Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jools Watsham's Developer Diary: More Contracts!

Sunday, March 21, 2010: Wow, another busy week of contract goodness. The Spirit contract is very nearly final; both us and the publisher have dwindled any issues we had down to just milestone schedule details now. So, I expect to have that signed next week. I am very excited about this project, and can't wait to share more information about it soon. I am also very impressed with how pleasant this conract phase has been with them - thank you for that Mr. Publisher. It is truly appreciated.

We also received a contract for Face from a different publisher this week. As we've spent less time on this contract, we're still coming to mutually agreeable terms on some elements. Let's hope next week brings resolution to all issues and we can proceed with making the game soon. So far so good.

The contract period of game development is typically the least pleasant time of a project. It is interesting how the tone and attitude of the contract negotiations can really have no bearing on how the development phase of the project will be. The reason for this is because with contract negotiations you are typically communicating with a lawyer and/or someone who is responsible for business development with the publisher, whereas the day-to-day activities of a project are spent with folks such as producers, PR, and marketing. One particular project, which I will not name, had a fairly terrible contract negotiations phase where the publisher wanted to pretty much screw us out of everything purely out of greed (which we didn't allow), but the development of the game was one of the smoothest and easiest projects I have ever worked on. That just shows how working with different people can make all of the difference.

I also had a phone call regarding Red this week. It was basically a verbal pitch of the proposal I sent to them a few weeks ago. To be honest, I have absolutely no idea where we stand with that project. I hope we get it. But, I also wouldn't be surprised if we didn't. I say that based on my prior experience with potential deals falling through. It is staggering how tiny, seemingly insignificant, details can kill a deal.

[* rant on *] I think if publishers put more of a priority on game quality over mitigating risk and other terms that I am becoming more and more tired of hearing, the industry as a whole would be more successful. Now, I should say that I do not consider myself one of the "artiste" types who think a game should be made for ones self and everyone else can either jump on-board and "understand" it or just leave it. No, I want to make games that lots of people enjoy playing. So, with that in mind I naturally respect and listen to those fine folks in business development, PR, and marketing because their unique perspective on the industry is as equally as important as mine. The aim to produce a game of high quality and making money from said game are equally as important in my mind. However, when the shift in balance leans more towards the mighty dollar than quality we start to see games that simply don't deliver an experience worthy of a release. That's when the uncertainty starts creeping into the industry and number crunchers. That's when a game that marketing thinks should sell loads, suddenly doesn't. Keep it honest. Keep it simple. Put your money where your mouth is and you'll see the rewards. Nintendo understands this. It is easy to say that Mario games sell because they have Mario in them, but that simply isn't true. You can bet your house that if Nintendo released a crappy Mario game Nintendo's house of cards would come tumbling down. Their games do not rely on staring a portly plumber. What Nintendo does masterfully is extremely, and almost embarrassingly, simple: they make good games, and they know that. Now, that probably sounds ridiculous, but having a publisher truly KNOW that their game is good is extremely rare. But, it is also vital to success. Because, if you know your game is good, and it hits the audience that you want it to, then the only thing left to do is make sure as many people as possible know about it. And, that takes cash and PR/marketing smarts. The problem with 90% of publishers is that they don't do either, or they just do the latter - hoping it will mask the fact that their game is crap in a box. Doing this hurts the industry as a whole, because now the audience doesn't trust us. They were fooled into buying crap in a box. I mean c'mon, is it really a mystery why these games have sold a ridiculous number of copies: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare I & II, New Mario Wii, Cooking Mama, Mario Kart DS, Scribblenauts, and Bioshock I & II? No, they're all great games, and they all received effective PR/marketing campaigns. Sure, some of those games aren't perfect, and they may contain issues, but they're still great games that capture our imagination. I think the reason most publishers are unable to decide whether their games are worthy of a marketing push is because they simply don't have qualified people working for them who can tell them. And, this has to start with the seed of the game concept, not judging a game once it's already in production. What's the plan? Why are we making this game? Who is it for? Why will anyone like this game? What I hear all of the time from publishers is: what makes it different than other games? I say, who cares if it's different? James Bond, Mission Impossible, and the Borne Identity are all basically the same movies, but I like all of them because of the details - not the bullet points on the back of the box. Or I'm asked: how do we sell this to Walmart? That's a great question, and I don't really care because I have no idea what Walmart wants because, beyond making money, neither do they when it comes to putting games on their shelves. Walmart's decision process on placing games on their shelves has more to do with how much money they think they'll make from it than the quality of the product. Sure that's obvious, right? I think they would literally put an empty gum wrapper in a box and put it on their shelves if Hanna Montana was on the front of the box. I understand that they are a business and they want to stay in business by making money and selling products that will sell. But, when did the quality of the products take a back seat? Crazy stuff. [* rant off *]

