When the president of MMO developer NetDevil, Scott Brown spoke at the Online Game Development Conference in May, his spirited postmortem on Auto Assault touched on the relationship between developers and publishers. “It isn’t that NCsoft was bad – they were great. It was the contract,” he told the audience.
Brown firmly believes that the stereotypical adversarial relationship that developers have with their publishers need not be so.
The future of those publishers is on the line constantly, notes NetDevil’s management. Publishers don’t go into deals wanting to crush development studios. They want to make a great game. Both parties want the same thing, it’s just hard to get there.
Gamasutra sat down with Brown to discuss a number of issues: development in tandem, the upcoming physics-based shooter, Warmonger (you play the role of a mercenary in an urban war zone), the LEGO MMO, and even the company’s moving offices (“we’re all excited…hopefully it’s a much more creative space.”).
But in the end, the new developer-publisher paradigm is something that Brown is concerned with, and still on his mind. “I think it’s milestone-based schedules that create all of the problems,” he told Gamasutra. It all comes back to the basics of software development, and perhaps NetDevil has found the answer…
Delivering the post-mortem: Brown, and producer Hermann Peterscheck talk Auto Assault. “We hope you can avoid some of the mistakes we made,” they told the room full of developers.
You’ve got four projects. Is that too many to work on?
Scott Brown: No, it’s not, because they’re not the same scale. If they were four, sixty-man teams, yeah. That would be way too much. But what we’re trying to do is balance a little bit between one massive team with everyone only focusing on one thing, and having a few smaller projects that are cool, creative outlets for people.
And we can take a little bigger risk on the smaller projects, too. It just costs so much money to make these games now, so you’ve got to take out as much risk as you can. It means games like Warmonger could never get made.
So what we’re doing is taking small teams and saying, ‘well, let’s try this idea.’ Let’s try something crazy like ‘what if everything in the world was destructible. What would that be like? How would that play?’ But of course it would require a super high-end computer to even be able to do the stuff we’re trying to do with it.
It’s okay to do that, if you don’t spend $15 million, or $50 million making it.
We’re working on Jumpgate now with a whole team revisiting that. And we’ll have a big announcement on what that actually is…soon. Jumpgate is another one of those games where people say, ‘well, space, it’s not one of the popular IPs, fantasy is what sells – are you sure this a good thing?’ It is for us. These are things we can be super-passionate about and really work on, without having to ramp up to hundreds of employees.
So you’ve got the LEGO MMO, you’ve got Jumpgate, you’ve got Warmonger. What’s the fourth one?
SB: Auto Assault.
What’s the status of Warmonger?
SB: Right now we’re sort of evaluating what’s the right sort of deployment for the game. One of the things that Ageia just did that’s pretty attractive is, with CellFactor, they added a few levels that didn’t require PhysX. And some that did. That way people can try the game and see the difference. Warmonger – up to now – is all PhysX.
We’re evaluating if it makes more sense to make some of the game not require the accelerator so you can see the difference. And also, maybe get a little more exposure for the title.
This, of course, is step one. We’ve got a big huge design of where we’d like this to go. Maybe it could go on to become an MMO-shooter, you know, kinda like Huxley style. Or maybe it goes on to become more like Battlefield style, where we release expansion packs, and fund it that way. That’s what we’re trying to figure out. Now that we’ve got this fun toy that we built, where do we go from here?