A Decade of Dlala

Hey Y’all,

Yesterday was the big 10 year celebration for Dlala. I was going to type up a blog post about it but I thought the best thing to do would be to share some of the notes I made for the speech I gave the team yesterday. So here you go:

“You’ll have to bare with me, I don’t tend to write my speeches down. In fact the only speeches I’ve ever written down are for my wedding and for some family funerals and I’m really hoping this is closer to the former.

I’m not going to stand up here and speak for 40 minutes because you didn’t come for that you came to celebrate a decade of Dlala. I’m also pretty sure writing this speech was the first time I’d put “A Decade of Dlala” and I don’t know why because it’s pure money.

When you start a company, or at least when Craig and I started this company, we never thought about what year 10 looked like. In fact I don’t think we ever discussed the concept of 10 years until around last year when he came back.

I’m pretty sure that everyone here has heard the “Dlala Story” in some shape or form. It usually starts with some form of the story, me starting out in my mum and dad’s garage and Craig in his girlfriends mum’s spare room. It’s the story that was printed in Develop October 2012 for “Two Guys, One Game, No Money”.

And it’s a great story but it’s just not the full story.

In the book “That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix” by former, and first, Netflix CEO Marc Randolph he talks about how there is the version of Netflix origin that they talk to the press about, how upon returning his copy of Apollo 13 back late to Blockbusters founder Reed Hastings realised that the concept of late fees is just ridiculous and they formed Netflix. But that’s not the full story, it’s a moment in the story. The true story is how Netflix came on the back of a lot of failed ideas and then a series of very good ones, scattered amongst a sea of problems.

Dlala’s story is a bit like that. Dlala was formed initially by four people. Myself, Craig and two others. We decided to become a team not long after Mine and Craig’s last day at Bossa, June 1st 2012. But we didn’t become Dlala officially until June 22nd 2012. The reason for that was that we found a RFP, request for proposal, someone asking for pitches on a project. But to submit a pitch you needed to be a registered company, so we had to quickly pick a name (which we’d been trying to find together for a week or so) and register. Craig and I had loved the name Dlala from when it had first been suggested but the other two weren’t 100% sold. However they didn’t have a better suggestion and Craig and I can be very persuasive, so we won and we officially registered Dlala Studios on June 22nd 2012.

What followed in the next 6 months was the other two leaving and Craig and I taking. That 6 months also included us being joined by the wonderful Chris Rickett who is STILL here to this day.

To say the last 10 years has been a rollercoaster is a cliché but I won’t use the word tired cliché because there are reasons why clichés are clichés. In 10 years we’ve done everything from tiny Windows 8 launch title made in 9 weeks (YOU MY BOY JANKSY) to making titles with the biggest companies in the world. We’ve grown from 2 guys in a garage to 30 people in studios on 70+ person projects and that is, excuse me Ma, fucking insane.

We’ve gained a lot of new friends and family along the way, we’ve had a very very small amount of traitors who have left (looking at you Johannes and Roberto) [EDITOR NOTE: This was a joke, both of them were there at the time] and we’ve had some of those traitors turn into double agents and come back (thank you Craig and Liam) but we have always had an incredible team of fantastic people, and I’m very honoured to get to work amongst them.

The publicity around who Dlala is and how it was formed is often attributed to Me and Craig. But that’s not the case at all. This studio was built by all of you and has evolved through different eras.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the foundation era. Ben Waring, Chris Rickett and Grant Allen. Grant worked full-time jobs and then spent his evenings working for free before he worked for Dlala full-time, Chris Rickett worked full-time for no pay for the first 7 months of his time at Dlala, even after being screwed out of his money. Ben quit his stable job at Bossa to join as our tech lead for no extra pay whatsoever.

Then this bit isn’t the public facing story or gimmick, this is the reality. Our 6 month ‘incubation’ at Microsoft became a 14 month incubation and then at the end of that they asked us to stay but Craig and I felt we had give everything we could to MS, at that point, and that we were losing what Dlala meant so we told MS we were leaving and we asked for them to keep the team, MS didn’t need convincing all of them Ben, Chris and Loudon were smashing it there.

