Spanking Death: Ron Gilbert Goes Episodic... And Loves It
June 30, 2008 Page 2 of 7
So why did so many publishers disagree? What was the deal? What happened there?
RG: I think a couple of reasons. One was, I really wanted to do it episodic. And a lot of publishers just aren't set up to do episodic games; they just don't really understand the economics of it, they don't really understand the distribution of it, they don't understand it creatively. And since I really wanted to do this episodically, I think that was a big stumbling block.
The other reason was, I think, the name, definitely. I think that it put people off; they didn't understand it. And to me, it's like, he is DeathSpank. He has to be called that, because of who he is, and what the games are like, and what they're poking fun at; it's very important.
It's a very overtly video-gamey name.
RG: Yeah, exactly. And, I think the third reason, and probably the most important one, is that I didn't have a demo. I think publishers are so reliant on seeing a demo before they do anything, that it's very hard for them to make decisions unless they can see something.
And I don't think that's inherently a bad problem, but what I think is a really bad problem is that publishers won't fund those demos. They expect people to go out and totally make them on their own, and I think that's generally bad for the industry, that that happens.
Do you think that has a long term impact, creatively? Because it seems like you could have designers experiment in broader genres or concepts if they didn't have to rely on these massive, set team structures every time they wanted to at least think of an idea for a game.
RG: Yeah, I think it does. I think what you find is, really, the only developers that can really get products pitched, are developers that have very large, established studios; where they can actually dedicate a team for six months to put together a demo to wow a publisher. And I think that's putting a lot of burden on developers that I don't think is really fair.
Image courtesy of Grumpy Gamer Comics
I think the publishers, first of all, should be able to look at a written design or a verbal pitch, and go, "OK. You know what? That's kind of interesting. We're going to put a couple hundred thousand dollars behind this, and see what comes from it." But they're really just not willing to make that kind of an investment, and I think that's too bad.
What are your thoughts on the Hollywood sort of system, where you have individual creative people who assemble into teams for the purpose of a project, and they have people that they often work with because they know that they work well with those people, but they're not in a defined, "Here's the 40, 50, 100-person development studio." Do you think that could ever work for games? At least for certain games?
RG: I think that it will. And I think that, ultimately, it has to. And I think we will shift to that model, but I think that there are a couple of things that have to happen before we really shift to that. One is that I think technology has to settle down a little bit. I think technology is moving forward really rapidly, and part of what a lot of teams do is exploring new technology, and I think that's kind of hard to do with an ad hoc thing.
I think the other thing that's going to have to happen - and this is a really big one - is we're going to have to become unionized. Because I don't think that you're going to be able to grab all of these freelance people when you need them if there isn't some kind of a union structure that's over the top of them. You can't really have a bunch of animators just floating around from job to job with nothing in between.
So I think there's going to have to be a lot more structure, and I think that's going to have to come in the form of unions - which, you know, I don't know that I really agree with that; I think unions bring a lot of bad things to gaming, but I think they're going to be necessary for us to move into that Hollywood model.
And I also think that game people are just going to need to get a bit better at scheduling projects, and planning projects, and hitting deadlines, and all these other things. Because I think if you're going to have a lot of contractors that are going to come in and go away, they really need to know when they're going to go away; because they're going to be booking other projects behind yours, and we're going to have to become a lot better about hitting dates. And I think the movie business, for the most part, they're damned good at getting their movies done on time.
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