Alex Haisting wears multiple hats, he is the CEO, Audio Lead, & Producer at High Five Studios Inc.
When did you first fall in love with gaming?
I’ve been an avid gamer for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, my sister and I played games like Super Mario World, Donkey Kong, and Street Fighter II on the Super Nintendo. I was hooked from there. As systems progressed, I found myself more in love with what Playstation and Xbox offered. That later evolved into what I primarily game on today, which is PC and Playstation. I get the exclusives for Playstation, and basically, everything else I could ever want is on the various marketplaces on PC.
You started playing guitar at age 10 and eventually received scholarships from your music. When did you first discover that you wanted to apply your musical skills to the gaming world?
Music was my first love, and it was the only thing I ever wanted to do other than gaming. I started my journey during my first year in college when I took “Into the Basics of the Theory.” This made me fall in love with music all over again, but this time from a more technical standpoint. After dedicating the first two and a half years of my education on track to becoming a composer, I found my way to a group focused on specific game development. It opened my eyes to the fact that I could merge the two things I’ve been most passionate about. From there, I changed my major to Interdisciplinary Studies and never looked back.
You joined a group on campus at The University of Alabama called Game Lab 142. What did you work on, and what did you learn from this experience?
I accredit a lot to Game Lab 142; it’s the real reason that I got into this. It was my eye-opener to the fact that I needed to change majors. I was not sure if it was because game audio is far more technical than composition, or maybe it’s because I already was deep in composing. Who knows! We worked on a slew of different projects, from VR to platformers, we just wanted to make stuff for the sake of making stuff. What makes this even crazier was that none of us knew what we were doing, but we treated it so unbelievably seriously. I stuck with the program from the beginning. The moment it was created, I jumped on the opportunity to be a part of it.
We chose pretty early on that Unreal Engine would be the best for us to learn. Given that it has the Blueprint system and it was a great decision because only two people were programmers, and the rest of us were somewhere in the spectrum of art, music, and design. I became familiar with Unreal Engine and then pivoted my attention to Wwise. We all quickly found our niche, and brute force learned what we needed to learn. I’m convinced we all gave more effort in Game Lab 142 than we did our actual degrees.
In 2017, you went on to launch High Five Studios Inc. What inspired you to launch your own company?
By that point, we had done a couple of projects. There was an evident “core” group of people in Game Lab 142. However, with our advisor leaving the university and the group founder graduating, it was an awkward transition phase into the next steps. When the graduating founder passed down leadership, I asked the core group of people what they thought about starting a real studio. When they expressed interest, I told the university to shut down Game Lab 142. This happened after our research trip to SXSW, where we met a plethora of indie developers with far fewer people than us making cool developments. We decided while in Austin that we could do the same. From there, my incredibly talented Co-Founders and I started the company.
What type of games did you want High Five Studios to be known for?
Honestly, like many people, I have my taste in games. Of course, I would love to make what I want. However, one of the greatest lessons that Game Lab 142 taught me was that making a game is far more significant than any of us, and collaboration is crucial. So, I want us to be known for creating unique games. We’re indie, so we get to do what we want, no matter how weird it is. I thought then, and I still believe that whatever we come up with, I will be immensely proud of it because we did it together. I personally love shooters and adventure games. Naughty Dog (as well as many others) is the most inspirational studio in the world to me, and everything they make is absolute gold. But you know what they say, “with great games comes greater budgets.”
The current flagship game is Prisoner: The Eighth Awakening. Could you tell us more about this game?
Prisoner: The Eighth Awakening is a World War II-based psychological horror game set in the fictional prison camp in Japan called Hell Eight. The game features a suite of monsters that we derived from traditional Japanese lore. Each has its adaptive behaviors. We created an A.I. that tracks how the player plays the game and will dynamically change the monsters’ behaviors accordingly to provide less predictability and leave the users on their toes. We decided to make the game based more on adaptability and survival instead of going the typical “horror shooter” route. We have a robust crafting system put into the game that each has its effect on the different monsters you encounter and the guards of the camp. With this in mind, there will be much scavenging for supplies and gameplay moments that shift between stealth and action.
You involve yourself in many aspects of game making from music all the way to production. What part of the game making process do you prefer?
