up for it, think in 2012, because I didn’t want to be afraid. There were muggings on the street or like attacks in clubs. It was a pretty dark time here in the Philippines and I was living alone at the time. I didn’t want to be afraid. So I took up a self-defence class. I was terrified because I'm not like a sporty person. I'm a nerd, right. But I ended up really liking it.

So I stuck with it and ended up taking the instructors course a few years later. And it actually goes back to the gender representation thing because. I took my first exam for the belts, but we call them patches. So when I took my first level exam, I was the only girl in the batch and my partner for several years was a guy who was about my height. =

We didn't have any female instructors at the time. So, I and a few other girls signed up for the instructor courses and thankfully we all passed.

Now there are many more female instructors after us. But that was important to me. I teach self-defence too, usually, I would do like a women's month seminars or for companies or at schools, and again, if you see a girl, like a nerdy-looking girl in front punching and kicking and knives and guns and whatever it is being thrown at her, you might feel, as a woman or someone who's not sporty or fit, you feel a little bit better. 

If she can do it, then maybe I can do it.  It is different if it's like a huge instructor guy in front, like course, he can fight and of course he's going to win.  So that's kind of why I stuck with it is. I thought it was important for someone like me to be teaching self-defence to show that it's good for everyone because Krav Maga is a very practical self-defence system.

You shouldn't rely on strength or speed. Not everybody has that.  it really relies on your natural instincts and just kind of train your instincts to be better. So you can recognize danger. You can escape faster, you can prevent hurting yourself, things like that. 

Adil: Nice. Did that help to inspire Kung Fu Clicker?

Luna: Oh, well, they actually had to tell me to back off. So again, the teams are independent, right? So they have their own designer and stuff.  And we were working with PikPok games from New Zealand. They're fantastic. So I didn't really have any jurisdiction over whatwas going on over there.

But, you know, if they would have a Muaythai character. Cause I did my Muaythai also for a little bit. I'm like, you know, the front foot has to like facing this. Like you have to kind of fix them and they're like, Luna, nobody's going to care. Let it be, it doesn't have to be accurate to that extent.

Adil: That's super funny. Then how did you get into doing jumprope?

Luna: Disclaimer, I am not a professional jump roper. But jump rope is my pandemic coping mechanism. Some people bake and some grow plants. I killed all the plants, almost all the plants that I got last year.  I picked up jump rope just because I wanted to stay fit and have fun.

So it's not cardio, but like you can throw the rope and do all these crosses and stuff combos with music. It’s called freestyle jump rope.I really like it cause it's super fun. And it's also the only reason I can go outside because we've been locked down since March of last year.  and I live in a tiny condo with my husband and I can walk 10 steps my computer and that's my day.

So with jump rope, I can go to the park and, exercise and see sunlight and then have fun with music. And, and so that's why I like it.

Adil: We always end all our podcasts on one question. What would be your advice, for a young person who's maybe just starting out and wants to be a game designer or join the gaming industry?

Her advice to someone that wants to become a game designer

Luna: Well, just like what I said earlier, the best way to learn, how to make a game is just make it. And what's great about gaming is you can actually make it by yourself. So there are game engines that you can use, asset packs that you can buy off unity asset store or some are free.

So you could actually code and animate and design your own game with no real experience. You just have to study a little bit, but there are so many tutorials things that you can take. Just try to make a game. Show your friends, get their feedback. that's super important. And see if people like it and just keep doing that over and over. 

You can upload your own games to the play store. It's much easier than the Apple store. You can join game jams as well. Then you can just make a game with people over a weekend and you could win prizes. So there are so many ways to make a game now. And when the world opens up again, these game jams will be in person.

You can also go meet developers in your area. Go to game conferences, and just learn. Really the best way to get into the industry is to build your own game even if the game sucks, just make, and make a bunch. Get the experience go apply somewhere.

Adil: Love it. And just to wrap it up, I guess in the industry,  you are someone that people look up to. But for yourself, who inspires you and who do you look up to?

Luna: I have a bunch of mentors that helped me when I started Altitude and I still look up to them.  I won't name all of them. One would be Ronnie del Carmen who is my friend from Pixar. He co-directed Inside Out.

So I actually got to go to Pixar years later and I realized I would never have been able to join Pixar because you have to be able to draw to work in Pixar. And I am like, I can't draw. I don't know why I thought I could get into Pixar.  But, Ronnie is one of my heroes and he knows this. So if he hears this, it's totally fine. He's a Filipino America and he started working in advertising and moved into directing and he actually is going to make an animated film for Netflix as well.

I think that was the big, the most recent announcement,

Wong Lei: Wow.

Luna: He gave a lot of advice on how to handle the creative team and how to set up the company in a way that people can be creative on their own and make their own mistakes. And as a creative director, what can I do to help these people. I have several people that I admire and look up to, and I'm very grateful I actually got to meet them and know them. And in theory, I could reach out if I needed, if I needed help. He's one of those definitely up there.