IronMonkey and Firemint interview: Firemonkeys general manager, Tony Lay

PC World caught up with the general manager of the joint outfit to see how the merger will affect games released by the two studio both past, present and future

Electronic Arts has brought together its two Australia based mobile development studios, IronMonkey and Firemint, to form Firemonkeys. Both developers are based in Melbourne and have been developing mobile games for over a decade, notably hits such as Real Racing from Firemint and Dead Space from IronMonkey. The merger between the two will mean that Firemonkeys is now Australia’s largest game development studio. While Electronic Arts said the move was designed to “create an even more focused team,” any merger such as this leaves an amount of uncertainty about how it will affect the studios and their content output. Firemonkeys general manager, Tony Lay, sat down with PC World to shed further insight into the venture.

How did this merger of the two companies come about?

Firemonkeys general manager, Tony Lay (TL): We’re in the same location, doing the same type of games with the same values. It was a natural fit where [Firemint executive producer] Rob Murray and I could see the benefits in being able to share knowledge, resources and technology. It was official when we asked the team what their views were and everyone agreed. The team wanted to drop the cultural barriers that came with the two identities, and it was clear that there was strong mutual respect for each others capabilities. So the decision was made.

Why the name Firemonkeys? Any reason why an amalgamation of the two company names was chosen instead of a new name?

TL: When we decided to merge, we took two months to look for a new name that we all wanted to champion, but nothing else was a natural fit. Firemonkeys was the obvious name that everyone was using unofficially, so we decided in the end to go with it. It was the best name that honoured the legacy of both studios. Besides, Firemonkeys is the coolest name out of the two studios. [Laughs]

Any reason why the merger was timed at this point?

TL: It was a natural evolution between two EA Mobile Studios already working side-by-side on separate projects. We didn’t plan on it happening from the beginning, but as time progressed we all believed that we would be stronger as one entity. We are proud of the quality of games we have made so far, of which leveraging EA’s vast resources and major IP has played a major part, and are really excited about the future. In terms of timing, we wanted the news to be separate from our product announcements, and made sure it was done before our big Real Racing 3 launch.

What will the merger between the two companies enable them to do better now compared to when they were separate studios?

TL: Our products ultimately. I’m happy for people to judge us on purely our products. Look at the improvements on both Need For Speed: Most Wanted and Real Racing 3.

What steps were taken to dispel any concerns among employees about the merger?

TL: We involved a lot of people in our discussions to do it, so it was a proactive strategy. We try to keep everyone in the loop with studio decisions and get them involved to figure out problems. It’s about them more than anyone else. It was a chance for all of us to build towards a future together, so this would not have happened without their feedback. Honestly, I believe everyone was quite pleased and not surprised with the decision.

Do you expect that there will be any change in staff numbers in any of the two studios moving forward? Or is it business as usual?

TL: We’re actually hiring at the moment, so anyone interested should go to our web site [www.firemonkeys.com.au].

Will the two studios still work autonomously? Or will there be a significant sharing of technology and code between the two developers?

TL: We have broken the teams down to product groups. So they will work autonomously as they all have and they decide how much they support they need from each other. Whatever they require to make their games successful, we will support.

Will the two studios remain in their current offices?

TL: We have been sitting in the same location for eight months, which lead to this merger.

Will the games that are currently available by Firemint and IronMonkey be rebranded with the Firemonkeys logo in future software updates? Or will they retain their existing studio logos?

TL: They will retain their existing logos unless we are doing meaningful updates. We wouldn’t want to get our fans to update just so they see a new logo splash screen.

With the two studios merged, do you foresee any crossover titles appearing in the future? For example, Real Racing Vs. Need for Speed?

TL: [Laughs] We could see fun ways to share experiences across our titles. Right now, though, we just want to focus on developing our people to produce great games.

Want to read other video game interviews with key figures from Sony, Microsoft and more? Then check out PC World's complete interview archive.

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Patrick Budmar

Patrick Budmar

PC World

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