Although it’s been awfully silent here for a while, all of the Frictional Games’ team is working hard on new things. Unfortunately, we can’t share anything with you at the moment, but yes – there’s two projects in the pipeline, and we are very excited about both of them.
In 2015 SOMA was published after years of hard work, followed by the release of both SOMA and Amnesia: Collection on Playstation 4.
But everyone who’s ever worked on, and shipped a project, knows there’s a deep void that will present itself as soon as the confetti has landed and the champagne bottles are emptied.
This is when you need some magic in order to kickstart the team again. It’s time to start generating ideas, work on concepts and make sure everyone finds his or her place in the project. If you happen to have not only a producer, but an executive producer on board, this is the perfect time to make the most of it. And here’s where Frictional Games is lucky, because since late 2015, there is such a person on the team, and it’s about time to get to know Fredrik Olsson a little bit better.
So, who are you, really?
Well, I guess I like to think of myself as a fun-loving and easy-going guy who strives towards creativity on an exceptional level. Over the course of my career I’ve learnt, about myself, that I am not truly happy unless I am involved in something that sets out to break boundaries and creates something truly unique. Games have been one of my main interests ever since my father brought our first gaming console, an Intellivision (yes I am getting old!), into our lives already in my pre-teens. I immediately fell in love with games as a concept and it stuck with me and developed further through basically all of the upcoming technology generations (Commodore 64, Atari ST, PC, Atari Lynx, Playstation, PSP, PS2, XBOX 360 and now eventually PS4). I guess I didn’t see it at that time, but clear signs that I was destined for the gaming industry was already there in my early teens. In addition to the late nights playing games, I spent a tremendous amount of time learning the first version of 3D Studio (without access to a handbook or tutorials) and creating 3D art and animations.
At the age of 17 I started realizing that the gaming industry was where I needed to be and I started looking for the next step to realizing that dream. At that time however, educations focusing on game development was basically nonexistent, and my personal development went on a slight detour. Having spent 4,5 years at the University studying “System Science”, I got a job at the Swedish branch of Toyota’s forklift business where I quickly got the position of International Project Manager. My role focused on the implementation of system support for the order, sales and marketing processes of the European sales-subsidiaries of the company. Even though the experiences I had at Toyota was very challenging and rewarding it was eventually the high amount of travelling that made me leave. Travelling basically every week was taking its toll on me and more regional positions within that company didn’t seem as interesting to me as the more international ones. Feeling forced to look for new challenges elsewhere I quit Toyota and became a team manager and business consultant at a medium sized IT consultancy company in Stockholm.
It was after little more than one and a half year in the IT consultancy business that it happened. One of my old bosses and friends at Toyota got tired of hearing me talk about this idea for a game that I had carried with me from my teens, and he started pushing me into doing something about it. He probed me on the idea and business model and together we fleshed out a business case for it. We eventually reached a point where our technical knowledge wasn’t sufficient and in order to assess the idea from a technical perspective we brought it to one of my brother’s oldest friends and he, quite surprisingly, displayed a very strong interest in the project. Before I knew it, in the year of 2007, I had quit my well paid job in the IT consultancy business and, together with my brother’s friend, set out to pursue the strongest of all my childhood dreams. Together, with financial backup from my father’s small company and with the facilitation of offshore outsourcing in Ukraine, we created an online multiplayer turn-based football game (!) called Footballidentity based on the vision of being able to play the role of a football player in a realistic football world fully populated by other users. The project has been a hell of a ride and a character-defining experience, for me personally. It’s a truly unique concept and when we started out we had no idea of how it would be received by the world. But now 7 years after the initial release the thing I cherish the most is all the love and dedication we’ve seen from the community (even if it never grew into any huge numbers). It’s been amazing to see how something that was originally an idea for a game that I had dreamt of playing myself, managed to create some extremely strong and long lasting sensations for all those that gave this unusual 11vs11 player experience a shot.
In 2014 Footballidentity had turned quite out-of-date. The user-base had started deteriorating and we didn’t have the resources needed to continue develop and modernize it. Several investors were showing interest in what we had created. They were especially impressed by the very long lifespan of active users (many users are still playing since 2009-2010) and the size of the sharks (multiple users spent as much as 1000 EUR on additional features even though the game was free to play). In the end the uniqueness and lack of similar games resulted in none of the investors having the guts to invest in us and we had to face the music and realize that the game wouldn’t be going to the next level. So me and my co-founder decided to pursue new challenges (while maintaining the football game on our spare-time), and in May 2014 I took a job as a producer at Tarsier Studios in Malmö. This was an extremely interesting time as I, for little more than one and a half year, got to work with an extremely talented bunch of people, as co-producer (together with Media Molecule) on the Tearaway Unfolded project and later also a short period on, the soon to be released, Little Nightmares title.
In 2015 however, the opportunity to take on the role of Executive Producer here at Frictional arose and it was an opportunity I just had to pursue. The role and the character of the company felt like a perfect match for me. An environment where my personality and experience would come to be of best use and Frictional Game has been my home since the 1st of December 2015.
