The Trouble with Typecasting: Starbreeze, Syndicate, and the Future
January 20, 2012 Page 2 of 3
How big is the studio now?
MN: We are 93 people.
And how many projects do you have running at the same time?
MN: Right now, we have two.
MN: Including Syndicate.
I guess your role is managing overall.
MN: Definitely. I'm not involved on the production level. I oversee the production; I get reports, of course, and am in close contact with the game directors and the producers on the projects, but we are also a listed company. So I have to deal with that, as well.
Independent developers have seen a lot of closures, so managing the burn rate on a studio of that size and making sure projects are lined up has got to be one of your biggest challenges.
MN: That is one of my biggest challenges and one of my biggest priorities, yes.
Is it difficult, in this climate, to sign projects for your studio?
MN: It's always difficult. As you know, triple-A projects today are getting bigger and more expensive with more production value into it. Having someone spend that kind of money... It is hard. It is difficult, as you say. That's one of my top priorities: to have the right products lined up for the next project.
There's been a lot of discussion of having teams prototyping so that you can have something to show; how do you manage that process?
MN: (laughs) That's a hard process. What we try to do is that we have one game, and then we can do two projects, staggered, so we have people in between that can work on our new stuff we want to make.
Riddick, Syndicate, and The Darkness, these are IPs that you brought a lot of life to as a studio, but they are not original IP. Is that something you are seeking out?
MN: We want to make our own IP; no doubt. That's something the studio wants to do. Everyone in the studio can ask me what it is; we have probably 93 different views on that. We definitely want to do it.
But it's also about balancing the financials as well. It takes money to build your own IP, but we definitely want to do that; no doubt. We have been fortunate to work with great IPs like Syndicate, The Darkness, and Riddick, and the talented people that worked with those games and made them really good games.
Is the focus of your studio going to continue to be on big triple-A games, or are you going to mix it up?
MN: We're going to mix it up. From several standpoints, I think. We're working on the big triple-A, but we're also looking to do a few smaller things that we can potentially try our own IP on, as well. More games in production at the same time, but smaller. Everything from managing the financial and commercial risks to letting the people at the studio work on their game they want to work on and giving them some creative freedom, if you like.
Do you envision going direct to consumers on download platforms with smaller games? Does that appeal to you as a studio?
MN: It always appeals to you. When I look at any project, I look at it from a commercial standpoint, I look from a creative standpoint, and a production standpoint. So it depends on what kind of game we're doing. We're not doing that right now, but we're actually self-funding one original IP right now. If we're going to take it to market ourself -- I haven't decided yet. It's always about how you maximize what you can do.
How do you make those decisions? Is it based on the opportunities you're being presented with by publishing partners saying, "This is a better idea, right now, for our studio," or is it about just the quality of the IP as it develops?
MN: First we have a long-term business plan foundation; we know what we want to make and where we want to be in three years' time. If we get presented opportunities that fit within that, then we do it; otherwise, we don't.
You have a long business plan, but some of these decisions must come together suddenly.
MN: Oh, yes; that's why I said that the business plan is the foundation, but you also have to look at it opportunistically sometimes as well. You work both ways, in that sense -- if I make any sense! (laughs)
Absolutely, it does. Do you feel a strong desire to remain as an independent studio?
MN: To control your fate, in some ways.
Do you think studios that have not stayed independent have suffered because they can't control their own fate?
MN: No, I don't think so. I think we've been lucky. We're also publicly traded, which makes it a bit more stable. We have our loyal shareholders who help us through the growth of the company. I think you have to be extremely lucky to succeed in any business, and I think we have. I think the big studios that have gone under have been unlucky. It's a hard world out there. I can't speak for them, of course, in any way, but I think it's a lot about opportunity, and being in the right place at the right time.
I'm sure there was a certain point where you get the jobs because of the quality you produce, but you also get the jobs because things came together at EA, which is completely external to anything that you could control.
MN: Yeah. Exactly. Definitely. Since that's a big unknown, trying to create your own IP and work on your own products like we do right now, makes the creative freedom that we can move in that direction as well. We're not going to leave this space! (laughs)
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