Without a doubt in mind, it’s audio. Given that I’m the only aural wizard of the group, it’s given me a unique opportunity to learn niche aspects of game audio. From creating believable acoustic environments using Unreal’s Convolution, Resonance, Wwise, Reflect recording and editing at this point hundreds if not thousands of SFX and voice lines, I have my hand in every pot. I’m incredibly fortunate to be an in-house composer. Studios rarely have a composer with this much knowledge of in-game audio production. Because of that, I get to switch gears and create interactive music with the bounds that I set for myself. I’m trying to push the limits of what an adaptive music system is. We are adding an extra layer of depth with a plug-in that we wrote for the music and VFX that provide a bit of proceduralism while still maintaining a harmonic and rhythmic structure. It’s super nerdy, and I’m super excited for people to hear it.
Do you still find yourself playing games? Do you have any favorite systems or games?
Oh absolutely. Not as much as I’d like, but I do still play. It’s the best way for me to keep in contact with my friends. My favorite system is my PC. I’m a HUGE tech nerd, and I’ve built around 12 PCs at this point, and I’m continually upgrading mine. As far as games go, I’m good at half playing single-player games. I’m passively working my way through Chernobylite, Doom Eternal, Control, and Metro Exodus. The only two games I’ve played entirely through in the past year I’d say are Death Stranding and The Last of Us Part II. Like I said, Naughty Dog has a special place in my heart, and Kojima is an inspiration. Regularly, I’ve been playing Apex Legends. I always try to play the ranked mode, but it requires so much time I don’t get as high as I want, and the highest I’ve made it is Platinum 1. My favorite series of all time is the Brothers in Arms series produced by Gearbox Software. I’ve been patiently waiting 12 years for the fourth installment of that game, so I’m praying to the gaming gods that I get to see that one day. It’s lowkey my dream project.
What’s next on the horizon for High Five Studios Inc.?
Finding funding solutions seems to consume most of my time, as it still is, so currently, that is one of the main things on our horizon. We are finishing up a demo of the Prisoner: The Eighth Awakening, and we will be launching it on Steam soon. There is not a specific day yet, but it’s coming extremely soon. Accompanied with that, we will be releasing a trailer and Kickstarter campaign, so be on the lookout for that.
Once we get this game out the door, we haven’t fully decided what our next project will be. There are many aspects to Prisoner that can be expanded on, but we want to wait to see what the community says. Since High Five consists of gamers, we make our gamers with the player in mind. We make straightforward content that is wholesome fun for a fair price that will have people coming back, asking, “What’s next?”
Is there anything else that you would like to share about High Five Studios?
Stay on the lookout for our trailer, our demo, and our Kickstarter. We are incredibly eager to get this game to market and on the new consoles. However, we need the community to help us get across the finish line after three years. We also encourage everyone to follow us on our social accounts and interact with us! You have questions, and we have answers.
Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit High Five Studios Inc.
Uri Marchand, CEO and Co-Founder of Overwolf – Interview Series
Uri Marchand, is the CEO and Co-Founder of Overwolf which is a guild for in-game creators, that empowers them to create, grow, and monetize in-game apps and mods. Built for creators by creators, Overwolf is uniting the in-game creator community, giving them everything they need to make a living doing what they love – developing truly awesome gaming experiences, that gamers and game developer benefit from.
When did you initially fall in love with gaming?
I’ve been playing games since I was about six years old, but the game that had the most impact on me in the early days was Dune2. I loved the mechanics of a real-time strategy (RTS) game, and spent countless hours playing.
When you initially started Overwolf in 2010 you had a big ambition to build apps for all gamers. Could you tell us about these early genesis days, such as what inspired you to launch Overwolf?
When we started, our aim was to build a swiss-army knife type software, with all the features we were missing while playing games. Our first features included in-game overlay apps for Skype, Facebook, game capture and even an in-game web browser. The key inspiration came from either the features we were missing or from existing products and use cases that we felt could be done a lot better if designed specifically for gamers.
At the end of 2013, you decided to pivot Overwolf towards creating a framework for others to develop on the Overwolf platform. What inspired this pivot?