So, from having dreamt of working with games as a youngster, my career took a somewhat unusual detour before eventually landing me back in the environment where I’ve always felt I belong. You might ask if I ever feel that the 7-year detour was a waste of time, but I can honestly say that I feel the absolute opposite. Working in more traditional and mature industries (forklifts and IT-consultancy), in differently sized companies (from 8000 to 60 to 2 employees) and having started my own small studio have given me experience that I cherish an awful lot in my everyday work. I think it has played a big part in forming me into the person, employee and coworker that I am and a more “straight” career within the still very immature gaming industry would have made it a lot more difficult to build up the backbone mentality and frame of reference that fuels my way of work and way of thinking, every day.
That’s my life story right there! I guess I could add to that by mentioning a few cornerstones that seems to always guide the way I approach work. The most distinct ones I’d say would be professionalism, creativity and humour. Professionalism; always try to do the very best you can and approach people with helpfulness in every situation, even if it might not always seem to be your responsibility to help out. Creativity; not only strive for creating something unique but also try and approach problem solving and opportunities with creativity and openness to taking new paths. Humour; I believe that a workplace where humour, joking and lightheartedness is regarded as unnecessary or even obstructive, is never going to reach its full potential. In my mind those aspects (without them going overboard of course) are key to establishing prosperous working-relations and good communication within a team, something that in turn leads to efficiency and quality in the long-run.
Tell us – what was your first impression when you started working at Frictional Games?
The same day as I started working at Frictional, the co-founder and creative director at the company, Thomas Grip, was going to give a talk about game design at an event here in Malmö. It was a perfect opportunity to get to know him a bit better so I decided to attend that talk. A few days after that I remember saying to someone that I felt I had learnt more about, and had gotten a much more interesting perspective on, game design during my first day at Frictional, than I had gotten in all those years running up to that. I’d say that’s quite an awesome (but rare) first impression when kicking off a new job! Those feelings have only continued growing from there, and that’s not only thanks to Thomas but also thanks to the brilliant, dedicated and often exceptionally strange minds of the rest of the team. I am not exaggerating when I say that I get amazed almost every day about the quality, creativity and efficiency that the team displays, whether it’s in concepting, environment art, design, writing or sound.
Another thing that struck me early on was the fact that the team seemed so in sync even though the whole team was distributed all over Sweden and Europe. Not only with regards to the daily routines and communication on Slack but also when it came down to the creative ambitions and mutual understanding of tasks and goals. From those perspectives it all felt a lot more like a well-oiled machinery than I had expected to find before starting. I felt that the only thing missing was a bit more structure, some clearer processes and a tad more transparency, especially when keeping in mind where the company is heading and the challenges that lies ahead.
What can you say about the future of Frictional Games?
Frictional is going through a really interesting phase right now. The company is becoming a “two-project studio” with two projects always running simultaneously and seamlessly alternating between pre-production and production. Apart from having to grow the team slightly, something that has taken (and is still taking) a lot of our focus, there’s also a strong demand for a change in team structure. Instead of having one person master-minding basically everything from high level design down to specific level-design we are putting in place a structure with a dedicated leads-team (for high level design, story and art direction) and something we call task-forces (for level-design, scripting- and art-implementation). Responsibility and influence over the game is being distributed out to every part of the team (even though the leads team always have the final say) and we like to look at it as utilizing the collective brainpower of the whole team instead of only that of a few individuals. All of this might sound easy on paper but it does in fact create a lot of new requirements when it comes to processes, communication, transparency and knowledge sharing, and they all need to be fulfilled without smothering the awesome creativity that already resides within the team. It is safe to say that this is a challenge that’s not to be taken lightly, but one that will generate tremendous value if managed successfully. Being able to run two projects in parallel of course carries a strong financial value in itself, but more shared responsibility, multiplied creativity and a higher degree of communication and collaboration, is bound to result in an improved output both in quality and productivity. Not to mention that less dependency on specific individuals will make the studio less fragile.
What would you say has been the best thing that happened since you became a part of Frictional Games?
Well, many good things have happened since I started here 😉 but if I had to pick one I’d probably say it’s related to some progress we’ve made when it comes to defining the company and what we want to become. A challenge we’ve been facing is the fact that the studio has been suffering a bit from a minor identity crisis. Even though some (hidden) guiding principles have been feeding the work of the studio for some time now, those have not been distilled, clearly defined and communicated as a vision. This has resulted in a certain degree of hybridism in our creations, something that has not only complicated development but also made it difficult to package and market the games. SOMA is the most clearly shining example of this as it sits as a mixture of horror and philosophy. The game has gotten it’s strongest appraisal not from the horror aspects of the game, but from the strong philosophical design, story and narrative. Perhaps the game would have been better off with a clearer focus on the philosophical theme. One might even assume that some people, who would have otherwise appreciated the philosophical theme, will never get to experience it due to them being discouraged by the horror stamp that the game has gotten. I’m happy to say that we’ve made some truly promising progress in this area lately. We’ve recently managed to nail down a clear vision (for the studio) that goes in line with where the studio has been heading and that vision is already fueling (and to some degree dictating) the direction of our ongoing development.