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As an FPS-centric gamer, I'm well aware of Brink developer Splash Damage's past success, bursting from the mod scene with Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and semi-followup Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, as well as it being id Software's go-to studio for Wolfenstein and Doom 3 multiplayer maps.
Splash Damage is clearly a team that is looking to break from the norm too. While it's fair to say that Brink fell rather flat with gamers -- with the various concepts proving better on paper than in execution -- there's no denying that the game's focus on teamplay and class-based advantages and disadvantages was inspiring.
As is now public knowledge, Splash Damage's CEO Paul Wedgwood isn't just attempting to think outside the box -- he's built a whole load of boxes, and is now hoping to take a holiday in the far reaches of every one of them.
From the company's newly founded vertical integration, by which it has founded its own games publisher and online services provider, to its string of free-to-play titles -- including iOS game Rad Soldiers -- Splash Damage has obviously done its research, and is now simultaneously following the general trends of the game industry while also hammering along on its own terms.
Yet, while Splash Damage is focused heavily on pushing its new free-to-play development and publishing approach, Wedgwood spends a great deal of our chat reminiscing about his modding days, giving the sense that all his talk about vertical integration and his desire to control all parts of his games' development and publishing is in response to the current rude health of the indie scene, and his yearning to replicate the freedom of his modding days once again.
"We loved how hardcore and elitist we were," he says. "Our community was one of the most offensive and aggressive around -- we used to get 125,000 posts a week on our forums, and every single one of them contained swear words, and they were always at us or at other players. So it was an impossible community to get into in those early mod-making days, but it was good for us, because we became really thick-skinned, and we've always worked well with our community since."
"We know, for example, that 1.6 percent of our community absolutely hates us, and they come every week and tell us how much they hate us. We hate them back -- at least it's mutual!" he laughs. "But if they weren't there telling us what we've done wrong, then we'd be worse off."
The Splash Damage boss is a little defensive of the triple-A space at points -- again, quite possibly due to his desire to be part of the indie boom that the industry is currently experiencing.
"Sometimes people are critical of triple-A, particularly in the indie scene, because they think it's exploitative, or focused on sales or whatever else. But there are lots of skills that triple-A developers have that don't exist in the indie scene that really benefit players. User interface design is one of those examples where you really do find people saying, 'This indie game is brilliant -- if only I could get the bloody UI!'"
"We're really obsessive about that sort of stuff, and we have a much stronger understanding of what it takes to make a really compelling and easy-to-understand interface, particularly by just looking at advances by the competition -- games like Infinity Blade, for example."
Wedgwood is clearly well aware of how far the company has come from those humble mod-based beginnings, and that with success comes a potential distancing from both your fans and your values. The Splash Damage founder says he's not planning to grow up just yet.
"I think for us, once you have a boardroom and nice chairs and big plasma screens and everything else, there's this risk that you can become one of the arrogant, upper echelon tier of the games industry because of your player count numbers, or sales numbers, or whatever else," he explains.
"But that isn't really why we got into video games -- I was in IT when I first started out, and I did it for 14 years before I realized how much I hated it. To make my transition to the video games industry, I cut my annual income by about three-quarters. So the thing that occurred to me was, we started the company because we wanted to do a job that was fun. If you can get to your 40s, and still be in a boardroom talking about alien invasions, then that's a life well spent!"
"And we're just about 200 years ahead of the rest of the population, because when machines do everything for us, we'll spend all of our time just theorizing and talking about alien invasions," he jokes. "But for now, 95 percent of the population sadly has to do real jobs."
"So we're just massively privileged to be in this position of not having to do any actual real work with the whole of our lives! Which is an incredible proposition, if you think about it."