Talking as part of an in-depth
Gamasutra interview, thatgamecompany co-founder and fl0w
designer Jenova Chen discusses what brought about his decision to leave Spore’s
DS development team to co-found his own studio.
With a studio output that's thus far focused on the serene -- with games like Cloud, fl0w
and the forthcoming Flower
-- Chen says that while it might be more of a challenge to convince publishers of the marketability of that type of game, going the indie route is an easier sell than trying to change a company's culture from within:
“If I just want to make violent games or fun games... It's not to say that fun games are bad, but I could just go to work for Blizzard, or go to work for Maxis. And they make fun games, they make creative games. I could get a lot higher pay, and a much more stable job. Why not?
Why would I start a company just to make the same kind of game which I can get a much better life in another company? You know, the reason we started this company is because nobody is making this kind of game, and to expand that emotional spectrum of video games -- having more people be able to enjoy video games. The only way to do it is to just do it yourself.
We tried to just convince big publishers like EA or other people to make games like Cloud... It's just almost impossible. So, yeah, we just realized that unless you are a company, and have done great games, then they will say, "OK, we might take the bait, and risk giving you the budget to make games like that." Otherwise, as an employee, you can't really change anything.
That decision to strike out on his own included leaving EA's esteemed Spore
team, as Chen explained, to expand the “emotional spectrum” of video games and be in better control of his own goals:
"While, for example, Maxis' Spore is awesome, Spore is not really the game that thatgamecompany is set up for. So after working on it for a while, even though the game is so fun, and everybody there is so creative, like, basically prototyping every day. It's like the perfect job for a game designer -- I still don't know why I dropped it. (laughter)
I think it's because, you know, when you play games, you have a goal, and every action you have has a clear response and reward to tell you, "Hey! You're closer to the goal!" Whether that's an experience bar, or your cash that you're collecting, I just felt like no matter how hard I worked at Maxis, I'm not getting closer to the goal that I'm looking at.
So, you know, I think I just want to create more of a contribution for the industry. If I stayed with Spore at the time -- I don't even know when it's going to be done, but finally they released the launch date. I just thought, "If I left at this moment, and started creating a new game, I might be able to create a game before Spore even launched." I think we still have a chance!
So, [a new game] plus flOw. I just think having two more games for the player is better than... to leave a company before the game is done? Yeah, it's bad for Maxis, but I think it's better for the gamers; for everybody. Just having more games for the gamers -- more games with a different feel.”
You can now read the full Gamasutra interview
with thatgamecompany's Jenova Chen, which also includes his insights on the development process behind fl0w’s
PS3 follow-up, Flower
, and story being a tool and not the goal of video games.