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Glenn Gillis, CEO of Sea Monster — Interview Series

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Glenn Gillis, CEO of Sea Monster

In a bid to boost economic growth in the gaming sector, as well as enlighten consumers on real-world issues that circulate through the media and beyond, Sea Monster has been actively working alongside several major spearheading organizations—Games For Change Africa, and the US Embassy, for example—to elevate the importance of the medium. To learn a bit more about how the team is working to improve the gaming sphere, we decided to reach out to Sea Monster CEO, Glenn Gillis.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Glenn. Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How did it all start for you, and what inspired you to launch a career in the gaming industry?

Glenn: I fell into the gaming industry somewhat by accident. I'm a business guy with a business background, and not a frustrated game designer. I’ve always loved creating spaces for others to tell their stories, and that’s something I’ve been able to do running a variety of businesses in the creative industries. From a film company called Moonlighting to Clockwork Zoo – the largest animation business, I think, in the history of Africa – out of which Sea Monster was initially born.

I’ve always been a firm believer in Africa's ability to compete with the very best in the global creative industries from music, film, animation, and now increasingly, games, and I work to help bring that innovation and talent from the continent to the rest of the world.

Tell us a bit about your company, Sea Monster. When was it founded, and what are some of the core values that you promote as a team?

Glenn: We started Sea Monster 13 years ago – the first of July 2011 is our unofficial birthday. We've since built up a team of 42 people in our Cape Town-based studio, making us one of the biggest game studios in Africa.

I've always been a bit reluctant to talk about values because I think values are best lived rather than put up for display. That said, I'm very proud of the values that we've come to represent. Our core values revolve around the practices of consistent learning, the imperative of sustainability as a business and the importance of entertainment and bringing joy and delight into the world through what we create. We also put a lot of emphasis on being true and authentic to what it is that we do – really believing in the work that we create, believing in our people and believing in our partnerships with clients. We want to change the world using the power of storytelling and games and we know we can’t do that alone. We work with our partners and clients to develop impact games that are going to revolutionize learning, transform marketing, and hopefully have a big positive impact on society as a whole.

You’ve previously touched base on how video games can be ideal vessels for enlightening gamers on real-world issues. Do you think that fledgling developers should be making more of an effort to raise awareness about this?

Glenn: The gaming industry suffers from a lot of misconceptions about what it is, including the idea that gamers are just teenage kids playing Fortnite. With 3.6 billion gamers worldwide, it's clear that this thinking is incorrect. So yes, the industry needs to highlight impact gaming as a serious tool for change. Often, what happens with game developers is that they get very excited about the idea of creating games for themselves but with almost no understanding about who the end-user is, who's going to pay for it, how it's going to be taken to market, and how it's going to scale. As a result, a lot of games never see the light of day. I would urge game developers to spend more of their efforts trying to understand their users, how they will get the game into their hands and what impact that game could drive.

Team at Sea Monster

Credit: Sea Monster

And do you think that there’s a subject matter that has yet to receive the attention it deserves in the gaming sphere?

Glenn: Yes, all of them – especially in the learning and marketing spaces. As humans, we naturally learn through play and develop skills through doing, and I think we're only starting to see the potential of gaming in the learning and education space. Gaming experiences are particularly good at unpacking and exploring complicated and nuanced ideas and tackling highly regulated and dense subjects from climate change to financial education for example. Games as learning tools are also massively cost-effective at scale, they are data driven and they can inspire real behaviour change. There's really not a single learning experience that can't be enhanced through the use of a game so there’s a lot more work to be done there.

In the marketing space, the same is true. Games are the world’s favourite entertainment medium and we're really at the beginning of a new phase where brands and marketers are making use of games and gaming platforms in order to engage and connect with their customers. There is enormous value in adopting gaming as a serious part of the new modern marketing mix in a way that isn’t disruptive to the user experience (like so much other advertising from brands) but rather, that is meaningful. We’ve seen some great recent examples of brands leveraging games in really innovative ways that add value to their customers’ lives (and some not so great examples too), so there’s definitely a great deal more to come in that space.

Could you share a few examples of the games that have made a genuine impact on the community, as well as its gamers’ perspectives?

Glenn: Two examples immediately come to mind. Very recently, we worked with the US Embassy to create a web-based interactive gamified experience around the stories of D-Day to help young people better understand the significance of the historical event and the relationship between Western Europe, America, and the UK. The intention was to bring the histories of this day to life in a relevant and engaging way for 18-year-olds growing up 80-years after this monumental day took place to pay tribute to the sacrifices made and the legacy of this important day which we feel is as important today as ever before.

A second example is our work with Allan Gray – a major financial services company in Cape Town. Their foundation nurtures future entrepreneurs across schools in Africa and tries to teach skills like resilience and critical thinking that can't only be learnt from books. We developed a massive digital platform that engages young people through games, underpinned by business management. This platform handles parental consent and other complexities while providing a fun, accessible and practical way for kids to learn essential life skills on a large scale.

So tell us — why video games? In your opinion, why do you think gaming is the perfect medium for spreading information about global matters?

Glenn: When you consider critical global issues like climate change or any of the Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the UN, addressing them requires more than just awareness – it requires a significant shift in people's behaviour. Games give people agency to make their own decisions and empowers individuals to see the impact of their actions. While other mediums are sometimes good at raising awareness and sometimes during understanding, they aren’t great at linking that back to the real-world and actually driving habit formation and behaviour change. Game-based solutions therefore work more effectively than other alternatives – this is not an opinion, it has been validated by data and science.

What’s next for Sea Monster? Do you have any plans to broaden your horizons over the coming months or years? If so, could you please share a few details or crucial dates for our calendars?

Glenn: We're currently really focused on several platforms, particularly metaverse platforms like Roblox, which we believe hold immense potential. We've already developed some great games for partners on Roblox specifically and have more in the pipeline. The metaverse is rapidly gaining popularity, with significant growth among the 17 to 25-year-old demographic so there’s a huge opportunity there.

We’re also excited about the growth in the mobile web. The shift toward near-app like functionality within browsers opens up vast opportunities globally, particularly in Africa and Asia. We've been developing a product in this space called Hailr for the past four years. We see a significant global opportunity for what could be termed ‘playable advertising’, focusing on putting the user at the centre of the marketing experience and rewarding loyal customers. We're looking forward to seeing that really go global and go big.

Is there a way for potential followers to stay up to date with Sea Monster? Are there any social channels or newsletters that we should know about?

Glenn: Absolutely! You can stay updated with Sea Monster through our website (which is actually undergoing a big refresh at the moment and should be fully updated by mid-July), as well as our LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook pages.

Any final words for our readers?

Glenn: It's important to showcase the broader impact of games beyond entertainment. It's also really great to highlight what’s happening in regions beyond the borders of Europe and America. Being a proudly South African studio, we aim to shatter the stereotypes and continue to demonstrate our real potential for digital innovation, authentic storytelling, quality user-centred experience design, and the incredible possibilities for impact games to make a real and meaningful difference to global businesses and society at large.

I'm truly grateful for this opportunity. Thank you!

Thanks for your time, Glenn!

 

For more information on the work that’s being carried out over at Sea Monster, be sure to visit the team over on their official social handle here. Alternatively, you can check out the website for additional updates here.

Jord is acting Team Leader at gaming.net. If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.