Demiurge Studios has, in recent years, gained something of fame as being a reliable studio -- for working on other studios' properties, an odd position to be in as work-for-hire doesn't usually get you any notice. Bin this case, the fame may be hard-won, but it's unclear what it says about the studio as a creative force.
Over the last few years, the studio has developed the PC version of BioWare's Mass Effect, worked on Borderlands with Gearbox, and most recently completed development on Green Day Rock Band for Harmonix and MTV Games. The only original title the studio has released in the last few years was WordFu for the iPhone, which was published by ngmoco.
However, Albert Reed, the company's studio director, hopes to see that change very soon. The studio is set to debut an original title in the near future -- and while Reed wasn't quite ready to talk specifics, just yet, he spoke in great depth about why it's taken the team so long to put together an original project.
His insights on process and pragmatism run against the grain of much of what you hear about behind-the-scenes decision-making at studios.
I'm familiar with the titles you've worked on in the past, primarily working with other studios on existing properties, but it sounds like you're ready to move forward with your own stuff.
Albert Reed: Yeah. Over the past eight years of being in business, I think we've always had our eyes on working on big licenses, because it's super rewarding and we have a lot to learn from the other great developers we've had the chance to work with... but we want to pair that business with original property development as well, sort of mixing big-risk, big-reward in original property versus the safer shores of licenses. It nicely stabilizes the business.
How have you navigated those waters? Some studios find it a struggle to keep things going while working on licenses -- to keep their reputation, to keep getting work.
AR: I think we've chosen our projects really carefully, right? We have always tried to sign up for titles where quality will have an impact on sales, so basically where our work ends up mattering, and the quality of the work ends up mattering.
That helps our employees be proud of the work they generate, rather than thinking that they're working on something that you have to get on store shelves and get it to sell. If you look at the licenses we've tried to work on, they have been products where quality is the hallmark of the brand.
How did you establish your reputation and get involved in projects that are a cut above?
AR: From the very beginning, we tried to work with companies that we looked up to. Epic Games gave us our break many years ago, and from there, we started at a pretty high level, and if you deliver on the work, then the other studios that play at that level start asking you to help out with their projects. That's how we ended up working with Gearbox, Harmonix, and BioWare.
Green Day Rock Band
With all these projects, you haven't had a shortage of stuff to work on, but how did you find the time to develop something internally, knowing that you're going to have to cover the costs -- I'm presuming -- of the initial stages, at least, of that effort?
AR: One of the benefits of working on those higher-end licenses is that the people you're working with know you have to spend money to make money, and when we are working on that caliber of titles, we are able to charge a premium for the work that we do.
And we're very frugal. I'm known around the office for being downright cheap, and we save our pennies. The founders and the owners have never been interested in taking money out of the company; we're in it to build a studio we want to work at forever, so that's been our focus.
You're not going to talk about the details of the title just yet, but looking out at the market, how did you decide this was the right time for you to start really pushing forward with this project?
AR: I don't think the market forces were the driver. I think it was the studio becoming mature enough to be able to do it, and having the financial wherewithal to do it.
We certainly have been, as we began the path of IP creation -- which has been a learning experience to say the least -- we looked very closely at what's playing well in the market and where we think things are going to be in two years, and what's going to be popular and what's going to be cool, and trying to dissect that, looking for vacancies that we think won't be filled in the next couple of years, and designing our products around that for sure.
I think more than anything else, it's the right time for the studio more than it's the right time for the marketplace, and we'll build a product that is then well-timed in the marketplace.