As I just mentioned, we started as creators ourselves, building apps for the games we played. As creators, we understood all the difficulties third-party developers have around building apps for games, and we understood that we can’t build everything ourselves. So, we decided to pivot and build an open framework. Today, Overwolf is the guild for in-game creators. With over 30,000 creators and 12 million monthly active users, Overwolf is the all-in-one platform that enables creators to create, distribute, and monetize in-game apps and mods. We are on a mission to unite the in-game creator community and empower them to make a living doing what they love – developing truly awesome gaming creations.
Can you discuss how Overwolf enables developers to create, distribute, and monetize apps for existing games?
Third-party content around games, which includes apps, mods, or gaming websites has existed since the genesis of gaming. Passionate gamers who were also techies chimed in and helped in the creation of content for their favorite games. But, up until today, these creators were scattered, isolated, and out of the spotlight. Millions of gamers enjoy their creations, but they don’t get the credit or the compensation for it. They lack the advanced tools, the distribution, or the resources AAA developers already have.
Overwolf is changing that by being the all-in-one platform for in-game creators. Aside from the tech platform, Overwolf offers creators a lot of resources to get started and stay focused. Services like QA and testing by pro gamers, technical support, development resources, and marketing solutions, allow creators to solely focus on building the best app they can. In only a few weeks, creators are able to build and publish a high-quality app, share it with millions of gamers, and turn a hobby into a lucrative business. Once the app is up and running, there are two main monetization tools the creator can choose from: premium subscriptions and in-app ads.
For the first time, we’re seeing more and more in-game creators making a living from building apps for games, and thus creating a new profession – an in-game creator. This is similar to a YouTube, or a Twitch streamer, but instead of the creator being a very good gamer or entertainer, she’s a developer.
What are some of the notable apps that have been created on the Overwolf platform?
We have the honor of working with some extremely talented creators that work relentlessly to bring apps to gamers that will truly enhance their game experience. One of our top-rated apps is Porofessor which helps League of Legends players understand their match statistics, improve performance, and provide other key aspects of gameplay. The creator of this app actually began coding when he was only eleven years old, making games for his family and friends.
Tracker Network’s R6 Tracker app is also one of the most popular Rainbow Six Siege apps on Overwolf. The CEO of Tracker Network was able to turn his gaming websites into in-game apps and scale incredibly fast. He went from a one-man show to a company with a team of five employees and over 2.5 million registered users across the most popular game titles like Valorant, Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Rainbow Six Siege.
Another is TFTactics which helps players make winning strategy choices in Teamfight Tactics, with suggested builds, item references, and even a match analysis system to help players self-review and improve.
What type of apps/games are generally more popular?
While we can’t share commercial details, download numbers are public and often reflect the most successful apps. Some of the most popular are Porofessor, Facecheck, R6Tracker, TFTactics, Outplayed, Fuze.tv, R6Tab, Firestone, Heartharena, and more. The apps that are most popular tend to align with the game titles that are played widely so apps for League of Legends, Teamfight Tactics, Dota 2, and Rainbow Six Siege.
Overwolf partnered with Intel to create a fund to empower developers to create apps on the Overwolf platform. What are the things that you look for when reviewing applications?
When we review applications we are mainly looking for an idea we’d be excited about as gamers, and for a product-team fit. We want to make sure that the team that’s going to take the challenge has everything they need to succeed.
Since the launch, we’ve invested $3M out of the $7M and we generate about $1.5 for every dollar invested and have incredible success stories like Amit Tsur who was a lone-wolf developer that single-handedly created the app DotaPlus, one of Overwolf’s most successful DOTA 2 apps with over 400,000 downloads. The Fund allowed him to quit his dev position at a prominent tech company and to make a career out of his passion.
The fund grants between $10K and $150K to each approved creator, depending on their needs and the potential value of their app or mod.
What are some traits that make some developers more successful on the platform than others?
Creators who create from true passion, with a real love of the game and a culture of iteration based on community feedback usually succeed more than others.
Creators who are not only willing to listen to feedback but request it frequently are always more successful than those who don’t take fan feedback into consideration. The most successful creators take the recommendations from fans, iterate on their apps, and constantly have a pulse on what others are saying. In return, the market rewards them with more downloads, more shares, and more positive mentions.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Overwolf?
