Business Masterclass with Morgan Jaffit - video transcript

Julian Simmonds: Perhaps for those of us who are familiar with Defiant, can you tell us a little bit about your story?  You're only five years old but you've come a long way.  A little bit about Defiant.

Morgan Jaffit: So Defiant is a game development studio based in the Valley as you mentioned.  We came out of - Australia has had a long history of making video games and a really strong local industry.  Brisbane's been one of those hubs for a long time.  That business was primarily in US owned studios. 

So when the GFC happened the dollar was very strong, a lot of those companies were cutting their investments and they cut a lot of the Australian studios which left an enormous quantity of talent around and not a lot of jobs.  So myself and my business partner sat down and said look this seems like a real opportunity and it coincided with the opportunity, speaking of digital, to start reaching out to a worldwide audience; to start doing distribution ourselves; to start doing publishing without needing a lot of middle men along the way. 

So that's when we started doing work and since then we've managed to grow the studio, reach a much wider audience and build from that point.  We started primarily in mobile.  These days we do mobile and console games.

Julian Simmonds:    Okay, like PlayStation 4.  So you're the bain of my wife's existence…

Morgan Jaffit: That's exactly right.

Julian Simmonds:    …when I disappear for days on end.

Morgan Jaffit: [Laughs].

Julian Simmonds: Obviously - so you've grown very quickly over the last five years and all businesses here - you may not be trying to reach 100 million people but no doubt you all have your ambitions of growing your business.  So maybe you could just tell us a little bit about some of the challenges you face growing your business and how you've overcome them.

Morgan Jaffit: It becomes a very different thing and we have two simultaneous kind of angles to our business.  We're kind of a digital native business and we've always gone out to a world audience first and foremost.  About eight per cent of our audience is Australian.  The rest of our revenues were all international. 

We have both really really targeted product because when you've got the entire world you can build something that really appeals to a very very specific person and you can find enough of them to make that worthwhile.  So with our console titles we might be reaching out to a tiny audience of maybe a couple of hundred thousand which for us is a small audience, selling games at $20 apiece.

The complete flipside of that is we have other products like Ski Safari which is a mobile endless runner style game where the goal is to make it as casual and accessible and broad as possible.  It's two minute play sessions.  It's very easy to get into.  It's got a nice little hook that keeps you on rolling and in that case we're reaching 100 million people at the moment, 120 now I think. 

The way you approach those is really different.  On one side we're very personal; we're speaking to all those customers directly; we're taking their input back in.  That's really hard to do with 120 million people.  That's way outside our scope so the ways we've approached that have had to change really dramatically.  On that side we spend a lot more time looking at the data science.  But it's hard to step from one to the next and it's been hard to learn the lessons of both and work out how to apply them across so that they pan out.

Julian Simmonds:    So you talked about the opportunity grab your niche and Mark was just talking about the fact that people need to Google their competitors, find out who their competing against.  You are up against some really big multinational well established European companies.  How do you not let that daunt you at all?  How do you go up against something like that as a small business?

Morgan Jaffit:  The great joy of that is that I used to work for multinational Fortune 500 companies.  I spent a bunch of time as an executive inside Electronic Arts and I know that big companies have a lot of power.  The thing I always say to games students is, if you want to see your game on a billboard, on the side of a bus, you need to go and make a game for Electronic Arts, Ubisoft or one of the big players. 

But the other thing about them is they're slow.  We can spot a gap in the market and it can be a wide open gap that everybody can see and it's absolutely clear to everybody.  By the time they've started turning their supertanker around, our speedboat is through and done.  That's what you've got to do.  But we're not as small as two people in a shed working on a game. 

So as we've grown the company, we're now 15 people, we don't fit through some of those gaps anymore and we have to look for a different scale.  But I think that's the thing.  By knowing your audience, knowing where the opportunities are, you really have the chance to work out where you're fastest.  For small businesses that's always going to be the advantage.  You should be able to beat big companies to the punch every time. 

Julian Simmonds: Okay.  So you've grown the business.  You've added on more staff as you just said.  You're up to 15 now.  You're the co-founder.  This is your money, you'd feel a lot of responsibility on your shoulders.  How do you go out to find the right staff who you can trust with your vision, trust with your company?  What are you looking for in your ideal staff member?

Morgan Jaffit:  We are so lucky.  So when I was working for Pandemic previously pre-GFC, hiring was the hardest thing for us.  Salaries were inflated.  We would look around the world to find the right talent.  We spent an enormous amount of time on interview process to make sure that we filtered them through before we brought them over.  When those studios fell down there was not only a glut of talent but it's talent that in a lot of regards we've worked together in the past.  Our art director Shawn and Courtney our lead designer have worked together at various studios over the last 15 years.  So there's 15 years of experience working together. 

I've worked with most of the other core team for six plus years and we had a pretty deep well to draw on there when we initially set up.  So we set up a really great veteran core.  We're now reaching out to students.  Brisbane has a fantastic kind of knowledge economy and a lot of talent across a lot of aspects.  We're growing the analytics and data science publicity and marketing sides of our business and those are places that we don't have direct relationships in.  But there is a lot of talent.  I think the biggest thing for us now and you can tell by looking at me is we're kind of videosyncratic.  Like we're not like every other company out there.  So it doesn't take long to work out who's going to work and who's not. 

We don't place a large amount on titles and structure.  We place a large amount on communication.  So we are a massive communication overhead studio.  Every day we meet, everybody talks about what they're doing that day.  We work in a big open room and not everybody's built for that.  Some people like be able to shut themselves - particularly programmers - away in an office and code.  We absolutely respect those people but they're not for us. 

Julian Simmonds:  Okay.  You spoke just a little bit then about how Brisbane is growing in knowledge economy and all the rest of it.  You obviously from the start had ambitions to have your game played on a worldwide scale.  You could have gone to a number of places.  What made you choose Brisbane and are you confident it was the right decision for a global company?

Morgan Jaffit:  Well I'm a Victorian by birth and I worked around the world mostly through North America, Montreal, Vancouver, New York.  Then came back to Brisbane directly from Montreal.  The choice of Brisbane was based on quite a few things.  One is Montreal is bloody cold and Brisbane is lovely.  But really, in travelling I realised the things that were important to me in life and on arriving here I found an amazing team.  I'm fortunate to work with quite a few international talents and a lot of UK ex-patriates and we've all built a home here.  Because I think Brisbane is that wonderful combination where it's a great place to build a home and a great place to build a business.  That can't be said of many other cities around the world to the same degree. So those sort of things are played in for us.

Go back to the Business Masterclass with Morgan Jaffit video.

11 May 2015