Chicago cried when Alex Seropian left the Windy City. And Los Angeles exploded into flames when he arrived. Or at least that's how the games industry veteran interpreted the rain and forest fires in the respective cities the day he moved from the Midwest to the West Coast.
The affable co-founder of Halo purveyor Bungie Studios and, more recently, the founder of Chicago-based Wideload Games this week announced that he'd be taking the creative reins across all of Disney Interactive Studios following Disney's acquisition of his studio.
From the outside, it appears to be a drastic move – Seropian is best known for his entrepreneurial and independent, creative streak. He helped create games like Myth and Halo, as well as Stubbs the Zombie and Hail to the Chimp. Now, instead of leading a 25-person studio in the Midwest, he'll be in charge of the creative direction of six development studios that reside within the biggest entertainment company on the planet.
It'll be a big adjustment for Seropian -- or will it? "I have no intention of adjusting," he said, deadpan, before bursting out laughing. He's only half joking. "I feel that's part of the reason why I'm here at Disney. There's a real opportunity to bring that knowledge of what I've been learning and developing over many years over to Disney, to do some really cool things. This is an opportunity that people don't get."
For Seropian, that opportunity lies in the resources of a global company that hit $37.8 billion in revenues in 2008, and one that is home to perhaps the most recognizable properties in all of entertainment. "If you just think of all the stuff that Disney's done, it's somewhat intimidating, but in some ways, it's like being a kid in a candy store," Seropian said, "where it's like, oh my gosh, there's so much potential here, so much we can do."
The sale of Wideload wasn't specifically planned. "We weren't looking to sell the company at all," Seropian said. "We were looking to make a game." Wideload and Disney began working on a title, and conversations turned to a broader scope and vision for the two companies, and the direction of the industry overall. "We discovered we had a lot in common in our philosophies."
But fans of Seropian's work, and possibly some of his colleagues, may still not be satisfied with why he traded independent for corporate. For the pessimists, it's another disappointing indication of how big conglomerates are tractor-beaming small, creative studios into the cold gray mothership. Seropian doesn't see it like that at all.
"I've been really lucky to be presented with the chance to come out here and basically do what I've been doing for the last six years on a worldwide stage with the resources of a singular company like Disney," he said.
Seropian still gives off the vibe of an independent. "I have this dream of what we can do, and the guys here have that same dream. It's not like I have the intention to ruffle a whole bunch of feathers -- but I'm sure I will."
Studying The Movie Industry
Looking at Seropian and Wideload's background, a partnership with Disney makes sense. Seropian has gone to lengths to implement film industry practices in game development at Wideload, adopting an external development model similar to the film industry.
Seropian's comparisons between movies and video games are more practical than the typical wide-eyed musings of how video games can "overtake" or even replace movies. "I don't think it matters if there's a group of people who don't want to play video games. I think what matters is that there's a swell now that's pushing games far into the mainstream."
"At least creatively, I've been looking for ways to expand the reach of video games, especially being older and having kids," Seropian said. "I've been looking at other forms of media, like movies and TV, and how mature those segments are. The video game industry still has a lot of potential to mature that way. Having a chance to do that is really cool."
He elaborated, "Why look at the film industry? It's just a study. It's to learn from an industry that's been solving those problems for a much longer period than video games. Some things apply and some things don't."
He added, "We make games, we don't make movies. They're different activities. You can't think you're going to make a video game the same way that you make a movie. A lot of studios tried that a long time ago and learned that lesson the hard way."
Wideload is just the latest acquisition for Disney Interactive Studios. The development group has been busy expanding in the last few years, and is now also home to Avalanche Software, Fall Line Studio, Black Rock Studio, Propaganda Games, and Warren Spector's Junction Point. Collectively, DIS has created games ranging from Hannah Montana to Turok to Pure.
As VP of creative at DIS, Seropian looks forward to dipping his fingers into the internal game development talent pool that is now readily at his disposal. "I really believe in creative promiscuity," he said, "where you take ideas and you work on them, and you don't actually ship them all." With a group of six studios in Disney Interactive, Seropian expects they will be able to 'riff' off of each other's ideas.
New ideas are surely already brewing within Seropian's head and DIS as a whole. "We're going to be doing a lot. Some of it is going to be bringing existing IPs that people love to the video game space. But I think a big opportunity that we're absolutely going to go after is creating a big original hit out of the interactive group. Whether that's going to leverage new properties or be entirely new stuff, we don't know. And if I knew, I probably couldn't tell you."
One of the big DIS projects currently brewing, now under the watchful eye of Seropian, is Austin, Tex.-based Warren Spector and Junction Point's mysterious game, rumored to be codenamed "Epic Mickey."
While Seropian is gallivanting with his pals out at the Mickey Mouse club, he said the Wideload team he left back in Chicago knew that one long-term goal was to make original games and get them on a worldwide stage. Wideload is more than okay with the change.
That, and -- according to Seropian -- the Chicago crew is holding onto hopes that it can get into Disneyworld for free.