It's been more than two years since Mercenaries and The Saboteur developer Pandemic Studios closed its doors for good, yet former president and co-founder Josh Resnick still looks back fondly on the late EA-owned development studio.
Since the company's closure, Resnick has stepped away from the games industry, and has founded a new startup with other Pandemic veterans to create mobile-based social apps -- a departure from creating large-scale console games, to be sure.
Despite his departure from game development, Resnick said he is still "proud of what [Pandemic] accomplished as a studio," and noted the lessons he learned when things began to go awry.
Gamasutra recently spoke with Resnick to check in on his post-Pandemic venture, a social app launched next week called ntro, and to get an inside look at the forces behind the development studio's unfortunate end.
So Josh, we haven't heard from you in quite a while. What have you been up to since Pandemic?
I transitioned out of Pandemic almost a couple of years ago. It's amazing how time flies. I had a wonderful, great video game career. I was in video games for around 15 years, starting with Activision and obviously growing Pandemic and selling to EA. And it was an awesome run. But after so much time in video games I thought, 'I'm going to take a little bit of a break and see where things take me.'
Within a couple months, I started playing around with an idea, and a good friend of mine who actually worked with me at Pandemic, his name is Tray Watkins, he was the director on The Saboteur. We started talking about this idea that we had, which was for a new type of smartphone app that would connect people based around interests.
It was kind of something that we talked about for years. We'd be in these situations where we'd be in an airport or at a networking event or at some kind of social gathering, and we started noticing that we'd be surrounded by hundreds of people, and everyone invariably was looking down at their smartphones.
They were updating their Facebook status, checking their emails, whatever it was. And it just struck us that we're surrounded by all these people, yet no one was really kind of talking to each other. They were kind of in their self-imposed digital bubbles.
What struck us is what a lost opportunity there is here. There must be someone in the room with us that if we just knew something about them, we'd discover that we have something really awesome in common. Maybe we grew up in the same hometown, maybe went to school together 20 years ago. Maybe we're both fanatics about whatever interest.
So I thought, there must be a way to use smartphone technology to actually look up from their phones and take a look around and actually connect with someone. So that's kind of where the idea came from, and for the last couple of years I've been working on it with Trey and some other friends with Pandemic, and we put together a team of around ten people, and we just launched in L.A. a couple days ago.
What happened to Pandemic?
It's not something I've thought about or even been talking about a lot. I think it was just a combination of things. The timing and the reasons why we sold to EA totally made sense. And strangely, even make sense today. I know that's an odd thing to say, when Pandemic is no more. But I think a lot of things happened at once.
Right around the time we sold, the industry started undergoing some massive changes. I think that kind of forced EA to make some massive structural changes as well. I think that might have put us out of alignment. And then the economy tanked at that time. Not only were the ways the games industry was running changing, but also just the economics of the games industry were changing as well. Those were arguably forces beyond our control.
And then something that was in our control -- but was just a tough thing to manage -- was that when we got bought, we were growing our teams and taking on ever-bigger challenges. I mean, almost every project that Pandemic was working on at the time was a huge, unwieldy, massive world game. And they're just really expensive, really challenging from a technology standpoint.
I think our resources and our management attention and everything was stretched pretty thin. So at that time to be hit with the economical changes and the structural changes in the industry, it was just a really tough thing to manage. And I think that all contributed to what happened.
When you're talking about these complicated games, you're also talking about games that didn't ship necessarily, like the Dark Knight game?
Yeah. There were some things that we didn't get to see through to completion, unfortunately. We were working on some really, really amazing stuff with great teams, but I don't think all of those necessarily fit or align with where EA needed to go, and where the industry was going. And again, on Pandemic's side, I think we stretched ourselves too thin.
It happens to every big company, and oftentimes those companies are able to adjust and make necessary changes and scale back or change their focus. We just happened to be at a point where we were so far along on so many big open world projects that it just became a little bit too unwieldy. That's partially on us for taking on all that, and then again some of it was unfortunately out of our control.
Do I agree with the decision, in terms of shutting down the studio? Absolutely not. There was some incredible talent at that studio, and EA is not getting the benefit of that talent anymore. I think that's a shame. But I am so proud of what we accomplished as a studio. Pandemic gave birth to some incredible franchises that people still talk about and still play today, and we did some really innovative groundbreaking stuff. It was a great run. I look back on those times and those years and I feel really good about what we accomplished.
There's a sort of Pandemic presence, it's not just you and Trey. Can you give us a roll call of which Pandemic people are with you?
We're a very small team -- we're only ten people. I think half the team has had some relationship with Pandemic. So Trey and myself, we have someone who is one of our top testers, one of our great programmers is here with us, and an artist that we worked with at Pandemic is working with us as well. So we have five people altogether.
With half of your staff coming out of a gaming background, the social app surely has some gamified features?
Certainly there's a game sensibility to it, but mostly our focus has been to be on the core experience. There's obviously a definite temptation to gamify the app even more. But because we're introducing people to such a new concept, the notion of being open to meeting someone new over a shared interest.
In a future update we're going to introduce more game elements to it, and certainly our experience in gaming has been brought to bear on the app in the sense that Trey and I have been thinking about user interface issues and design elements for so long, that I think we were able to apply that and make the interface really, really clear and concise and accessible and intuitive. And that sensibility definitely comes through, and it really helps. But the app is not as gamey as you'd think it would be, coming from two hardcore game guys.