In a time when ten million bones hardly gets you a game, and development teams are crossing double-century headcount, I realized the key to these commandments was size—as in small size. Figuring out how to make quality games with a small team would solve the challenge of making original games, while remaining independent and having a shot at surviving that way.
Here’s how the theory works. If the team is small, the overhead is low. Time equals money, so low overhead gives you lots more time to experiment and prototype (good for originality).
Additionally, every project starts small and ends big. But if you think of each project as a cycle of life, your company goes extinct pretty quickly when you have 75 people wrapping a project and then you only need 10 or so to start the next one. Staying small was the key.
There’s no getting around the fact that shipping a major console title requires a lot of talented people. We took a page from Hollywood’s playbook and decided to hire the “above the line” talent as the core Wideload team, but use outsourced independent contract talent to staff our production department. This would allow Wideload to have a consistent and manageable burn rate, yet work with a wide array of people who could provide the exact resources we would need. We also decided early on that we would license engine technology rather than create our own, as we did not want to spend the time investment and internal headcount cost to compete with the likes of Bungie, Id, and Epic.
Our first project is Stubbs the Zombie, in which Stubbs, a wisecracking zombie, takes on an ultra-modern city of the future using nothing but his own carcass and the weapons of his possessed enemies. The gameplay consists of eating brains to create zombie allies, piloting various vehicles, and possessing enemies via a detached hand. Though the subject matter is mature, the mood and atmosphere is light.
We decided at the very beginning that Wideload had to establish itself as a brand. Our games should have a common thread that identifies them as something uniquely Wideload, and that thread is humor. What I’m most proud of in Stubbs is that everyone who has played it, reviewed it, loved it and, well...maybe didn’t quite love it, agreed that it’s funny.
Stubbs just shipped, and we built it using our outsourced production model. Putting our theory into practice was, politely put, a learning experience.