Why Tencent invested in UK indie studio Milky Tea

Why Tencent invested in UK indie studio Milky Tea

Earlier this week, the news broke that Chinese tech and entertainment giant Tencent had made an investment in Liverpool-based indie developer Milky Tea. 

We caught up with managing director Jonathan Holmes to talk about why Tencent took an interest in the studio, and what its plans are for new IP HyperBrawl Tournament. 

So how’s the last year for Milky Tea been?

2017 so far has been absolutely crazy, thoroughly enjoyable, and exhausting at the same time. None of us could have expected the reaction HyperBrawl Tournament got at GDC in March, when we first showed the game to the world. We’ve taken an unconventional route, showcasing what was a game in a pre-Alpha format. It was a huge risk to take on our part and has so far paid off. As a studio, you can get into an enclosed mindset where you think you have a great game concept but if the rest of the world doesn't think so you can fall flat on your face quite quickly. We knew we had a nice fun core mechanic but wanted publishers and consumers to let us know what they thought really early on. The reaction to the game has been nothing short of amazing wherever we have been, from LA to Shanghai. We realise we have a long way to go still and hope 2018 will be even better.

Big news about the deal with Tencent. How did this come about?

Amazing news and it hasn't fully sunk in yet I must admit. We met some of the Tencent European team about 18 months ago at GDC and have been talking ever since. We’ve chatted at various events all over the world and tried to stay as visible as possible. They have even been over to see us in Liverpool a couple of times. We’ve been keeping them in the loop with on our new products in development and also our business strategy. We have spent the last couple of years testing ideas out, making mistakes and learning a lot but we were confident we had a really strong game in development that coupled with an innovative strategy for the studio. So I think it's an amalgamation of a few things that's led this to happen.

What will this deal allow you to do?

Focus on making our own games IP for PC and console. For the past few years we have had to do a lot of work-for-hire game development and animation work for brands and studios all over the world, and reinvest this to develop our own IP. We will still be taking on work-for-hire projects but not at the detriment of the core business plan and developing our own games. It also allows us to scale up the team and make HyperBrawl Tournament the game we all want it to be.

Why do you think Tencent decided to invest in Milky Tea? Do you have any technology or patents that might have attracted them?

We’ve been successfully making content, games and IP for some of the worlds biggest brands for the past 12 years so I think there was a confidence that we could deliver high-quality games given the opportunity and support. We have a very different approach compared to other studios in terms of creativity and innovation. Also, we want to build new strong IPs from the ground up. I think the amount of interest and positive reactions to HyperBrawl definitely helped us as well.

Tencent knows what it is doing... the family of game studios it has invested in is exceptionally strong and I think the investment in Frontier is another exciting development
Jonathan Holmes, Milky Tea

What do you make of Tencent’s recent moves in Europe? The Milky Tea deal obviously follows others with the likes of Supercell and Frontier.

Tencent knows what it is doing. It is massively successful and an extremely intelligent team of people that does their homework. I’ve also got to know a large number of them pretty well and they are extremely humble and down to earth people. From experiencing the due diligence process, they definitely know what they are doing when it comes to their investments. The family of game studios is exceptionally strong and I think the investment in Frontier is another exciting development. Games such as Elite are what inspired me as a kid to get in this industry and as an IP it will be around forever. I’m really proud to be part of the Tencent family and they couldn’t be more supportive.

You are working on a new IP right now called HyperBrawl Tournament. Could you tell us a bit about this? 

HyperBrawl Tournament was inspired by the iconic 80s/90s game Speedball as well as retro 80s cartoons such as Mask and He-Man. We wanted to create a game that brought the new breed of sports action gamers together. We are all massive Battlerite, Rocket League and Super Smash Bros players and fans here and again we wanted these to help drive our ambition. The game started off as a simple block prototype that was incredibly fun to play and has been refined into what it is now. The back story is about a secret tournament that takes places between our universe and various other intergalactic dimensions to find the ultimate protector of these worlds. So on the one hand you have characters such as a lucha libre style wrestler from Mexico going up against an alien underworld demon called Shade. The game play is inspired an ancient Italian sport that takes place in Florence once a year called Calcio Fiorentino. Calcio is a brutal game of no rules handball that I dare you to check out. The game play is really fast and frantic with both combat and sports skills needed to prevail. We hope it’s the type of game that players can pick up and play really easily yet equally has a lot of room for skill development, with numerous characters, weapons and abilities to master.

Why release into Early Access? Is an Early Access release still going to happen given Tencent’s investment?

We want to stick to the original plan and get HyperBrawl to Early Access in Q1 2018. We’ve had experience of launching on Early Access before and it was really valuable in terms of getting feedback on the game and allowing us to refine the gameplay.

What’s your ambition for HyperBrawl Tournament?

At the moment we are trying to manage expectations yet our ambitions for the game really high. We would love to take the product to PS4 and Xbox as well as Steam and Switch. The investment from Tencent will give us the resources to focus on polishing the game play and making the game bigger and better. We have kept a lot of new content and ideas back so hopefully around Christmas we will be able to share some really special new updates and materials with you. It's looking better all the time and we've stayed really loyal to the small development team who are really passionate about the game and working tirelessly to make this something special.

Is eSports something that might be of interest with this title?
Yes definitely, but it's not for us to say this will be an eSports title. I think it's for gamers and the eSports community to adopt the title into this world. Early signs are that eSports fans are really loving the game and given us plenty of feedback and things to think about.

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.