Speaking of your upcoming game, you said now is about when you guys realized that the time had come, from a studio perspective. How did you develop that self-awareness and control over your destiny, rather than saying, "Let's just take a chance! We'll pitch people"?
AR: Well, we did pitch people. We've done that, for sure, before. We take some idea we have.
Our first pitch, year one, I swear to God, the name of the game was Hubris. I think the other people who worked at Demiurge realized the irony in that, but it was just lost on me.
It's been something we've always wanted to do; the difference is, then, we had a sort of doe-eyed ignorance. It's almost good that we didn't get that gig, we didn't land that project, because we probably would have flubbed it in the end -- because you don't really get second chances in the game industry.
We started thinking about the right size for a project for a studio of our size, and our shape, and our experience. In addition to picking original properties, and thinking about the marketplace also, thinking about what was right for our studio right now. Then we worked with the design team to bear that out. And it helps you find financing partners too.
Do you feel that had an effect on the creative direction you guys took your project? I'm sure that after all these years, as with everyone who works in a creative field, you had plenty of ideas, right?
AR: Yeah, absolutely. We're very pragmatic. I mean, the nature of the work we do, being in the work-for-hire business, meant we've had to be a bit more careful and a bit more professional. We're not really a "work hard, play hard" kind of place, and that pragmatism and professionalism has led the pitches for properties, and that process comes from the employees.
We've tried to instill a culture here where people don't just think about their super quirky project, but also what they think will play well and what will be sellable. We do a "game of the week" contest where everybody writes a title on a whiteboard -- well not everybody, we have five titles, and we're trying to pick which one we're going to buy that we're going to play at lunch for the following week.
We all vote on them at the weekly staff meeting, and people have to pitch the game in one or two sentences. Even that little cultural feature of the studio gets people thinking about, "Well, my game, that is going to sit on the shelves, or be a downloadable title, has to be able to sell itself in a couple of sentences." It's interesting to see the dynamic, when people realize how hard it is to capture an idea in two sentences, and I think that finds its way into their own design.
Do you think that pragmatism is the key to making something that, in the end, could be a success from a publishing perspective?
AR: I think in the game industry, we are short on pragmatism, for sure. I don't think that it's more essential than being especially creative, or having brilliant, distinctive artwork, but I think in the game industry, especially in smaller studios, people are not practical.
They sometimes need to be more realistic about what the marketplace wants, not what their little dream game is. I think we have been able to marry what the market wants with what our dream game is nicely; I'm excited about that.
I think what's disappointing is when people's dream game is really boring, which happens a lot.
AR: (laughs) It's interesting. When people pitch ideas, it takes place at lunch, so you have to stand up in front of the studio and say, "here's my idea for a game." People do little PowerPoint stacks, or sometimes just a piece of artwork.
When getting up in front of people to talk about your title, it's amazing how quick the people giving the pitches realize the flaws in their ideas, and what is really a home run in their ideas, based on having to stand up in front of their peers and talking about it. It works incredibly well.
Does that lead to refinement or rejection of ideas, do you think?
AR: Oh, refinement, for sure. It causes people to extract the little gems in this bigger idea that they have that will really resonate and push back the stuff that didn't sit well with people. It's pretty rare for somebody to make a pitch here and then have it be D.O.A. Almost always, there are follow-up discussions in the design department about what's working and what isn't.