GS: Dan, I asked Dave [Grossman] this earlier, but I'd like your perspective: if Telltale runs on such a small scale, if your market specifically is for a preexisting audience of fans, how can you afford to operate in Northern California?
DC: Oh, you know. [laughs] I think a lot of people want to work for Telltale. I don't want to sound arrogant about it, but we're doing something that's near and dear to a lot of people's hearts. And getting the opportunity to work on something like Bone and something like Sam & Max…it's not for everybody, but for the people that want to do this kind of thing, Telltale offers a very unique experience for them, and CSI as well. We can work with serious industry professionals who have spent years and years learning the craft, and now frankly our production processes allow us to do everything much cheaper. Bone was built with seven people, and we outsourced for a couple of months. So seven people in six months.
GS: Is that for both chapters?
DC: No, that was Boneville, and for Cow Race, actually it's about seven core people, and then the team grows to about fourteen for a couple months, but the production cycles are short, the teams aren't huge, our tools are very tailored to be efficient. Telltale's put out four products in two years, and for twelve months of those, we were starting a company, turning on the lights and raising money. So we do everything very cost effectively. But the California talent allows that cost effectiveness! It's not like we're saying, hey, we're just going to go out and find a hundred of the cheapest people we can find and pay them two cents. We're saying, let's go out and get the best people we know, the people that think like us.
GS: Do you track the genders of your purchasers?
GS: And what have you found?
DC: It varies. CSI is mostly a female demographic, though it's only probably about a 60/40 type of split. The Bone games are still mostly male. The Sam & Max games aren't out yet, but tracking the people who come to our site for it, they're still mostly male, and that's based on the gaming legacy, and the comic book crowd. Telltale has a good reach into the game audience and into the comic book audience. We're not getting a lot of school-aged kids that Scholastic has been able to get with Bone, but the audiences that we see right now are mostly male.
GS: Are you targeting the school-aged kids?
DC: Not necessarily. I mean, we looked at Bone because it was all ages. Scholastic picked it up because it has a resonance with kids. The early ones are younger and the story gets more complex as you go. But we definitely are targeting our fan base to start with, because when you're starting a company that's where you go. You can't go and spend a ton to acquire a new audience. So we built a product for what we thought our fans would like. But the people who are playing…the kids are loving it. And that's a good thing, we don't look at that as bad. But we're basically following Jeff [Smith, Bone creator]'s plan, because we believe his story's great, and hopefully that will continue to resonate as we finish this thing.
GS: Dave, maybe you're involved in this too: from a design perspective on Bone, is there a challenge in having to stick to the original book? Do you feel like you don't have a lot of legroom?
Dave Grossman: Yes and no. This is actually one of the things I said at the panel today. We actually, specifically talking about The Great Cow Race, a lot of the gameplay kind of fell out of the story. So we got a head start, Jeff did a lot of great character development that just suggested things to us. But there's a big problem in the cow race itself where you finally get to the race, where we've been building it up the whole game, people have been talking about it, people have been betting on it, and the title of the game is The Great Cow Race. And you get to it, and according to the story, you have to lose the race. So now game play is, okay, well we've got to let you play the race, because it would be really disappointing not to let you do that. But we also have to make you lose, and we still have to make it fun, so yeah. That was actually a pretty big design challenge.
DC: From a production standpoint, I will say, talking about how we do things and how we make products happen: to build a world like the Bone world, we'd need a design staff either of fifteen people, or we'd need thirteen years to do it, because Jeff's already done that work. That's something that's kind of a hidden cost for people designing original properties, all of a sudden the question is about character motivation. Where does it come from? Well, someone needs to make the backstory behind every character, where did they live, where did they come from, what's going on in this environment. So you save all that, that's already done with great source material.
GS: Or you hire a writer and give them a weekend, like I've heard from a lot of games writers.
DG: I can do a lot in a weekend.
DC: You can do a lot in a weekend, but a game designer is not necessarily a story creator, and I think for years that's been the norm, and that might be one of the reasons why story is such an elusive thing in games.