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Making The Games He Wants To Make: The Jon Chey Interview
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Making The Games He Wants To Make: The Jon Chey Interview

July 19, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

I thought it was interesting too when we kind of touched on it a little bit, about critically well-received games that don't really do that well. I just wanted to kind of get your thoughts on that a little bit more. Obviously you make a good game, and it doesn't meant that it's going to be a hit.

JC: Oh absolutely, yeah. That's the story of most of my career, really but BioShock. Our games weren't failures. They generally paid for themselves, and that was about it, until BioShock, which broke that mold. That's definitely not an area I want to be back in.

Well, there's also some value to that, in the sense that, when you're a small studio that's starting out, you can get a lot of value out of just creating a game which is perceived well -- both by the industry and by consumers -- even if it doesn't initially sell a lot of copies.

I think System Shock 2 was a game like that, which has hung around in people's minds. So there's probably a lot of people who have played it now, who never paid for it, and I don't mean that in any kind of a bitter way. I think it's obviously it's much better to have that, than it just sinks without a trace, and nobody ever pirated it.

I don't think it was piracy that sank it or anything; I just think that at the time it wasn't very heavily marketed. We developed on a really low budget. I think we spent about -- I don't actually know what the total budget for the game was -- but I think we spent about $700,000 developing it, which is ridiculous even for the time! Building a fully-featured first person shooter for that amount of money was just crazy.

So we knew when we were setting out to build it -- that was like Half-Life 1-era -- we're not going to be able to out-develop them in terms of features or polish, and we're not going to have the marketing budget, but if we make a really good game at least, we're building the foundations of the future.

And that's not my goal this time around. I mean, like I said before, I think that there are plenty of new business models, and the ability to reach people without going to direct marketing is so much greater now, that I'm hopeful that we can make, perhaps, a game that fits within a niche. We're not going to try and reach everybody who plays FarmVille, or something, but with this kind of game if you can get an audience of a hundred thousand people who are prepared to keep playing it every month for a couple of years or a year or whatever, there's an ability to have a successful business right there.

And I think that's the big difference between now and back when we made System Shock 2. Where it was like, "Well, we've got to really got to sell a million copies of this to say that we were a success." And we don't. That bar is considerably lower now, so it works out.

The developers of Card Hunter.

You had your name attached to a number of great games, but it seems almost like you're saying that BioShock was a success purely because it had more money thrown at it.

JC: But part of that -- what that means for me personally -- is we were able to sell the company to 2K and to take part in the success of BioShock financially. And so that has given me the ability now to fund the speculative -- frankly, very speculative -- game development. I'm entirely funding this venture. There's no publisher investment, there's no publisher, there's no outside investment, so I don't have to convince anybody that this is a good idea other than myself, which is a little frightening, but at the same time I think it's an opportunity to do some games that wouldn't get funded otherwise, frankly.

Okay, you'd probably find some indie guys who'd be prepared to put a year or two of their lives into something like this, but that's one person. And still, I think the level of polish we need, it's very hard to get that just by yourself. And a lot of indie guys are very clever at doing things on the cheap and picking styles for the games that don't require a lot of assets -- like Captain Forever, for example doing vector graphics. That's the smart thing to do.

But then there's a gap there, where it's like, "What if we had five or 10 people who can afford to work for a year or two and try to make a game?" No, it's not going to be Half-Life 3, but it has a level of polish and technology that's going to require some investment to get to. So that's the opportunity. I'm sort of taking advantage here -- instead of taking my money for selling the company and buying a yacht, I'm buying the opportunity to make some games that probably wouldn't get made otherwise.

Yeah, that's great because obviously the funding is probably the hardest part of going into this.

JC: And like I said, well, I'm not a good enough businessman to sell these projects, or any other projects I plan to do, to investors. You'd have to be a pretty big salesman to.

I'm interested in it but I'm not going to lie, it'd be a hard pitch.

JC: No absolutely, yeah. I think investors quite rightly want to see, well, "What else is like this? Where's the evidence that people are going to consume this, and like it, and pay for it?" And that's not always there until -- there's always got to be a first person, right? I mean, I imagine Minecraft would have been impossible to sell to an investor.

Now it'd be pretty easy. Minecraft clones are popping up all over the place.

Your game is free-to-play. Even with free-to-play ascendant, some developers are still reluctant to admit the change is happening.

JC: I think you can do it right or you can do it badly. And it's just another strategy. But I do think what's interesting is seeing it start to move into other genres, and also help more nichey genres find a way to survive. Like one of the games that I've been looking at is World of Tanks.

That's a pretty nichey kind of game. It's a pretty hardcore tank shooter, which probably would have had trouble making a lot of money five years ago, but from what I can see -- and I don't really know the figures -- but from what I can see is they're very successful with it, and they've got a freemium kind of model.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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