Being an entrepreneur in the tech industry is not a common path to take for young graduates in the Philippines, where I'm originally from. However, following their Microsoft's Imagine Cup 2010 win, the By Implication team seems to have entered the Filipino startup scene.
I decided to interview them because I thought that what they are doing is really admirable. Amidst the country's lack of infrastructure and support for the Filipino startup scene, they have chosen to press on and follow their dreams. What's really cool is that they also come from different backgrounds as well. Hopefully this interview will inspire more startups in places where startup culture is not yet big.
1) Who are the guys behind By Implication? How was By Implication born?
by Implication began as a group of high school friends who liked talking about games during breaks. We talked about the things we liked to see in the games we played, and about the games we'd make ourselves, if only we could. Eventually we started fooling around with programming and art for games, but our experiments left much to be desired.
We ended up going to different universities, and taking up different courses, but we never lost the desire to make games. We eventually decided to get the group back together to join Microsoft's Imagine Cup, represent the Philippines, compete with over 400 teams around the world, and win first place in 2010's Game Design category.
Our win convinced us to get into the game and software development industry full-time, and formally found by Implication as a company. We've since grown our ranks a little, having recruited the very best of the best from all over (our relatively small network of friends).
Background-wise, we're sort of a weird bunch.
From left to right: Pepe Bawagan, Meggy Kawsek, Jim Choa, Levi Tan Ong, Wil Li, Philip Cheang, Kenneth Yu, Thomas Dy and Rodrick Tan
Kenneth, for some reason, took up economics and business management in La Salle, even though his brain's wired to be a writer. Despite the apparent dissonance, he managed to come away with some base-line managerial skills, so he now serves as the team's project manager/producer, writer, odd-job-completer and ninja-slayer.
Levi has a degree in chemical engineering from UP Diliman, but works as a game artist, UI designer, game designer and a whole bunch of other roles not related to chemical engineering. Because of his engineering background, he is one of the few people who (barely) understands Wil when he descends into higher mathematical discussion.
Philip has a degree in information design from Ateneo, a course in the Fine Arts Program, but he has always been technically-inclined. What might seem like an odd combination has worked well in bridging creative direction (with Levi and Kenneth) and technical constraints (with Wil and the rest). When not working with Levi on UI assets or game design, he helps decide on art, product, and technical direction.
Wil took computer science in Ateneo. Not happy with the lack of mathematical background, which caused... unpleasant experiences when trying to parse computer graphics research papers, he also took mathematics in the same university. He's the team's main programmer and does the mathematical modeling part of game design/balance (i.e. conjuring functions that dictate how various parameters should behave).
Jim took up computer science in Ateneo, but is one batch lower than everyone else. Unlike Wil though, he has some (un)natural aversion towards higher math and did not take up higher Mathematics. He's also the other game programmer in the team and handles general gameplay programming and AI.
Thomas also took up computer science in ateneo. Not having a Mac or game development skills, he handles most of the non-iOS and non-game programming.
Meggy graduated from Ateneo with two BFA degrees (Information Design and Creative Writing) but has her heart in making pictures move. She helps out with the team's design-related work, project management, game art, and animation. She's not sure what to feel about being the token girl of the group.
2) What does By Implication offer/do?
We make games, mostly. We also make applications and other things, when we get ideas that we think people will find useful.
So far, we've got three games out for people to play. We've got an award-winning social-action simulation game out for the PC called Wildfire. We also have Scram, a first-person atmospheric running game for sale on the iOS App Store. We also made a game called Escalation!, which is available free for Samsung's old bada phones. We have a good number of other cool things in the pipeline, but we'll talk about those a bit later.
We've also done some consulting/client work for some innovative Filipino startups, but we can't really talk too much about that until the products themselves are out. (But do stay tuned!)
Occasionally, we're asked to talk at schools and seminars about making apps, putting together a development company, and other stuff.
3) Do any of you have a comp sci background?
Yes, our programmers come from computer science educations. Funny thing is, computer science courses in the Philippines are rarely ever enough to get you ready for a heavy game or application development career; all our programmers have had to do a significant amount of self-teaching to get to where they are now.
The rest of us (the artists, designers, and the one lonely manager) have varying degrees of self-taught computer science knowledge, but not nearly as much as our programmers.
4) Why did you guys choose to set up your own company instead of going the traditional go work for a big company route?
Well, we really wanted to make games and original Filipino content. Thing is, there aren't really a lot of places to do that in the corporate setting over here. There are several software and game development studios here. A good number of these are doing pretty interesting stuff, but many do primarily outsourcing work. Some of us were actually trying to convince ourselves to just make games on the side, and take a full-time corporate job, but we couldn't bring ourselves to do it.
Some of us also theorize that we would probably lose our minds working for a big corporation, anyway. The early-morning commutes alone would probably be enough to shatter our fragile senses of self.
5) Where are you guys currently based (office wise)?
The Internet. It's really got the best rental rates currently available.
Physically, though, we've grown the ability to set up an HQ and start working nearly anywhere. We're all laptop users, so this is actually pretty easy. We can work in cars, vans, planes, buses, and over plates of dinner. It's sort of good for our brains, too, because there is nowhere we can go to be safe from work!
When we don't feel like nomads, we work in an office near Camp Crame, or at one of our major clients' offices, on Pasong Tamo Extension.
This is all in the Philippines, of course.
6) Whats the culture like at By Implication?
It's... weird. We're a bunch of mind-linked, workaholic obsessives. We don't really keep regular work schedules (because, well, it's not as if our natures would allow us to slack off, anyway.)
We also don't really like hierarchies or work protocols, or office-style processes and politics of any sort. Everyone working on a project has an equal say in decision-making, whether he or she's been working on the project forever, or has just come aboard two days ago.
7) Would you say that you enjoy being colleagues with your best mates?
Yes, it's pretty great. We've been hanging out and talking about games for over eight years now, maybe. After you've been friends and co-workers with someone for that long, you tend to develop a better sense of how the other person thinks, and how your work can complement his, even how he'd respond when confronted with a particular problem. As we mentioned earlier, this has allowed us to develop sort of a hive mind within the company. This works quite well for assuring that everyone's always on the same page.
8) What are you currently working on?
As we mentioned earlier, we've got a lot of projects in the pipe (this is possibly why most of us are always twitchy and sleep-deprived).
We're working on a comics distribution platform for Philippine authors, artists and readers. It's coming along pretty nicely, and we'll probably be releasing more news on that one soon.
We also recently came up with this new idea for an art utility app. We're developing it both as an internal tool, and as something that we can sell to other indie game developers, to make an important part of the development of a certain type of game much easier. We've decided to fast-track development on this, and again, we'll have more news on this soon.
And, of course, we're working on more games. One of our current long-term projects is a mind-bending topdown action game. Another one that's in pre-production is an expansion of a fun, frustrating multiplayer game we were able to come up with during the recent Global Game Jam. We also have a dungeon crawler, a strategy game, and a martial-arts combat game in the pipe, but those are a little too far off for us to talk about just yet.
9) Any future projects/plans/goals?
We want to make more games! And more applications! And sell more stuff (of course)!
Our goal has always been to raise the bar for game and application development in our country, and to hopefully become a respected name in the global game and application industry.
That's what we, as a group, want. We're not so sure about our project manager, though. We hear he just wants to grow up to become a Tyrannosaurus Rex.