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Making The Games He Wants To Make: The Jon Chey Interview
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Making The Games He Wants To Make: The Jon Chey Interview

July 19, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

So let's talk a little bit about your new business. What's going on, when did it start, and who's part of it?

JC: So we started about a year ago -- not quite a year ago -- in August last year. It's kind of an unusual business. At the moment, we're a totally distributed organization. We don't have an actual physical office. It's kind of, I guess, a loose collective. Nobody's working on it full time except for me, so it's really, I suppose, a real collaborative group little studio, rather than a conventional game development office.

And that may change a little bit in the future, but what's nice about that is that I'm able to bring in people who have exactly the skills I want when I want them -- for any amount of time that they want to contribute, too. Because a lot of them are actually doing other things, have other interests, as well, that they're pursuing.

So some of the people are working almost full time and some of them are working 10 hours a week, and they're all over the world.

There's me, I'm in Canberra. I do actually work with another guy, Farbs. He used to work for us in Canberra at Irrational, and he left a couple of years ago to become an indie developer, and I think made quite a name for himself, and made some really good stuff. And so he's continuing to do his own stuff.

He's got Captain Forever and he's got a new iteration of that, Captain Jameson, he's working on. My secret plan, of course, once we start making some money, is bring him in more full time. But it's a nice arrangement at the moment, because he can pursue his other interests at the same time. And I guess, hopefully, that will always be the case.

Our art director is a guy called Ben Lee, who used to work for us as well, and was the art director on Freedom Force. And he's worked over at Relentless in the UK. And we're working with a designer, Dorian Hart, who used to work for us and also worked at Looking Glass and worked on the Ultima Underworld games and the original System Shock, and so he's got an incredible pedigree.

And then we're also working with Richard Garfield, and his business partner Skaff [Elias], because we're working on a card game/board game so they're bringing some expertise from having actually designed card games and board games before.

So it's sort of like bringing in all these people as needed, and we'll just work through Skype and Dropbox and Basecamp, which is an online project planning thing. It's not revolutionary to be doing that, but I feel like the tools have finally matured enough that that's actually possible to pull that off.

Is that a bit like what you did when you were collaborating with the Irrational team in Boston on BioShock?

JC: Yeah, so we had a lot of experience with that, but it's got a lot easier than it was.

What's made it easier?

JC: I just think that cloud stuff is actually real. Like Dropbox, for example. When we were working between Canberra and Boston we had a dedicated VPN between the two offices, and we'd check stuff into a package called Perforce. It would shrink files back and forth, but it was really expensive and kind of slow. And now you can just get Dropbox for, well, free, to start with. And you just chuck a file into a folder on your PC. Two seconds later Ben in Brighton has it on his PC, and it's just seamless. As I said there's nothing revolutionary there, all those steps got a little bit lower, so it just kind of works now.

And also, I think it's the scale of the project. It's hard to count, exactly, but we're talking less than 10 people. When you're trying to connect two 50-man studios working together, it's a little bit tougher.

So yeah, it's been interesting. It's actually worked very well so far, but it's a little weird because we're all sitting in our houses, or our offices. Farbs is in Canberra as well, but I probably only physically see him once every three or four months. It's kind of sad.

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BobbyK Richardson
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Gotta say, judging from the screenshots I'm eagerly awaiting more on "Card Hunter"

I don't think it really takes a ton of money to make a good niche game. We see great niche games coming out all the time on ultra low budgets, or by one person. I'm playing "Dungeons of Dredmore" right now, and I'd pay happily to get even more skill options so I can continue experimenting with new builds.

I also think freemium is a valid model, if done right. When a game forces you to pay to interact with it - that sucks (no energy? wait an hour... or pay us now!). I think it's crucial that players really, truly, enjoy playing the game without having to pay a dime - and then if they do pay they enjoy it even more.

As time goes there will be more games that offer more fun with better deals without forcing players to wait stupidly or pay $100, developers will start creating more games where people are happy to play for free (and watch ads to supply a developer revenue)

Players are going to have better Freemium games to play and and soul-less games like Farmville will sink like a rock (it's already happening).

Ivan Beram
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"...I actually feel like things have kind of come full circle, and I think a lot of other people do, too. Saying you're a PC developer isn't like an admission of failure anymore. Part of what I'm excited about and trying to do with my new business is get back to PC."

I think that is a good point to make, in that I think that indie game development for PC digital markets is something to really take a good look at rather than trying (at least initially) to enter the saturated mobile-app market.

"...I don't really care what the technology is I'm using to make my game, or where it's going to be played."

Another good point that I am sure that 99% of developers won't appreciate.

"...I don't want to go away and make Facebook social games -- not that I have anything against them -- but to me it's not a dollar thing. Like, 'Oh, there's this huge untapped growing market there!''re a small studio that's starting out, you can get a lot of value out of just creating a game which is perceived well -- both by the industry and by consumers -- even if it doesn't initially sell a lot of copies."

Nice to hear someone say this for a change, especially indies, who seem to be more focused on making a buck or having everything lead to that.

I'm not so sure about the freemium thing, it's not going to work in every case and I think that the more important element is allowing gamers (consumers) to try before they buy. This has been a "staple" if you will ever since shareware days; there is NOTHING radical about that concept.

Nice to learn what the man is up to, however, I'd have to say that I enjoyed Freedom Force far more than Bioshock which I didn't bother to finish. To me it seemed more like people were willing to buy into the hype of the game due to the marketing rather than seeing it for what it was. A competent arcade shooter. It most certainly was no "spiritual successor" to System Shock -- Dead Space is far more so than Bioshock. So it's nice to see him going back to those "roots."

Personally, I am really interested in finding out how the whole distributed studio and collaborative team thing works out as it is a model of development I am in the process of implementing. So, it was nice to read this and find out what Jon Chey is up to ;).

Matthew Mouras
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Good comments. If you haven't progressed to one of a few key points in Bioshock, it may come off as underwhelming after the hype. The gameplay is good, but the story is great. Give it another shot sometime!

Freedom Force was a great ride too :)

I enjoyed my contracted role within a widely distributed team, but I think it takes a strong person to be the center of the circle. Looking forward to see what Jon Chey does with this project.

Brian Canary
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This is the most interesting project being developed in the entire industry right now. I wish I had the financial backing to do this as well.