The top 25% of in-game creators on Overwolf are pulling in more than $30,000 a month, and a few are even poised to make more than $1 million this year. As a whole, Overwolf is on track to pay out $10 million to its creators in the coming year. We are proud to be able to offer in-game app creators and mod authors legitimate ways to turn their passion into a profitable profession. We’re here for the long run and would love to serve as many creators as we can.
Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Overwolf.
Olcay Yılmazçoban, Co-founder & CEO of SenpAI – Interview Series
Graeme Winder, Founder of MeloQuest – Interview Series
Graeme Winder is the Founder of MeloQuest, the company behind the world’s first role-playing game, Keys & Kingdoms, that trains real musical skills and abilities in a whole new way. Joining the journey along the way, was the former CCO of Activision Blizzard and creator of Guitar Hero, Brian Hodous.
When did you first fall in love with gaming?
I’ll never forget the day when the original Nintendo system came out and I begged and pleaded with my mom to get it for me. Well, that next Christmas, Santa delivered! That was the beginning of my epic journey into gaming.
You also have a deep passion for music. Could you share with us how you discovered that music would play such an important role in your life?
I knew from a very early age that music moved me deeply. I also knew that I was horrible at learning music through reading, and yet, I could play just about anything I heard. This disconnect that I felt, and the challenges that would come with it, would prove to be the foundation of creating the innovation in the method that we implement today.
What are some of the current limitations with how we currently teach music?
The biggest limitation I see in music education is that the most important piece to the learning process is being left out of the equation… this piece is the student themselves. We all carry a tremendous amount of musical experience inside of us because we listen to or are exposed to music almost every day of our lives. This incredible wealth of experience is almost always overlooked or left out of more traditional learning environments. At MeloQuest, we believe it is the key to unlocking a person’s true musical power!
When did you initially come across the concept of using games to teach music?
After my first attempt at this failed, I had to take a long look in the mirror and realize that the edtech software we had built just wasn’t entertaining enough for our audience. We knew the method was powerful, but the product execution was poor. So after hitting the reset button, I decided to flip the product model upside down and create an amazingly fun game first—and then bake our secret sauce into it.
Could you tell us about the world’s first role-playing game that trains real music skills Keys & Kingdoms. What’s the storyline in this game?
It’s really an amazing storyline that Leviathan Games developed. You start off in your own virtual room much like your room in the real world. Suddenly, there is a rip through space and time and a portal to another fantasy world emerges. This world is under constant threat of the ‘waste’ and only those with musical powers can save them. The overarching theme is not good vs. evil, but rather forces of creation vs. forces of destruction. I love the philosophical message here to the players that says that things you pour your energy and effort into (like music learning) will prosper and grow. However, things you neglect and put off will eventually crumble to dust.
How does the game optimize how children learn music?
We have built something very close to AI called the Adaptive Learning Engine. The game constantly monitors the success/fail rates of everything the player engages with in the game and it does this independently throughout five unique verticals. What all this means is simply the game will quickly meet you where you are at, whether a complete beginner or seasoned pro, and develop your unique abilities at your pace.
How much replay value is there in this game. How much time can children be expected to play?
Well, just like music itself, we hope the journey never really ends. Personally, I hope children get used to logging in everyday and playing songs to chase away the waste. New content, songs and challenges are updated every few weeks. One of the sticky points in the game is that if you do not log in regularly, your island world will slowly be devoured by the waste. Also, as we all know, repetition with songs and learning are very important in building up skills quickly and efficiently. The game uses many well-known RPG tricks to keep engaging the players over and over.
What type of games will MeloQuest be working on in the future?
As excited as we are now with Keys & Kingdoms, the future looks even more amazing! We have plans ready to go to bring in multiplayer (imagine battling with your friends and it feels like band practice!) and other instruments outside of the keyboard. The fun in learning music will certainly never end!
Is there anything else that you want to share about Keys & Kingdoms or Meloquest?
I’m just so humbled and proud of the incredible team that has joined me on this amazing journey. These are extremely talented individuals who all collectively believe in shaping a better world through the power of music. I couldn’t be more blessed to do what I do everyday!
Thank you for the interview. Readers who wish to learn more about the game should visit the Keys & Kingdoms website.