Indie developers go large

15 02 2007

There is a very interesting interview with Gamecock over at Next-gen.biz.

It show taht with ‘smart funding and a few cleaver media types new models can be developed:

“Earlier this week, former executives from Gathering of Developers announced the formation of Austin-based Gamecock, “a well-funded, independent, artist-driven game publishing company” inspired by the rise of the indie film movement.

Wilson isn’t shy when saying that big publishers are driving the industry into a creative rut with the overuse of licenses, sequels and bloated gaming budgets. But according to him, developers themselves are partially to blame.

First of all, about Gamecock, what’s up with the rooster theme?

Well basically, the idea is that we don’t think that the publisher brand really matters too much to people. Like Gathering of Developers, we’re going to be putting the developers’ names on the front of the boxes and we’re just fine print on the back, where we happen to believe that the publisher belongs. Other than that I just think we like to keep it fun. Hopefully [the rooster theme] lightens things up a little bit. I don’t see why we all need to be so very serious about video games.

Gamecock describes itself as “well-funded.” Where are these funds coming from?

Well basically we beat the streets for a couple years to find really good sort of “clean” funding this time. At the Gathering, we were really pretty under-funded and the money we got, because it came from Take-Two, came with a lot of strings, so we worked really hard to find some money that wasn’t like that this time.

Essentially, we’re finally lucky enough to find two very, very, very high net-worth individuals who are not from this space but are from media and understand entertainment and IP and working with artists and all that, so they get that part of it and they’re comfortable with the risk. Luckily these guys have enough money to take us as far as we care to go as fast. We don’t want to do fifty or a hundred games a year. We don’t want to become like our competition, so we want to do maybe ten or twelve games at a time and each one of those might be over several platforms.

“We’re not going to make Die Hard 5 for $100 million—we’re looking to make The Matrix 1 for $65 million.”

Why is the indie film movement a good model to follow for videogames?

I just think it’s a good example of what can happen when you start getting more creative about where the money comes from to make things like indie films. Fifteen years ago it kind of had the same problems we’re seeing now, in that all of the money was coming through these same few big companies. So it was the same types of things being green lit over and over again. People started getting a little bit more creative with how to get money for films… I hate to boil it all down to money, but the main problem in the industry is the only people that are investing in games are the big game publishers right now and they’re just not taking a lot of creative risks. They’re very sort of conservative public companies.

Next-Gen recently did an article called The Games People Buy, which definitely supported the idea that the licenses and sequels rule the industry from a commercial standpoint…

They do. I had this conversation when I went back to Take Two… [The reason] why these same games get green lit and get all this marketing [is that] it’s all just a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like, of course these are the biggest games of the year, because these are the ones that these big companies put all their money behind and really push. When it comes time to decide which games get the marketing buzz, it comes down to these three or four sort of “sure thing” franchises that each one of these big companies have.

Everything else just kind of gets sent out and you hope for the best and then they’ll market it if it happens to be a surprise hit. … [Gamecock] will truly launch every game as if it’s going to be a hit, and part of the reason we can do that is we don’t have all the overhead and waste that these other guys do have, because we’re not doing a hundred games a year.

Are major publishers destroying the creativity of the games industry? Do you think that’s just flat out a fact?

Well, I don’t know, because you kind of have to distribute the blame equally. I think developers need to get a little more creative about ways to fund themselves and if they have an original idea to get it from proof of concept stage at least so that these big guys feel more comfortable green-lighting it. And then the press—the game magazines, the game websites—tend to cover the obviously huge games a lot more. They beat each other up to cover the same game 85 different ways.

Before we launched, when we went out and did the press tour with a lot of the magazines in San Francisco, everybody is really thrilled to hear we’re back and several of those meetings ended with, “Hey man, this is awesome, what can we do to help?” And I would tell those editors “You can write about original games. You can put them on your covers like you do Tomb Raider 9 or whatever it is.” And that’s the truth. Everybody that cares about this industry has to start thinking about independent developers and original games a little bit more.

And so these Gamecock titles that are coming, they’re like full-out packaged next-generation triple-A games?

Yeah, it was very tempting to get back into [the business] earlier [than we did], because there is a lot of exciting stuff going on with digital distribution. But really, we wanted to come back and go toe-to-toe with Activision, THQ, Ubisoft, any of these guys. We can do big games like they can, we can do the marketing, hopefully do them a little smarter because we’re more nimble. I mean me, Rick [Stults], and Harry [Miller], who are all the founders, have all managed and been the biz guys for independent developers, so that gives us a little bit of a different perspective.

Indie games, just like indie films, have found ways to do things more efficiently and more creatively, so you’re not going to see us doing $30 million games with 200-person teams, just because we don’t believe that that’s the answer. We’re not going to make Die Hard 5 for $100 million—we’re looking to make The Matrix 1 for $65 million.

So you’re skipping on The Matrix 2 and 3.

Yeah, that’s how we look at it… It’s the same story that [publishers] were saying when the PS2 and Xbox came out. They were saying that console games were going to cost $10 or $15 million then… Now they are saying [games will cost] $20 or $30 million on the new platforms. Halo, Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne—all of these games cost under $5 million to make. And then Halo 2 cost like $22 million to make, because as soon as it [catches on with] one of these huge companies, they just can’t help themselves—everybody in the company wants to attach themselves to the game and basically all this overhead gets attached to the game.

The poor bastards who created this game in the first place are stuck in a corner somewhere and don’t have anything to do with it at all, but yeah. That’s not really our ideal model.”

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