An interview with Sweatshop’s main designer

Simon Parkin is the Head of Games at Littleloud, a creative studio based in Brighton, UK. He was the main designer of Sweatshop, a game that puts you in charge of a clothes factory where the work conditions don’t seem to be very nice.

He kindly asked me a few questions about his project and the games industry.

Did the game have a great impact in the media? What about the players, were they talking about it?

Both Sweatshop and The Curfew were widely-covered in the mainstream press. Sweatshop, our game about high street fashion suppliers and child labour even made it onto the evening television news in one country and was written about by PBS in America, as well as a huge array of specialist video game websites.

There’s something about the game’s cute visuals contrasting with the bleak and difficult subject matter that makes it a compelling discussion piece – sort of like if Nintendo made a game about genocide. Sort of.

The response from players was striking too, with various discussions in review comment threads about the issues the game highlights.

Not everyone was enamored with the subject matter though. When one player showed her friend the game she broke down in tears (her uncle worked in a sweatshop) and said: “Why would anybody make a game about this?”

What is your opinion about the games industry, do you think the developers care about making more meaningful games?

Broadly speaking we love the people who make video games. Almost without exception they are motivated, passionate people who care very much about what they are doing. Not everybody is interested in making more ‘meaningful games’. Some creators are content to make games that simply raise your pulse, or allow you to fly jet planes or drive racing cars or be a badass space marine. That is totally OK! We play those games and love them and would greatly miss them if they weren’t around.

But we are especially interested in making games that speak to unusual issues, or allow players to experience different kinds of stress and danger. Not every game needs those ambitions, but we would like to see more of them being made. I believe that, over the next decade, we will start to see this happening more and more, not just in the indie scene, but in mainstream game development too.

What about the gamers, do you think they want different games?

Absolutely! Humans love varied entertainment forms. We love comedy, tragedy, documentary, steamy romance novels, Michael Bay blockbuster movies, bleak foreign films and many more besides.

Game players are no different although, I would argue that a disproportionate number of video games focus on the Michal Bay blockbuster approach to entertainment.

As your games are offered for free, how do you get revenue from your projects?

Excellent question! In general we work with publishers or broadcasters who have a dual interest in games and education. They fund the production (in Channel 4’s case, because they have a public service remit) and we make it for them.

Is your team very big? Do you consider yourselves “indie”?

Littleloud is an independent studio in that we are not owned by any publisher or broadcaster – so I think we probably are indie, at least in the strict definition of the word.

There are around 13 of us here at the moment. Sweatshop was made by a core team of four of us, while The Curfew, as a much larger production used up everyone in the office and more besides.

 

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