Interview with Black Hive Media's founders Mandy & Blake Lowry
First and foremost, we're a married couple that met as teenagers, still together and still working together! Mandy is a self taught software engineer that got started with mobile games around 2009. Blake is an artist that began work at a local studio in Austin working on dance arcade games (In the Groove, Pump it Up).
Founded Black Hive Media in 2009. You've worked with companies like Google, The History Channel, Hot Wheels, & aspyr just to name a few. This is quite the diverse group of clients. What type of work do you specialize in?
Most of those were sub-contract roles to support projects, games, or events over the years; some of those were code related and a lot were providing content and assets.
As a company, our specialty is 2D game prototyping and development. We generally work fairly quickly together to get an idea up and running. Right now you could call us a Unity shop, however in the past we've used a variety of tech and frameworks for projects.
Tell us a little about 2020 and how the company evolved during the pandemic time period.
Well, in mid-2019, you could say we put our company ambitions on hold to work with some partners we had developed a good relationship with. Unfortunately in early 2020, we were unexpectedly informed that we were being laid off. This basically kickstarted the process of quickly putting our idea down on paper, so to speak. Within a month we had a solid prototype. Outside of that, we took on odd contract jobs to stay afloat as the world got weirder and weirder, haha.
As a husband and wife dev team, what are the pros and cons of working together?
We are with each other all the time, so it is easy to start a conversation about an idea. We also just work really well together because we know what each other expects. Lastly, it's pretty cool to just relax in the evening with a beer and talk shop.
AlphaLink is a multiplayer shooter based off the Kova sci-fi back story, a game we were developing but did not have the opportunity to finish. AlphaLink is sort of a spin off about the warring factions. You can compete in local or online PVP matches, talk to NPCs in the hub about lore and upcoming events, customize your character, and take part in the global faction leaderboard. It's also launching kind of as a games as service as we plan to continually update it with new features and content.
What challenges did you face while developing AlphaLink?
Probably the biggest challenge, and I mean this in the best way, was that we had also just adopted our first child. He's a great kid but it was an adjustment for all of us, especially during a pandemic. He has pretty much been by our side for the last year.
Outside of that, the backend system to support all our shift to online was a bigger task than we wanted. It was just a lot of testing, tweaking, testing, tweaking, rinse/repeat over and over.
As an independent game studio you have the freedom to build (almost) whatever you wish in a game. Has this been a win, or a challenge for you in any way?
It is a challenge. We're an indie studio but our games do not butter the bread, if you know what I mean haha. We usually do a little project, release it, then get flooded with contract work, which is what really pays the bills. We're hoping pushing ourselves to complete a console title can shift that dynamic a little.
You've connected with streamers and teased some 'Loot Boxes' on Twitter. How do you plan to leverage influencers through the launch and throughout the lifespan of the game?
To be honest, this is the hardest part. Most developers aren't really marketing gurus, so we do the best we can. We plan to continue to reach out to streamers and continually keep the game and content fresh with updates to announce. We hope that over time a community comes. We will also continue working with outlets and partners that reach out to us and see where it goes. It's just a never ending grind!
What's next on the horizon for the two of you?
We hope the game does well and we can keep growing it for even longer than we plan to, but we're also just looking to see what doors open. We're a small team but open to growth, so we like the idea of working with franchises we're fans of. I guess you could say that is one of our distant goals that we look forward to.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
We're just grateful people are interested in hearing about our story and we really hope it inspires other really small teams (or families) in any way it can. Game development can be a lot of work but it's also incredibly fulfilling.