It sounds like you take pitches from people no matter what discipline they're working under, but then design takes a look at them.
AR: Yeah, definitely. We treat designers here as -- it's a professional skill, like engineering, like artwork. For the whole studio, there's a wonderful talent pool there and a lot of brilliant thinking, but design is a job and we hire people with that title who are designers for a reason; it's because they're able to design games. We want to make sure they're involved in the process as early as possible.
There's always a back and forth -- I talk to a lot of people who work at a lot of different studios, and it seems like that design is still... not 100 percent nailed down, shall we say?
AR: Sure. One of the things I've learned personally, in particular, over the past few years, working with the designers we have here, is I thought -- as recent as two or three years ago -- "Well, anybody can be a designer, and it's something you do in addition to engineering, or production, or artwork, or whatever it is."
But working with the design team here, that we've managed to bring to the studio, I've learned very much that it's a professional skill, and there are people who are so much better at it than I ever imagined. Working with them is super humbling.
The founders and I, we started butting out of the design process, because these people are professionals, they know what they're doing, and we should have them design our games. That's why we hired them. There are plenty of studio heads that have that design instinct, but I am not one of them.
I think to a point, everyone thinks they can design a game in their head, right? We all play games, the industry is full of people who love games, so...
AR: Well, it's like writing. Anybody who is literate can write, but that doesn't make you a writer. I think a lot of people make that mistake. Like I can design, but that doesn't make me a designer.
I remember when you announced you were doing the PC version of Mass Effect, there was a real emphasis of your studio's understanding of actually creating a unique interface for the PC audience and that was recognized by the players. Is that something that is a part of your studio's DNA?
AR: Sure. Well, I think all the great developers understand their audiences. With Mass Effect, that's another example of a project where quality was a priority. There may have been other studios that walked from that project, because they're like, "Well, it's the PC SKU of a BioWare game, but it's just the PC SKU." And we looked at that as an opportunity.
What we always touted around the office was the idea was: "We are making a game for the PC and the content has been done for us. What do we need to do?" -- and just trying to look at the project from a fresh perspective.
And BioWare gave us -- maybe a longer leash than they wished they had in the end -- but they gave us the creative freedom that was needed to make Mass Effect on the PC phenomenal, rather than making Mass Effect for the 360 work on the PC. It was a long project too; I think we took 15 or 16 months to put that together.
That's a long time for a quote-unquote "port."
AR: Oh! Evil word! (laughs)
That's why I put it in air quotes! You don't like that word, though?
AR: It's a naughty word here because of that project. We want to do what's right for the platform. It is what it is, but it definitely has a negative connotation now, so we try to avoid using it.
I think it has a negative connotation outside of your studio too, which is why people were so gratified by that version.
AR: Right. And to BioWare's credit, we told them, "This is what we want to do." And they said, "Yes, that's absolutely what we want!" And their roots are, of course, as a PC developer, so they have their fans in mind, and they trusted us with their fans, which was an honor, frankly.
I don't think I became aware of your studio personally until probably Mass Effect, and that's probably because you guys are a bit behind-the-scenes.
AR: Yeah, for sure. That's been really tough with us. That's why we work with [PR] Tracie. When you're working with big brands, like Rock Band, you're working with big studios, like Harmonix, who is owned by MTV, who is owned by Viacom -- these huge corporations -- it's easy to get lost in their shadow.
And that's part of our role, right? They are the stars, and we're working with their brand, hoping it shines brighter than it was before. That's a real challenge for us.
That's one of the things that is super exciting about working on our own property, is brainstorming how we're going to do the marketing ourselves, if that ends up being the right thing to do, and what the angle for that is going to be. It's a lot of fun; it's re-kindled my entrepreneurial spirit that got Demiurge started in the first place. That's easy to forget about when you get big and you're dealing with the day-to-day.