But there's also a lot on the line at a privately-owned company like Stardock. Like you mentioned, Elemental had a rocky launch, but was then later patched, then the studio had to issue layoffs, before ultimately rehiring workers back. Did those issues worry you at all, coming on board just a few months after that happened?
JS: I don't think it's something that will really affect the long-term future of the company. Even though Elemental's launch was rough, and there were the layoffs, even before the game was out, it had already broken even with pre-orders.
That's from the approach that Stardock takes to making games. They don't have 500 people working on it; they don't spend nearly as much. So they don't need to sell 2 million units in order to break even.
The big issue with [Elemental's rocky launch] was just projecting future revenue for continued development, and Brad was having a hard time with that, but he's dedicated to the game and wants to make sure it gets what it deserves.
In the past, every Stardock game has done incredibly well, given how much it actually cost to produce. The issues with Elemental are very much a momentary blip, and that's part of the reason Brad wanted to bring myself and Derek Paxton in -- to help fill in some of the needs and bring some of the experience that wasn't there when Stardock was really focused on games as more of a hobby than major projects.
It's not something that really concerns me at all. I think we're going to be very successful. Stardock has a very smart plan about what's coming up in the future. I'm very confident about where things are going.
Elemental: War of Magic
About yourself, your career has a lot of Civilization in it. Can you explain what draws you as a game designer to strategy games? Is it something you've always enjoyed?
JS: The core inspiration is probably when I was young, my mother was an elementary school teacher, and she's always had a strong interest in books, particularly in terms of history books. So a lot of what I read when I was a child were those history books she had lying around. Even from a young age, I was really wrapped up in history.
And games are definitely a new way of experiencing -- I guess anything, really -- but especially history, because so often when you're learning that history or reading about it, it's soon gone, or irrelevant. But when you play a game about history, you're the one involved in it, you're the one, like in the case of Civilization, you're making the decisions as to how history itself unfolds.
So from a young age I've always had an interest in history, and that blossomed through playing games like Civilization and other areas. I definitely played a lot of different kinds of strategy games. I started with some of the more historical ones, I've played quite a few.
What about different kinds of strategy games outside of turn-based? Are you interested in real-time strategy games, or that kind of design?
JS: Definitely. One of my favorite games ever was actually Company of Heroes.
Oh, I love that game.
JS: I've played so much of that. But I've probably spent more time watching replays than I have actually playing. So that's one example, it's the one that I've definitely played the most of in terms of RTS. But in the last year I've bought StarCraft II, I've bought R.U.S.E. I try to keep up with everything. Strategy gaming, whether they're real-time or turn-based, it can be fun no matter what form. I try to dabble in everything.
Back to your job transition, you explained what attracted you to Stardock, but prompted you to leave Firaxis?
JS: Ultimately, the decision came down to what Stardock has to offer. Like I was talking about earlier, every company has different strengths and different weaknesses. As a designer, it's really unique to work for a company like Stardock, where Brad is so dedicated to the games. He very much enjoys working on the games, but he doesn't necessarily want to be the one designing everything himself.
A lot of times, what you'll see with the smaller, private companies, is the person in charge who's involved with a lot of things also wants to be a designer, and make a lot of decisions for everything in the game. But that's not the case with Brad. It makes Stardock very unique in that sense.
I really enjoyed my time at Firaxis. It was a lot of fun. Definitely working on Civ was an absolutely incredible experience. I got to know a lot of good people, but Stardock, with the opportunity I have here, it's something that's incredibly rare, and maybe even once in a lifetime. So I jumped on it when I had that chance.