For almost a decade, Muizenberg based Studio Bolland has been hard at work establishing itself as a haven for talented artists honing their craft in the fields of animation, illustration and motion design. With a string of acclaimed work and clients behind them, the start of 2023 marked a significant milestone for the South African outfit – a move into game development

A company transitioning or expanding into the games industry is nothing new, with recent years seeing established juggernauts like Google make a play into this space. However, what sets Studio Bolland apart, was a desire to build up a name and level of expertise within one aspect of the creative making process before embarking on that move.

“I actually thought we would be up against some animosity from some people, but our entry into this space has been so amazing, welcoming and refreshing. We had to figure out the best approach to starting a game development studio and that meant not doing it in isolation. That meant collaborating with people in terms of networking and support. We’ve been part of lots of game jams. Free Lives especially have been extremely welcoming in terms of us starting something. As in our success is everyone’s success.”

Richard Bolland

Before they started the game development arm of the studio, they consisted of 9 employees focused on animation and illustrators. Then in March of 2023, they brought in Ashveer who became their first full time game developer and they hit the ground running. Seven game prototypes quickly followed. Mainly because they followed the advice given to them. “You never want to start making a big game right off the bat.” They set an ambitious goal of 10-15 prototypes across a range of genres for the year and look set to reach that target.

The premise for each prototype was to take 2-4 weeks with challenges culminating with under or over scoping each prototype. Their goal is to create quick experiences and pair those with a pitch document to explain where each game could go.

In terms of timeline they hope in the first six months of rapid prototyping to better understand where their niche sits before taking it towards a commercial release.

“One piece of advice we received was to always be creating. Eventually you will have an outlier. Because eventually you will hit on a formula that resonates with people. It could be on the third or twentieth game. We keep going until we hit an 8 out of 10 which we can then build on”

Richard Bolland

Whilst the strategy above might sound daunting for a relatively new entrant into the space, their  strong foundation in animation and financial stability helps.

“Luckily we have the financial stability from our animation studio to fund our game division. We realise this is a privilege a lot of indie studios do not have so we don’t take it for granted until we see where we land. I don’t think we have the budget to make a fully commercial game but we have enough to fund a number of prototypes until we can reach a point when we need to bring in a partner from the publishing side.”  

Richard Bolland

As luck would have it, their location has also provided access to a lot of mentoring from more established colleagues in the space with Renderheads and Free Lives taking on mentoring roles to ease them in and invite them to co creating events such as game jams.

“We have no idea how things will pan out, but the goal is to make the journey as pleasant as the outcome.”