Small Business & Startups

Elevator Pitch: Camshaft Software

Elevator Pitch is a regular feature on Lifehacker where we profile startups and new companies and pick their brains for entrepreneurial advice. This week, we’re talking with Andrew Lamb, co-founder of Aussie/NZ PC games studio Camshaft.

In 128 words or less, explain your business idea.

We make a PC game called ‘Automation: The Car Company Tycoon Game’ which is about being the CEO and lead engineer of a car company. It’s basically a game for people interested in the engineering of cars and who have dreamed about how they would run their own company that is able to design a supercar better than a Ferrari, or build a huge empire of premium commuter cars without even cheating any emissions tests (sorry, low blow!)

What strategies are you using to grow and finance your idea?

We haven’t taken any external investment and have done a very slow bootstrapping process. I am a 3D artist, and my co-founder Caswal is a programmer — the two of us started Camshaft as a ‘spare time project’ in 2010. By 2012, we had a playable chunk of the game ready to sell in an Early Access style website, which enabled us to go full time and take the business a bit more seriously.

In early 2014, we moved Camshaft from Melbourne to Wellington, New Zealand, mainly for lifestyle reasons — cheaper housing, a lovely environment for outdoor activities, cooler summers and good craft beer. It has turned out to be a pretty good decision, both in terms of lower expenses for the business and just an increase in our general enjoyment of life!

In March 2015, we launched on Steam Early Access, and the major increase in sales from moving onto Steam allowed us to finally move into a real office space. It also allowed us to get our volunteer producer Robert to quit his job as a nuclear physicist in Germany to work for us full time in New Zealand, and hire a part time artist and programmer.

Development is really going full steam ahead now, and we’re looking forward to getting lots of great updates out to our players.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your business?

The size and scope of our product really. Realistically we’ve taken on a very complex project that would usually need at least a 20 person team, and it’s a longer and more complex than we thought it would be when we started out. The project is achievable for us, but it does require a much longer development cycle than most small developers take on (it has been nearly four years full time so far, and we will likely have another two years ahead of us).Thankfully, the product is well suited to early access, and we can release plenty of fun yet incomplete chunks of game for people to enjoy before the final product is complete.

How do you differentiate your business from your competitors?

I think the best thing about Automation is that we are pretty much alone in the market. There are a few other car company related games out there, but none of them have a particularly strong technical focus on the actual design of the cars. The way we see it, there are loads of racing car games, but basically none that let you design the cars!

Being pretty much alone also makes marketing a lot easier. We avoid doing anything with the traditional games press, as we get far better results from being featured in car related publications. Our only real marketing spend so far has been bringing the makers of the YouTube show “The Smoking Tire” over from the US to do a sponsored series of films with us about the interesting car culture in New Zealand.

What one phone, tablet or PC application could you not live without?

We use Google Docs spread sheets for pretty much our entire design and testing process, as well as much of the scary engineering simulation maths design. They’re endlessly useful, and perfect for collaborating on complicated game mechanics design work with our large community beta testing team.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?

Whenever I go back to Australia for game development conferences I always enjoy hearing hilariously worded pearls of wisdom from Morgan Jaffit of Defiant Development, (The Queensland based developers of Hand of Fate). Things such as “If you look like a pig it helps if you’re made of Bacon” and “You need to bash the soft squishy parts of your talent against the hard rocks of the world”. The man is quite a character, and very much someone who has a great understanding of what it takes to succeed as a small independent games studio.

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