Anyway, that was far too much of a rant. But, I hope you enjoyed that and please share your thoughts with me. And, that last paragraph was far too long. Are there limits to how long a paragraph can be? :)

I hope you're having a great day. TTYL.

Jools

3 comments:

  1. Great news on your contracts, I too cannot wait until you can reveal more about the games. I try to promote your games as much as possible (without being annoying about it) on the message boards I visit, so I'm looking forward to some more word-of-mouth advertising.

    As for your rant about the quality of a video game, I think a fair comparison would be the movie industry. You have guys like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich who make these over-the-top special effects blockbusters, but the movies lack any depth of plot or charcater development. Everything about the movie; the plot, the script, the acting, the music, the cinematogrophy, it all serves as a vehichle that leads the audience to the next big special effects scene.

    Sure, a mindless action film is ok every once in a while, but I prefer a movie with characters I care about or with a plot that leaves me thinking for days or even weeks after. And I'm not saying that a movie has to be one or the other, it is when a director makes one particular thing the movie's focus that the quality tends to drop. Movies like Fight Club, Sunshine, 28 Days Later, 12 Monkeys, and The Dark Knight all strike that balance and do it quite well.

    Which is what I find to be the most appealing thing about your games, so far. The games have depth. Sure, they have moments that may get some one scared or excited, or something, but the games are not just one emotional climax after another with no substance to support those moments.

    Anyay, I approve, Sir. I'm looking forward to your next update already.

    And off the subject, but have you gotten any new games lately? Any you'd recommend? What are you currently playing (if you have time to play, that is)?

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  2. Well spoken!

    People often ask me why I bought a certain game (like Obscure II), the ratings of the game are low or it's not a big franchise or stuff like that.
    But when you play the game, you know that there is a lot of effort and love put in it.

    Sure it's flawed and not to original, but the game is fun! That's the most important to me.

    I love games, specially games that were made with passion!

    Anyways, hope you get the contracts.
    Can't wait for some new game from you guys!

    Can't wait for Dementium II to arrive in Europe!

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  3. AMEN brother hehe ñ_ñ

    You got the point and thats the main issue with the VG industry right now...
    They just care about money too much and ... is not working anymore for both sides neither the developers and VG companies nor wee (the users) that buy videogames ...

    I mean... what if you sell a videogames "cheap" out of the box, from the very beginning ?? Easy it will sell like BREAD (as we say in Mexico) people will say "hey it isnt that expensive" and if it is a CoD or any other famous game IT WILL SELL MILLIONS out of nothing !!!

    And then comes another problem, they start making "cheap" games like all those "imagine ..." for the DS and Wii ...

    Hehehe at least makes sence to me... and even with the low price, the profits should be the same or even more, there will be even a lack of available copies of that game...

    And you will be fighting against piracy too ...

    SO ... hehehe there is a solution, at least thats what I think ... Perhaps ¬¬ I kinda missed the point of your speech hehe sorry but I had to write it down

    BYE and Can't wait'till Dementium II Release ...

    BTW: I got a funny idea for a shooter hehe

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