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Jonathan Blow: The Path to Braid


September 12, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 6 of 6
 

How have you found the process of getting it onto XBLA? Has it been smooth, or enjoyable, or horrible?

Jonathan Blow: Well, it's a difficult question to answer, because it's at least two of those three, and possibly all three. The process is definitely smooth, in a certain sense. It's well mapped out. They had 150 games go through it at this point, or something, right? There are all these stages that you have to go through, and the requirements are well mapped out.

There are some things that are annoying, like you always end up having certain things that you have to fix in your game, and you're like, "I know at least 100 of the 150 games figured this out for themselves, and why do I have to figure it out myself and waste a few days?" But it's pretty well organized, so that's not bad.

The problem is that it's a certification process that came from triple-A games. That's where it started. They removed some of the requirements for Xbox Live Arcade games, but there are still a lot of requirements. I believe that -- especially for a single-player game, like my game -- the vast majority of those requirements are unnecessary and in fact are for things that realistically, no user would ever care about, or most people wouldn't care about.

I've put in a tremendous amount of work meeting these requirements, when I could've put that work into the actual game and made it a little more polished and better. So I feel that Microsoft feels that this certification process is to ensure that the games are high quality, but I feel like it actually decreases the quality of games, because people spend so much of their energy on these things that users don't even really care about.

So do you think you'll do it again, with whatever your next idea is that you're cooking up? 

JB: Well, money is not really my goal... I'm not going to do a sequel to Braid. I don't care how many copies it sells. Maybe in five years when I'm motivated, if I have a really fresh idea for it. I'm not waiting in the wings with a level pack or DLC or anything.

No dashboard themes?

JB: No. In fact, I was actually thinking about doing dashboard themes since they released the new dashboard, but I didn't want to do them on the old dashboard, because it's covered with ads everywhere.

Braid is about setting a mood and a feeling, and it can't happen while there's a Burger King ad flashing in your face. I just felt that that juxtaposition would've been bad for the game.

But do I want to do it again? I've definitely had a couple of unpleasant business interactions with Microsoft. Nothing horrible. Well, nothing quite bad enough to cause me to cancel releasing the game on Live Arcade. And it's not necessarily surprising. Publishing relationships always have negative elements.

But really, what would keep me from putting out a game on Arcade again is that they've changed the business deal now. Right? Or at least I've heard. I had the old deal. My game got signed barely over a year ago, before they were changing it.

So with the new deal, if it's as I've heard that it is, I couldn't necessarily even break even. And I'm one guy. David Hellman did a significant amount of work on Braid. He worked a year and a half -- not quite full-time over that time, but a lot -- but it's still like one and a half people worth of work for three years, or something.

Across all disciplines, isn't it? Is it like business as well as design?

JB: Yeah. But the point is, most games actually have larger staffs than that, especially the games that a lot of people want to play. If you look at The Behemoth, they're releasing Castle Crashers, which has a lot of people looking forward to it. I don't know how many people are actually on that team, but I think it's four or five, at least. They'll probably sell a lot of copies, because they have a lot of people looking forward to their game.

But still, to even break even... Braid and Castle Crashers have been in development for about the same amount of time, so their costs have got to be a lot higher than mine. And Microsoft is now talking about, "Well, everybody is going to get about half as much money as they had." What that means is, in practical purposes, the amount of money that developers can spend on their games and break even is cut in half. Which means that if I were making Braid for XBLA, I would've had to release it a year and a half ago. How would it have been? Not nearly as good as it is now. I worry about that.

Xbox Live Arcade had a lot of really lousy games for a while. When the service first started, it was great. Everybody was like, "Awesome." Little downloadable games -- they've fast to get into, and they're fun, like Geometry Wars. Then, for a while, they just started releasing a bunch of junk with occasionally good games. But they released a lot of bad games.

Now, especially with the Summer of Arcade, but with some of the games leading up to it, too, you've got some really high quality games that people want. And just when they're getting that and reestablishing the quality of the service, they've changed their deal, and we're going to start seeing games come out under the new deal, which means a lot less work can be put into it. And I fear that they're going to lose the quality right when they've got their best games. But who knows. I could be wrong about that, but I don't think so.

Three of these games in Summer of Arcade are from like Capcom and Konami and people like that. They don't do one-person games at Capcom. It'll be a small team, but it's a team, and it has to be funded. Though actually, I guess it's the case of the larger publishers still getting the old deal, so maybe it doesn't affect them. But then what you're going to see is that larger publishers have the same quality of games, and independent games are going to get worse, which sucks.

Because you want the independent games leading the bigger push.

JB: Absolutely.


Article Start Previous Page 6 of 6

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