Like Adorable Skating Birds? You're Going to Love Megan Fox's SkateBird Game
When we first spied the announcement trailer for SkateBird—a skateboarding video game starring tiny, adorable birds as its skaters—we were immediately captivated and couldn't wait to get our hands on it.
In a normal year, the game might have been showcased this week at E3, but 2020 has been anything but normal. With the expo canceled, we decided to take this week to get acquainted with the incredible women behind some of our favorite and most-anticipated games, including SkateBird developer and Glassbottom Games CEO Megan Fox.
Earlier this year, we spoke to her about the game's humble origins, what's next for SkateBird and why accessibility in games can make such a difference for gamers of all kinds.
Sweety High: What is Glassbottom Games all about?
Megan Fox: When I opened Glassbottom Games around the end of 2012, the studio wasn't really about anything. We had a pretty bland and generic mission statement. Our initial games were pretty scattershot. We had an old game that didn't work out, but the part of it that ended up being cute was the animal acting like a person. It made me realize I wanted to focus more on that.
Our next game was Hot Tin Roof, and it wound up being really fun. It's hard to define, but what makes our games interesting is whatever the heck the central vibe is between Hot Tin Roof and SkateBird. That's what we do now. We make weirdly cozy games about animals doing people things. They're what I wanted to make, and what I liked making.
(SkateBird via Glassbottom Games)
SH: What are your roles at Glassbottom Games, and what do they entail?
MF: We're a small, entirely remote studio. I work primarily with freelancers as opposed to full-timers, and my CEO title largely matters only if I'm talking to investors.
Really, I run the studio and I'm a programmer and manager. On a good day, about a third of my day is coding. On a bad day, less is. Most of my time is spent on management tasks—anything from getting feedback from my artists to giving direction to my designers. Generally, I trust my artist or designer to do their task, they get back to me and ask how it's looking, and I give feedback. I try to use what's called a "critique sandwich." Start with a compliment, put the critique in the center and then end with a compliment so you're not being a jerk. We work that way until something is finalized. Because they're freelancers, their work cycles are very divorced from what I'm doing. I code and then work with them whenever they need input, which makes my days kind of variable.
The misconception is that someone like an art lead spends all of their day as an artist. They're more like a manager, and a good art lead is probably spending half their time as a manager. If you're at a small studio, you're probably the art lead by default because you're likely an artist working with a team of freelancers elsewhere. That's just what you do.
SH: What are the biggest misconceptions about what you do?
MF: When people hear I make games for a living, they assume that means my job is playing games. No, but this conversation they've started would take like 30 minutes, so instead, I'm going to smile and nod and back away quickly. I'm used to saying "I make apps" so I don't give them any ideas.
Making video games is not the same as playing them. Even testing video games, being a quality assurance person, is not the same as playing video games. QA is more like playing the game you like the least, and you're not even allowed to play the whole game, just one level—the level you hate the most—and that's all you do all day, and do it repeatedly.
SH: What was the inspiration behind SkateBird?
MF: You really, really teach birds to skateboard, to an extent. My partner showed me a video of a bird skateboarding. The bird hops on the board, rides down, and then the person puts the board back at the top, and the bird happily hops back on to ride down again. The bird clearly enjoys skateboarding.
When I was younger, I also really liked the Tony Hawk games. There really hasn't ever been anything like them since. Eventually, they spun off into more Sim-heavy games, where the goofy parts got dropped entirely for realistic skating. That's cool, but it's not really my thing, and there's a giant part of the market that's just gone, and that seemed dumb.
(SkateBird via Glassbottom Games)
SH: Were you surprised by SkateBird's huge success on its Kickstarter campaign?
MF: This followed a game called Spartan Fist which wasn't successful at market, and I had to let my team go. What could I do on my own? I decided if it was just going to be me working on a thing, I might as well work on something I really liked—and that was skateboarding birds.
Our expectations were that we should put the goal as low and reasonable as possible because it was a weird skateboarding game with birds. I'd be super happy if it made over $20,000. Then we funded in like the first day, and it just kept going up from there. Then it got a lot of attention during E3, and the game exploded on Steam. The wishlist count went through the roof and our sales projections were beyond anything we could have predicted.
Then Microsoft asked if we'd like to be on Game Pass—which basically comes with a bag of money when the game ships. This was supposed to be small, and then everyone decided it was this huge skateboarding game. Now people are excited about it and it's kind of weird.
SH: Do you feel a lot of pressure from that amount of support and interest?
MF: It does put pressure on me, and while the game has gotten bigger as a result, it still won't be huge. We just announced a delay to 2021, related to a lot of things including but not limited to the virus shutting down the world. The game will have been in development for about three years, which is a decently long time for any game.
My partner quit her job and I added her as QA. That's extra help I wasn't planning for. I also hired a bunch of people because of the Kickstarter like Jazz Mickle who's going to help me do the Create-a-Birb character creator and Xalavier Nelson who's helping me do an originally unplanned story mode for the game.
It was going to be a more sandbox-y, stripped-down thing. Those changes will make the game bigger, but I don't want it to be this huge, charmless AAA thing. I love AAA games, but the bigger they get, the more they feel like they're designed by committee. I want to avoid that.
Plus, the smaller I keep it, the more fun I can have. If I hire a ton of people, the amount of development time I myself would get to do would shrink. I want to be a developer, not a manager, so I have to balance the size of a project. If it got so big I'd have to hire 3000 people, I'd never get to make the game myself.
I feel a lot of pressure, but I'm trying not to let it screw me up. I'm trying to make the game I wanted from the beginning—just a little bit more polished. The original would have been a really rough, simple prototype that was fun but very obviously small. This is going to end up feeling not a prestige indie (whatever that means,) but more like a AA or III.
(SkateBird via Glassbottom Games)
SH: Do you have a favorite SkateBird bird?
MF: I just put in Birdie Sanders. He has a really cute tie and his hair flips. Aside from him, I like the cockatiel. It's quickly becoming everyone's favorite, and I don't really know why, but there's something inherently bird-ish about cockatiels. They are the eponymous pet parrot, plus they have the crest of feathers on their head that can raise or lower depending on their engagement state. Cockatiels are also really cool-looking birds.
Is anouncin mi candidatesy
plzvote 4 Birdie Sanders pic.twitter.com/jn6bUMEVyo
— SkateBIRD (@skatebirb) March 16, 2020
SH: Anything else you'd love to share about SkateBird?
MF: I've been working on an accessibility mode that allows you to play the game with basically one button. You could play the game with the left stick and your right thumb on the A button and never have to move it. That doesn't mean you can play the game to its maximum—you're probably not going to get the highest score in the world—but you can still play the game and have fun, especially in sandbox mode. I'm excited about that.
I have a friend with cerebral palsy, and he went from not being able to play the game at all to having a lot of fun with it. That progression has been so cool to see. We're still not quite there on it, but we're so close to the game having this accessibility curve that goes from being super simple to full-on Tony Hawk, mega button controls that are great if you like that kind of game, but somewhat difficult if you're not used to it.
Maybe you've never played the genre before, so you start with the super stripped-down, simplified controls, and once you start to get it, you can turn on other features and gradually go to a higher difficulty with what you want to do. Maybe you want to stay simple. That's the thing I'm most proud of right now.
For more from our favorite women in gaming, click HERE to find out why we can't wait to play dating sim Best Friend Forever.