Craig and I then took the team in a room and explained the situation, that we love them and we’re so grateful for them joining us on this but we can’t handle the situation there anymore and needed to leave. That we were going back to the garages with no money. We told them they had extensions for at least a year and would be taken care of. Each of them said something to the effect of “nah we’ll come back to the garages for no money with you”. This meant that we were now 5 guys in a garage with no money. But this isn’t about the full Dlala story, you can read/hear that online!

Pride is a phrase I say a lot about Dlala and it’s the most genuine thing I ever say. One of the things I’m most proud of is the fact that 10 years later I’m giving a speech and in this room Ben, Chris, Grant and now Craig are all here some of them *cough* Craig *cough* had a rumspringa to go make a Game of the Year Candidate, but the rest kept their honor and stayed haha.

That era is our foundational era, the era we all built upon. 2015 brought with it the start of the “we need to be professional era”. We moved into Unit 7, we got ourselves an IT dude (senior systems technician) who had unofficially done all our IT up to that point already in Rag. Craig and I were able to hire our siblings in Stink and Sam, and Gem joined, arguably one of the strangest decisions anyone has ever made in their career.

I’m not sure how much the team know this but Gem’s background is in law and software development for the council. We bumped into each other after not seeing each other for years at a mutual friends wedding. We got chatting and I realised her role wasn’t a million miles away from a producer role. For some reason she agreed to come in for a chat, but back then we didn’t have any seats in the office just those massive pink bean bags. So Gem turned up after work all formally dressed and had to try to sit with dignity in these bean bags hearing me and Craig talk about making a game and what we needed. Even after all this she took the job, which just proved she was insane.

And that was when we started on the path to becoming a proper studio. Suddenly we weren’t making 90k games anymore we were making multi-million dollar projects for one of the biggest companies in the world. Rag got to work improving our infrastructure to make sure it was up to the standard expected by our partners and Gem quickly, and not so subtly, went to work fixing a lot of things we didn’t know was broken with how the studio functioned.

Who knew that each project was meant to have it’s own budget and not just a big old spreadsheet that had a column for money coming in and a column for money going out?

Now whilst it could be argued that some of us are still in the “we need to be professional” part of Dlala’s history, the studio as a whole has not. Over the following 7 years we suddenly grew into this gigantic group of amazing people doing things that we’d never dreamed of back in the garage.

I am so proud of this team, even through all the headaches and the stress I am head over heels in love with this team.

You may have overheard me on calls or giving talks when I talk about the fact that for 10 years I’ve woken up looking forward to coming to work every day. Even when times have been tough, I’m still excited. Yes I am a workaholic, I don’t think I could deny that but it’s an obsession out of passion. I genuinely love what I do, and what we do.

And that is not a gimmick. That is not a story about late fees for a DVD forming Netflix, that is the true 100% reality. I have loved every second of Dlala and I cannot wait for the next 10 years.

So I want to raise a glass. A glass to my parents, Craig’s parents and Vi’s mum for letting us live way cheaper than any guys in their late 20’s should have been living and for believing us. To Harri and Vi for being the ones out there working hard to earn money whilst we played around with a little green alien. For supporting us when we didn’t have a clue what we were doing and for never doubting us.

To all of our family and loved ones that have supported each and every one of us through the late nights. For putting up with hearing your partners come home every day complaining that “Aj changes his mind again”.

To Gem, Ben, Rag and Grant for being the most incredible best friends and taking a gamble on this crazy dream.

To Chris for defining what it meant to be “Dlalan” way before there was much of a Dlala.

To Craig for starting this incredible journey with me.

For our friends and external partners like Mr Craig Duncan for supporting us and taking a chance on us when others wouldn’t have done.

To Dave Housden for letting me exploit him repeatedly for 10 years.

And I want to thank you my team. You don’t let me live out my dreams, because my dreams could never been this awesome. You let me live beyond that.

So thank you all for being you and thank you all for being Dlala.

To the next Decade of Dlala.”

Thanks for reading, and if you’re still here thank you for all the support over the last 10 years. In the word of Bachman Turner Overdrive, trust me when I say “you ain’t seen nothing yet”.

Thanks for the memories