Member Profile – Complex Games

Complex Games

Complex Games is Manitoba’s first videogame development company, founded nearly 20 years ago in Winnipeg.  Over the course of its history, Complex has transformed and adapted with changes to the industry, growing from a small independent developer to a capable work-for-hire studio creating top-selling & award-winning games for some of the world’s largest brands and publishers, including Disney, Nickelodeon, Sony, and Zynga.

Since 2015 Complex has moved away from work-for-hire and is focused exclusively on the development and publishing its own titles, starting with the successful Warhammer 40,000 game: The Horus Heresy – Drop Assault.

Complex is now working on a completely new project for PC & Console platforms, which it plans to announce late 2020.


Interview with Noah Decter-Jackson, Founder, CEO and Creative Director

Back in 2001 when we got started there was no videogame development to speak of in Winnipeg, the industry was mostly localized on the US Coasts and in Japan, and there were only small clusters across Canada in BC, Alberta, Quebec and Ontario.  But game development was a path I was committed to taking, and I was fortunate enough to know others growing up that had the same ambitions as I did.  We had either just graduated or just started working full-time jobs and thought: “It’s probably now or never”, and so we started, with no experience, no track record, and no idea what we’re doing.  Somehow in the past 19 years, we’ve managed to make just enough mistakes not to knock us out of the game completely, and have also grown and learned a lot along the way.

Throughout the mobile boom, we got heavily into mobile work-for-hire and were very successful, building out our own technology for real-time multiplayer games on mobile that helped us compete effectively with other world-class studios.  This was the key to working with some of our biggest clients.  

But all of that has changed, we finally said “we’ve had enough” of work-for-hire in 2015, and took a big step towards independent development, at first through self-publishing our own mobile title, and now by focusing on self-publishing a new title for PC & Consoles.

Lots of patience, conserving resources, saving up, and building a war chest to survive the tremendous risks of independent game development.

In the past we grew through work-for-hire, growing with the contracts we were able to bring in. Now we’re trying to remain a steady size and continue to build the expertise of our veteran team.

Really 2 things:  First is that we’ve had the patience to invest in developing talent locally where it didn’t really exist… It would have been impossible to build a gamedev studio from nothing without it.  Second, we continue to strive to do the best we can to keep our amazing talent here at Complex, great teams make great games.

Clients going bankrupt or their departments being shut down, financial crises (we’ve survived 2 and Covid-19 makes the 3rd likely upcoming, crossed fingers we make it through this!), unexpected project cancellations, local & international competition for talent, the list goes on…but the largest challenge is always figuring out the millions of little details that make up one of the largest decisions we have to make at any given point:  What are we going to working on, how long will it take, and why will it work?

It is an incredible privilege to be able to work on video games as a profession. We have an opportunity to craft an experience for tens, thousands, even (if we’re lucky) millions that might have a real and emotional impact on their day-to-day lives.  Not many have this kind of opportunity.

We always start by looking to high-potential talent locally first, and we often expect to skill up internally from there. A strong work ethic and prioritizing personal skill development is extremely important, and of course the ability to learn and deliver with the right attitude.

The culture at Complex has changed over the years, the founders started in their early 20’s, and most of us are in our late 30’s and 40’s now, while even our youngest team members are older than when we started, so I’d like to think and hope we’ve been able to build a studio that is more mature and respectful of each individual’s needs and point of view.

Our priority since leaving work-for-hire has been to encourage better work-life-balance for everyone on the team.  What this means is that we’re willing to be a ‘less obviously fun’ work environment compared to say the “Silicon Valley” standards that get written-up about in Wired: We don’t push the team into weekly beers, or other social activities that constantly impinge on productive time in the studio.  We try and respect the extremely valuable personal and family time our team members need after work by keeping work time as efficient as we can.  

Advances in IDM are changing everything. The way that we work at BSD is constantly affected by this. The entire company is set up to function remotely, although we do have a physical office we all work out of. Flexible work schedules and offices are becoming the norm.

Purely in tech? Code, code anything small and get it done. It’s something you can show off, and just finishing a small piece of software or game is a huge accomplishment that you can reflect on, learn from, and talk about.  Try and build a bunch of small different things on a regular basis, challenge your skills in new and different ways.  Understanding how software is built (and having the skills to build it) is so valuable to a career in tech, I wish I had done this more before starting my own career.

Be constantly willing to take on new challenges and adapt to changing market forces. People use the word “pivot” a lot, and there’s definitely a right time and a wrong time to pivot, but the tech market is constantly in flux and you have to be conscious enough of what’s happening to make the right decisions to lead your studio in the direction you want to go.  You don’t need a crystal ball to succeed, but you do need to make it your business to be aware of what’s happening in the market and be prepared to adapt to it.

NMM has been pivotal in our success in many different ways, though honestly it would far too long to get into in this venue.  

As a board member of NMM, I see it as part of my responsibility to ensure the organization continues to do its utmost help other burgeoning studios in the way it helped us over the years.

New Media Manitoba