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In-Depth: Insomniac Talks New North Carolina Studio

In-Depth: Insomniac Talks New North Carolina Studio

June 4, 2008 | By Chris Remo

June 4, 2008 | By Chris Remo
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Independent Burbank, California-based developer Insomniac Games will announce tomorrow its intention to open a new studio in North Carolina's Raleigh-Durham area, the company has told Gamasutra.

The new location is set to open in January 2009, with a target staff size of 25-30 developers, and will retain the Insomniac Games name. Insomniac art director Chad Dezern, a ten-year company veteran, will take the post of studio director. Gameplay lead Shaun McCabe, a five-year employee, will head up production.

Associated with PlayStation platforms since its founding in 1994, Insomniac is the developer of the Ratchet & Clank platformer series and original creator of the Sypro the Dragon franchise. It is currently developing the sequel to its PlayStation 3 launch title Resistance: Fall of Man. Both Dezern and McCabe will remain in their roles on Resistance 2 until that title ships this fall.

Insomniac founder and CEO Ted Price (pictured) cited multiple reasons for the move, including wanting to reach East Coast developers unwilling to move west, as well as the ability to grow the studio without losing the company's small-team mentality.

"Our goal with the North Carolina studio is to blend our experience and proven track record with the tenacity of a start-up venture," he said. "Expanding to Raleigh-Durham also allows us to maintain an ideal size in Burbank while offering an attractive alternative for developers wishing to live on the East Coast."

In advance of the announcement, Gamasutra spoke with Dezern and Price, alongside community director Ryan Schneider, about the motivations for the new studio and the company's plans.

What's the plan for the new office?

Ted Price: We are starting another studio in North Carolina. It's going to be called Insomniac Games. It's going to be run by Chad Dezern, who is currently the art director at Insomniac. He is going to be moving into the studio director role in NC.

He'll be assisted by Shaun McCabe. Shaun is currently the lead of the single-player Resistance 2 gameplay programming team, and he'll be the production director over there. Our goal is to have 25-30 people as part of the studio and to work on existing and new IP.

Ryan Schneider: Both Chad and Shaun are continuing to work on Resistance 2 production, so until the game ships this fall.

TP: The opening date for the studio should be January '09.

RS: That will not mean we will have 25-30 people up and running by January '09. That is our goal for hiring.

TP: Speaking of which, one of the reasons we're doing this, is because we know that a lot of fantastic game development talent exists on the East Coast that isn't necessarily interested in moving out to the West Coast, and we're looking forward to building a team with many of the talented designers and artists out there.

When did you make this decision, and how?

TP: This is the first time in fourteen years that we've actually done anything like this - expanded. We're at the point in our life as a company where we feel confident we can make a move like this.

It has a lot to do with our management structure, with Chad and Shaun both being seasoned managers at Insomniac, and also with the stability of our technology and our tools. The North Carolina group will be using the tech and tools developed here at Burbank, and we will be sharing a lot back and forth.

Is the expansion the result of investment of any kind, or is it organic growth?

TP: It's organic growth. This is Insomniac doing its thing. We've been fortunate in that our games over the last ten to twelve years have been successful, and we've been very conservative with our finances so we can do things like this.

We've gone from one person to approximately now about 173 people.

RS: That includes temp QA.

TP: Right. Our core team size in Burbank has been consistently 150 people for the last couple of years, and one of the reasons that we are expanding to North Carolina is that we enjoy having small groups, and this is yet another opportunity to have that small company feel without making things too large in Burbank.

Do you think other staffers beyond Chad and Shaun will be moving?

TP: There may be a few, but we are focused on finding new folks on the East Coast.

Why North Carolina? Obviously Epic is there, and there are several other studios, but it's not a big hub. Were there tax benefits?

Chad Dezern: We looked at a lot of different options, but ultimately it seemed like the business environment, cost of living, geographic location, and a lot of other things just added up to make the Raleigh/Durham area a really attractive choice.

Also, Ted was mentioning, it's a center for colleges that we feel we'll be able to pull really good candidates from.

Presumably this shows some confidence in your desire to stay independent.

TP: We've been very vocal about our intention of staying independent.

You've been asked before, but do you get acquisition offers, particularly from Sony?

TP: Sure. But our relationship with Sony has been very open and collaborative, and there's really never been any serious interest on either part to join in that way. We're very happy with the way things work.

So why retain the hardline PlayStation development focus?

TP: It's not like we've been hardline, necessarily - we've always explored and entertained other opportunities - but when it comes down to it, the choice between going multiplatform and single-platform has been easy as we've grown.

We can focus on creating top-tier, bleeding-edge technology for PlayStation platforms, and as we've kind of moved ahead, we've developed a real expertise on PlayStation.

Furthermore, I think we can go back to the argument you see happening all the time in the industry: Do you get better exposure for your games by being exclusive to a console, or by being across multiple consoles?

Sometimes the answer is that you get more exposure by being multiple consoles, sometimes the answer is the opposite. We've been very fortunate in that Sony has promoted the hell out of our titles and as a result they've sold very well.

Again, we're independent, so that means we have the opportunity to choose a different direction if we decide to do that.

You've always had other projects in the wings while working on whatever's coming out more immediately. I assume that will continue, but with having this additional studio and staff, do you think you'll be taking on additional simultaneous full projects?

TP: Well, you're right in that we always have multiple projects happening. Usually we only have one or two that's been publicly announced, but we've found that our production process always works best if we always have something in preproduction - maybe a few titles in preproduction - so it's easy for us to transition into a production environment when our current project is finished.

That's a longwinded way of saying, we're not revealing any future plans right now for the games we're working on.

Right, but I guess what I'm asking is, from a development process standpoint, do you think you'll have the resources to work on two production games going on at the same time, or will the new studio just be collaborating on Burbank's projects?

TP: That's a good question, I'm sorry I misunderstood it. Yes, the idea is that this studio operates autonomously, with some support from Burbank in terms of tech and tools, and some finance and HR and that kind of thing.

But they will be working on games and not doing anything like outsourcing or creating props for Burbank. They will be making triple-A titles.

So this is more like Foundation 9, rather than something like Irrational, where the teams are essentially working in parallel.

I don't know enough about Foundation 9 to say that, but there will be two studios working on separate games.

Is there any direction you're looking for the other studio from a creative standpoint that you hope will fill a different role to the Burbank Studio?

CD: We feel like all options are on the table, and we're going to kind of evaluate that when the time comes. We're not setting out to create a studio that's going to tackle projects that are thematically different than the Burbank studio.


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