The Trouble with Typecasting: Starbreeze, Syndicate, and the Future
January 20, 2012 Page 3 of 3
Do you think that there will reach a saturation point for shooters in this generation? Do you think it's going to reach a point where the audience just gets fatigued?
MN: That's a hard question. I think the market's going to grow, or there's going to be room for multiple different kinds of genres -- more than we see today -- and on more different platforms than we see today than we know. I think the sky's the limit.
But does that apply to your company that much in terms of the games you've made so far? A lot of the platforms that are seeing growth aren't really conducive to these kinds of games.
MN: No, it hasn't applied to us because we're working on the big platforms, on the big games. But the industry has shifted in the last two or three years. I think with any company, whatever business you're in, you have to see what's out there and what's happening, and you have to understand that and learn from that, and see where you want to be and what kind of company you want to have.
With so many games in the genre, you have to have a tension between the familiar and the innovative. What's your philosophy as a studio?
MN: I think you have to be true to what you do, and have high integrity, but you also have to be able to listen to what the consumer wants. Maybe it's too broad a way to look at it, but I think you have to be able to say: "This is what I believe in; this is what I want to do; but I also have to be able to understand what the competition's doing and what the consumer wants." From an early stage, we always include consumers, and consumer testing.
When you look at the competition, are you more concerned with what they're doing or with what they're not doing?
MN: Hard question! (laughs) Probably whatever I answer is going to be wrong. There are a lot of great games out there, a lot of good studios out there; in some ways, I think I'm more worried about what they're not doing. I don't know. It's a hard question!
Where exactly are you located -- your studio?
MN: In Uppsala. It's a small city outside Stockholm, in Sweden.
There are a few developers in Sweden. Is there a scene? Do you have relationships?
MN: Oh, yeah; we know everyone. Everyone knows everyone in Sweden. Since it's a such a small country, personnel moves between the different companies. Everyone that runs a company -- we've all worked together before in different constellations. Yeah, it's a small community, and it's a good community. It came from a tech-driven community, but now we're looking more at the fact that tech doesn't make games; people make games. We're looking at building great experiences.
That's a good point. The tech wars are getting intense. Look at Battlefield 3.
MN: Great game. Great engine.
Another great Scandinavian game!
MN: Yep! Good friends of ours. I think hard-working people, talented people -- as I said, look at the companies that come out of Sweden have been tech-based: Ericsson, Scania, etcetera. There's high working morale. We want to make the best game and the best product we ever can. That's everything we're trying to do.
Why do you think Sweden has such a technical focus?
MN: It's always been -- way back, with Ericsson, Volvo, and companies like that. It's been also that they have great schools for engineering, and the community has been supporting them quite a lot. And the government -- not subsidized or anything, but building good schools.
I think also coming out of European countries originally being PC-oriented...
MN: Oh, yeah. We were all PC before. And tech, programming -- you have to be logical, right? Swedes love to be square and logical. (laughs)
And pack things in small, flat boxes. (laughs)
MN: (laughs) Yeah, exactly. They do! And designing and being creative, for all generations of Swedes that I've known, you have to work 8 to 5 and do things that are logical. My dad still thinks I should get a real job because working in games is not a real job. (laughs)
And the budgets; I know you probably don't want to disclose, but they're not trivial.
MN: I will say this: The budgets for the games we make and the budgets for the games other Swedish studios make are way above what any movie the Swedish movie industry is making, or the music industry, or whatever.
Do you think, as a cultural export, games are sort of the forefront? Games and furniture? (laughs)
MN: (laughs) Definitely. Yeah. In music, too, but yeah. And movies now -- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
That put Sweden on the map with movies and books.
MN: Yeah, definitely. I think Swedes are good at that.
That's true; it's sort of the homegrown creative talent that you're seeing in media. Why bring in people from the outside to collaborate?
MN: My view is that I want to bring in people -- and I don't care if they're from Sweden or wherever they are. Again, that's just to see what kind of views they have, because they always bring something new to the table. You don't have to use it, but it makes you lift up your head and sort of see what's out there, and "What can I do?" and "How can I look at it from a different perspective?" I think that's good. Let's try to learn every day, new stuff.
Tech being what it is -- and your background being what it is -- do you look at other spaces than the FPS, or do you think that's what you're going to focus on?
MN: Let me answer like this: when we look at any project, when we look at any games, we don't look at genre. We don't look at it like we're making a game; we're making an experience for the player which is competing with whatever he or she would do -- spend time with loved ones and things like that. So we have to make a great experience so that you think it's worthwhile playing our games.
If we put shooting in our game, it has to be top-notch shooting, and it has to be competing there, and it has to be right for the game. If it's driving, it has to be right for the game. I'm not saying that, if we do a shooting game, we have to go and compete with the Battlefields or Call of Dutys, but we have to have the right kind of shooting for the game we're making. So we don't look at it from a genre perspective anymore; we look at what kind of experience can we do and what kind of game we want to make, and whatever elements in there have to be the best for that game.
Is it more of a concern or more of an advantage for independent studios to have a specialization and to be perceived by the outside world as genere specialists?
MN: I have no idea, to be honest. It's like if you ask an actor, "Is it an advantage to be typecast, or is it an advantage to be broader?" Personally, not speaking for Starbreeze or the industry in any way, I think it's better to be broad in whatever you do. So what I'm trying to say is that I want to be the best in everything. (laughs) But I understand that I can't do that -- probably.
It also depends; I don't know how flexible you are. Is your internal technology being developed in a way that you think is going to make you more flexible?
MN: Yes, I think so, the way we're doing it. Definitely. Again, what we're doing right now is we sit down and look at the game we want to create. For example, for our next game; we looked at it from a "This is what we want to do," and then we went to the engine team and said, "This is what we want to make. Is it possible?" If they say no? "Make it possible."
Is it really that simple?
MN: No. Of course not. It's not that simple. Of course not. Of course not. It's not that simple. But that's at least the way I think we should look at it. No, of course not. They come back and said, "These are the limitations. This is what we know; you can't do this. We probably could do this." Of course; nothing is that simple.
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