When I talked to you when you were doing Enslaved, you said that was right when you just became a two project studio, right? And obviously you have Devil May Cry going. Do you have another project going?
TA: Actually, we were hoping that it would be the Enslaved sequel... I wouldn't say it's not happening -- because you never say never -- but it's not started. We're not progressing on that. So for now we're going to focus on Devil May Cry. Everyone's full attention is on that game, and we've got one eye looking to the future on our second project, which we will need to start in the next few months.
A lot of studios have faced that challenge. You've seen a tremendous amount of independent studio closures and or layoffs and downsizing. Is that something you've been concerned with?
TA: Yeah. As an independent studio, it's said many times, but you're only as strong as your team. And our team is a family -- they have been together for years; our first employee is still with us. And people like our studio -- we don't have a big turnover, we treat our staff well, we don't work overtime, and if we do we give time off in lieu.
It's important for us to not burn out our team, and because of that we have a loyalty. So it's important that we keep that team together and we build on it. And to a larger extent, what we do is defined by our team. So I think we're a strong studio with a good reputation and we can do projects; it's more a matter of which projects we choose to do. So I'm hoping we'll get to that.
Something you said earlier that intrigued me was the idea that maybe Enslaved wasn't mainstream enough. To get a triple-A game to sell in the market, how mainstream does it have to be?
TA: It's difficult, because what defines mainstream? Because when you look at other mediums, like the biggest films of last year include The King's Speech and Black Swan, which are the equivalent of an indie game. You know, they're fairly low budget, they're not about warfare or sports; they're not a trope, in the classic sense.
So it seems like Hollywood's got much more diversity than the games industry has. And I don't know exactly why this is, but I suspect it's the publishing, retail model of 40 pounds, 50, 60 bucks a game doesn't allow players to take chances with their money; it doesn't allow publishers or developers to take risks. And the only way you can be sure to sell to someone is to sell them something familiar.
I actually think that theory is completely wrong -- I think that ultimately innovation does sell, and messaging is needed. But somehow there's not enough diversity, I think, in our business models to create interesting, alternative games. At least on the triple-A side of things, the top end market. Bottom end, all kinds of interesting things; a whole microcosm's breaking out. But you're not seeing very high end innovation happening, and I think that's a shame.
Have you ever given any thought to doing a smaller project in your studio so you can test the waters?
TA: Yeah! We think about it all the time. We may just be doing that at some point.
I mean I don't know if you ever looked at Double Fine. They made Brütal Legend for EA and it didn't [commercially] perform. They were sort of in a similar space as Enslaved, I think. A little left of center, and while it was a good game, and it sold well, it didn't sell well enough for the kind of investment that had to be put in to make that kind of game. And they split the studio into a multi-project studio where they're doing downloadable games.
TA: Again, I compare it to film. You can do a $200 million production -- like Prince of Persia, maybe -- and it just falls flat. And then you can do a $10, $20 million -- Black Swan or The King's Speech -- and it makes more money than all of those.
But there doesn't seem to be an equivalent in games. You can do those small downloadable games and things, but they don't break out like the big hits. You can't compete on the same level playing field -- whereas in film, you can.
I think if we go online with the big triple-A stuff, I think that will all change. Like properly embrace it -- break the publisher-retail stranglehold. I think it's strange that games that are released digitally -- purely digitally, triple-A games digitally online -- cost more than you can buy them in the shops. Why is that? Who decides that that makes any sense? So there's definitely something there holding it back.
There ARE a lot of artificial constraints on the digital channel, I think, at least on the console side right now.
TA: Yeah, it feels like a kind of self-destructive protectionism that's ultimately doomed to fail. And I think that change can't happen soon enough really for the benefit for developers and publishers and gamers.
How do you think it would benefit publishers?
TA: They won't be held hostage to this model that's so restrictive. They can release more games at different price points, different sized games -- they don't have to bet the farm on the one big blockbuster or the two big blockbusters every year.
They can test games before they push the marketing; like release them early, beta them, release the first episodes. Instead of deciding, "Oh okay, we've got three games in our portfolio. We think this one's going to be a hit, so all our marketing's going to go into that one, and the other one's going to have to sink." It's brutal.
So pipelines, in terms of production pipelines and the sort of the processes you grow. Do they become flexible enough that you can shift your priorities internally in your studio as you need them? If you change the way you want to work.
TA: We haven't really kind of encountered that. I mean not moving onto other platforms, if you were applying things like new platforms like iPhone and things like that. I don't know, I think it depends on the platform and technology. We're using Unreal, so moving to things like the iPad, that makes it easier.
The content has to change a lot because the interface is totally different, but it's doable. I think in the past we've created our own engine, we've licensed engines. Initially we've licensed Renderware for Kung-Fu Chaos, and then did our own engine for Heavenly Sword, and then Unreal for Devil May Cry. I don't know, I don't think technology is a big barrier like it used to be.