August 8, 2011 Page 5 of 5
From Braid's Success to Getting The Witness Published
So far, The Witness is completely self-funded. "Even if we sign it with a publisher I don't think that we would sign a funding deal," says Blow. He'd be signing only for distribution on platforms where self-publishing is difficult or impossible.
"If we wanted to be on XBLA, we would end up signing with a publisher, but it wouldn't be them giving us money, I don't think. It would be more like, 'Hey look, we've got this game, it's going to be a little bit of free money for you if you sign it,'" he says.
But working with publishers may be difficult for Blow. "I mean, I don't know if that would work out, honestly, because my first rule that I put in the contract is going to say, 'No, you're not allowed to put your publisher splash screen on the front of the game, because I hate that stuff, period.'"
Fortunately, given the success of Braid -- both in terms of the reputation it garnered with gamers and its sales, which have allowed Blow to self-fund -- he's in a good place.
"Compared to Braid, this is a really high budget game. My estimate of the budget for this game is like 2 million dollars, and that's ten times Braid. We're not through development -- you know, games have a way of spiraling out of control. But it's a little bit of a bigger game, so let's say it's a $20 sale price," he says.
"And let's say we get like 70 percent, 60 percent. Then making 2 million dollars is at 150,000 copies -- which is way less than what Braid sold. So even though Braid was at a lower price point -- so it's not a direct comparison -- but you know, it's in that neighborhood, where it doesn't feel super risky," says Blow.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is, the tactic is, 'Yes, spend a bunch to make it good, but don't spend enough that you need to start either doing risky things to make back that amount of money, or needing it to be a hit. Or even that you have this very strong temptation to change the game design to sell it to more people."
This is crucial to Blow, who wants to make sure that he doesn't start making games for the wrong reasons. "I hate the word 'product'," he says, though he's aware that Valve, a developer he respects, uses it internally.
"As an art game company, we're trying to make things that are different from what other people do, and the surest way to make sure that you're not different from other people is to have the same goals as them. And the goal of Activision, or EA, or whatever, is like, 'Well, we're going to sell our game to the maximum number of people.' And the reason their games are the way they are is because they're doing that, and so if we adopt that as our goal, too, then our games are going to start looking a lot like their games."
In the end, then, The Witness is, in many ways, exactly what you'd expect from the man behind Braid. While it's surprising -- even to Blow -- that the game is a 3D adventure in a rich world, peel back the layers and examine the philosophy that underpins it, and you'll find something surprisingly familiar. Play the game and you'll realize that the same mind is once again working on crafting puzzles that look simple but aren't. And he's confident in his creative process, confident in his vision, and clearly confident that he can be successful even if he breaks the rules that so many in the industry assume are inflexible.
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