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Given the state of the UK, exactly as you say, there are a lot of studio closures and a lot of people relocating. Has recruitment been a challenge?
TH: Yeah, it has been a challenge. It's been helped by the fact that we picked people up, along the way, from there. And I don't necessarily see any particular big studios in difficulty at the moment, so I think that's kind of dried up, which I'm pleased about. We want a really strong UK scene. UK started really strong but it has got a touch weaker, but there's still a depth to that experience there. There are some great developers for sure; it's not dried up in any way.
You think of the UK as a strong base for game development, and it has been since the '80s, right?
TH: Absolutely. It was the place.
It's just more market forces than I think anything to do with the UK intrinsically as a talent pool, or anything like that.
TH: Absolutely, and we look at our burn costs and stuff, and we're absolutely competitive with the U.S. And you know, we would like tax breaks, which we don't have over there. [Ed. note: A UK government tax break plan was revealed soon after this interview was originally conducted.]
I actually don't think tax breaks are the be all and end all; I don't think they're the definition of victory. If we get tax breaks, you end up just recruiting a few more staff, and maybe that's not profitable. You don't necessarily make great games with just loads of staff who are not quite as good as you need.
What do you think makes great games?
TH: I think it's building quality into the team. And you don't add quality in the later stages of the game; it comes from each individual. And I see it on Total War. Interestingly, in my previous life, I worked at Electronic Arts, and worked really closely with Crytek. I saw it at Crytek, too -- that they strive for quality at every single point along the way. And when the core staff on a team take that as the number one priority, then it feeds through really great. The average Metacritic on Total War is 90 percent; that kind of proves a point, and that's the strength of CA.
Napoleon: Total War
When you're talking about striving for quality on every step of the way, can you enumerate on that in the sense of process? Do you have reviews, for example?
TH: Yeah, you bet. We go through the design process, which is pretty wide and all-encompassing, and then scope it out and then start cutting features, because hopefully we've got such a huge bag of features that we want, that it makes it physically impossible to ever make a game with all those in. So we'll cut some straight out, and we'll then start prototyping and judging the quality all the way through.
And our creative director Mike [Simpson] has been on Total War, as an example, since the first one, and he owns the scope of the game, and he will pick and choose his feature set as he sees it bubble up through prototyping. But equally, all the key leads on the game are working to certain quality thresholds as well.
While we're prototyping we're also figuring out how long the work that we'll need to do will take. It's a piecemeal work. And sometimes we'll need to pull stuff out, because although we can reach quality threshold that we want, it will simply take too long. So we will cut features, rather than delivering an 80 percent quality feature. And that all builds on top of each other, and all the features need to be of high quality; we don't really want to let any substandard features go in.
And then, through production, actually, we do what we call "Metacritic analysis." So we will break those features down into subsets, and we both look at it from a player's point of view, and a reviewer's point of view, and we'll weigh certain features as to how we see players and reviewers look at them, and they'll build up to a 100 percent score, and then we'll judge where we feel we are on those individual feature sets, and see the momentum on those and the velocity on those, too.
And so if we see one flat line and it's not where we want it to be, we then will cut it. Well, we'll cut it really late in the day. I think teams are really scared about doing 90 percent of the work and then cutting it. It's kind of like, "Well, it's nearly finished; I... I've done all the work! Please don't cut it! I'm sure I can make it better." And we're fairly brutal on that.
I'd much rather not see a feature in the game but still pay for it than risk... You know, every step of the way -- from the beginning to the end -- we're talking about a 90 percent Metacritic. That's our goal. That's what we tell Sega. And we communicate that through graphs, basically, of where we think we are.
We build into that also, on that Metacritic analysis, external events. So if we think we've done a really great PR job, if there's an individual event that we've done really good, we might add, you know, a .5 percent Metacritic. If we think it's fucked up or somebody's not done their job right, or miscommunicated something, or whatever, we'll see that in our Metacritic analysis. And we share that with Sega on a weekly basis, so that they can figure out how we're doing, too.