Do you consider this idea of incubating different studios -- and also different kinds of studios -- important? Is it an important thing to Sony, or is it an important thing even to the medium of games?
SS: I guess I'll take a step back and say that it's important to Sony Santa Monica. I believe that more publishers should be doing this because it gives the little guy an opportunity to work within the environment of the big publisher and work very closely with, in this case, The Unfinished Swan, whom I'm sure you've heard about. We're bringing people over from God of War -- talent that's been around our studio for over 10 years -- to work with fledgling creatives and people that have got a lot of opportunity in front of them but just don't know how to direct that. When you look at that opportunity to build creative, I think it's unique.
Sony Santa Monica will continue with that sort of support to the young guns of the industry, but I do think that it would be great if we could see a little more of this infused throughout the various publishers that have the money to set people up for success like that.
You were talking about working with the team behind The Unfinished Swan, and there have been other instances of Santa Monica working with indies to get their stuff onto, specifically, PSN. Do you feel personally strongly that that's good? What do you bring besides security to them? Is it about teaching them process?
SS: Yeah, there's certainly a layer of process -- if they need it. We've worked with teams before that didn't need a whole lot of process support. They maybe needed to be guided a little bit from a creative [standpoint], and thinking a little more commercial in their approach to media, or even to the building of the game. What we tend to do is work with them: see what they're strong at, see what they're weak at, and support them in those areas that show clearly that they need our time and our expertise.
The big games are still the Gods of Wars of the world, and the Unfinished Swans are still the small games of the world. Do you see that there's going to be a blending of some of that creative cross-pollination? Is that something you want to pursue, or do you see it more as there are small projects that are artistically-driven and then there are large blockbusters?
SS: When you say cross-pollination, though, Chris, what do you mean? Creative people that leave the epic and go small?
It's kind of ambiguous, isn't it? Bringing more of an auteur kind of feel to some of the bigger projects.
SS: Mmm. We struggle a lot with that because, at Sony Santa Monica, we've always prided ourselves secretly in being a little bit of an art house. You can oftentimes be so obscure that you're not hitting a market. That's something we're always watching out for, and trying to work around and support in ways -- like we do with the incubation program, where we nudge this title or this team more in this area.
I think that's pretty risky these days. We're looking at upwards of $40 million on some of these big, epic titles, and to take a big leap into being a little more obscure and introduce that art house feel on a product that large is a little scary to me, at least.
God of War III
But you definitely saw that tug with God of War III, towards the end of the game, with trying to bring in a little more than just anger, and a little more character development into the franchise. I think that, sometimes when we see these big franchises, they're built to hit a mark that isn't so nuanced. It can be a little bit stretched. I guess maybe that's what you're talking about; you want to be artistic, but it's hard to fit it into this sort of mold, right?
SS: Yes. Definitely. It's an ongoing, all-the-time, every-conversation struggle, almost.
You've talked about risk and cost; do people make creative decisions based on risk and cost, or do they make them at the studio based on a sense of what the franchise is about and where it needs to go?
SS: Initially, it's a sense. It's a belief in the vision of the product and the people that are out there making the product happen. But we do -- more, these days -- need to step back and really look at what the risk is of that one feature or the new idea that somebody might have to make sure that we're not going down a path that's dry, or that nobody's going to be interested in, or that's too obscure.
But we don't want the business to be driven by money. It's a creative industry to us; that's the way we look at it. When you start consistently infusing bottom line and analysis, you don't know what the consumer's going to do; you don't know what they're going to think; you don't know what's going to happen in those two-year development times, by which 15 competitive products will have released, in that timeline.
How does that affect you? It's such an unknown that we really believe in the visionary philosophy that you get one person in there working very collaboratively across a multidisciplinary-style development cycle that pushes the product where it needs to be.
As that's happening, you look at the finances around it. We're constantly doing that: looking at team size; what are we going to need in regards to team size at certain points during development, and how does that affect the bottom line? The title evolves and changes over the course of the number of years that it's in development. We don't know that day one, so we're constantly checking in with that and looking at how it's going to benefit us, how it's going to affect us, and what are some of the gotchas that we need to watch out for.