Wilson and the Glory of G.O.D.
By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
Let's talk about the other licensed properties for a moment...how did you get the Kiss: Psycho Circus license? Was it from Todd McFarlane, or Kiss themselves?
KISS owns that property. An agent I know calls me one day, says that Gene Simmons wants to meet w/me and wants to do high-end quality video games based on KISS. The Psycho Circus comics, which were produced by McFarlane, made it obvious that KISS:Psycho Circus was indeed a great property both in coolness and sales potential. (The KISS following is huge... McFarlane's comics and action figures are the best selling of any new series in both categories).
Was Third Law Interactive intended to make the game from day one, or did you acquire the license and then find someone to make the game?
Nope... the license came up and I was talking to several outside, talented groups about it. The Third Law guys came to me basically asking advice, as they had all been planning to leave, as a group, for some time. They are obviously an incredible ensemble of talent, and were ready to start immediately, and believed strongly in the license. Done.
Why use the LithTech engine, when you have such a close involvement with Epic Games?
Third Law looked at all the available 3D technologies very hard. Epic was here to demonstrate Unreal the night that Third Law left Ion (Epic didn't know who they were demo-ing for until they got here). Epic's engine and id's are both incredible technologies with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, as is Monolith’s. I think the decision came down to the fact that LithTech works on such a wide range of computers, and that Third Law's mission is to create a game that will both please the high-end Blue’s News crowd but that will also run on the not-so-hardcore gamers systems. Again, KISS has a huge following, and not all of them bought a new computer and new 3D card this year. I think it was a smart business decision for them, and very mature of them to be able to walk away from the more high-end, high-profile, high-cost technologies to do the right thing for them on this project.
Your recent deal with Take Two Interactive raised a few eyebrows (and prompted several darker biblical references) what brought this about?
Any criticisms/fears of Take-Two are based on Take-Two two years ago, which was a COMPLETELY different company. They were a poor-ass publisher with no money and no products. Tough combination. They made some bad decisions and paid the price for it. Heck, when we met Take Two, they didn't have much more going on than we did, and we didn't even have an office. ;) But, the fact is that they believed in the concept of The Gathering and that our two companies goals and strengths fit together like puzzle pieces. They spent all of 1998 building up an incredibly strong European and console distribution infrastructure, which was exactly what we needed to partner with, so that we could continue to focus on high-end PC content and North American publishing. They went from a 19 million dollar company in 4th quarter ‘97 to a 200 million dollar company in 4th quarter ‘98. Lots of very smart acquisitions.
Anyhow, we went into the relationship very cautiously, even reluctantly, and now know that it's the smartest thing we could have done, business wise. We've been able to keep the vision of The Gathering 100% pure and establish a worldwide publishing partnership capable of launching major titles as well as anyone in the business in the space of about one year. (We didn't have offices or any money until E3 of last year).
What is Rockstar Games, and what is G.O.D's involvement in it?
Rockstar Games is concrete evidence of Take Two's support of our philosophy of fewer, better, games and working with the best developers. They are the label (within Take Two) that will handle the ports and original console versions of Gathering's titles. They are also going head-on into the effort of making console games less 'geeky' in the public perception. They will be doing lots of very new, very exciting things in that sector that will shake things up, and we're proud to be associated with them.
What's your take on the, "Wal-mart phenomenon"? Can we expect a Deer Hunter style game from G.O.D. in the coming years?
Not unless id wants to do it. ;) Seriously, if a top-tier developer wanted to make a quality, kick ass game that happened to appeal to the masses, why not? All our developers are independents and therefore understand commercial realities. Still, you won't see a six-month, $150k project that amounts to a couple of brown pixels popping out at you coming from us just to take advantage of the fact that Bubba doesn't know better.
We are focused, and that focus is on the hardcore, high end gamer of all genres. Our goal is for each game we release to be the best game in that particular genre, or at least to be right up there. Railroad Tycoon II was as good as any non-violent, sim-type strategy game gets, and we're very proud of it. Even Jazz Jackrabbit 2, even though it will never sell AAA numbers, was widely acclaimed and called the best game of its type ever made. We love that. FLY! will continue this tradition by kicking every flight simulator's ass this spring. If Microsoft's simulator still sells more because there are a million idiots out there that feel better about buying something because it says Microsoft, so be it. The real simmers will know that FLY! is the best ever made, and that audience is the one we want.
How committed are you to developing for console games? Would you like to see this become a larger part of your publishing slate, or will PC games always be G.O.D.'s main focus?
PC Games will continue to be our focus for the next year or two, but through our unique relationship with Rockstar, we still have the ability to help manage the development and marketing of great console titles from great developers like Edge of Reality. It was no accident that one of our six founding developers was from the console world.
Is there a genre you have yet to find a game for? Looking at your current list of games in development, you've got an RPG, a strategy game, a few action games, etc. Is there a particular kind of game you're looking for right now? (A sports title, perhaps?)
We look for quality games from quality developers, period. We don't have a 'slate' with slots we are trying to fill. We don't have quarters, and we have very little overhead. We are free from many of the pressures that other publishers put on themselves because they think they are in the packaged goods industry rather than the entertainment industry.
What does G.O.D. look for in a new publishing partner? You've shown a willingness to take a chance with new startups (Human Head and Third Law being two recent ones) making you the idea publisher for many would-be developers.
Third Law is an exception in that they are using licensed technology and that I have personal knowledge of their skills. Human Head is working in conjunction with Epic (and I also am quite familiar with their skills from when they were working at Raven on id collaborations) similar to how Remedy is working with 3DRealms on Max Payne. Generally, we'll feel a lot more comfortable with an 'unproven' group if we can pair them up with an experienced, successful developer who understands that magic that has to happen in the last 1/3 of a product's cycle to put it over the top. We look for teams with the proven ability to deliver, basically.
G.O.D. relies on the basis of small developers making games independently. As the industry grows, and games get more complicated, and more expensive to make, do you see this continuing to be a viable option? Are we far off from seeing hundred member development teams being the norm?
I think so. Most large development operations don't work out so well, with a few notable exceptions. The best games in the business are made by relatively small independent teams either on their own or working autonomously inside a larger organization.
PopTop was three guys when we signed them, and were at a bloated six guys when they completed Railroad Tycoon II.
Finally, do you have any advice for would-be developers?
Don't try to do it on your own the first time out... work with someone experienced and successful until you fully understand the very rare combination of skills that are required to complete a great game. Also, don't take the easy road and remain ignorant about 'boring things' like the business you're in. The fat, laughing guys in suits will make you pay for your ignorance.
Thanks Mike! Check out G.O.D. over at http://www.godgames.com!
- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor in chief here at loonygames. He's a G.O.D. fearing man.
Credits: Illustration © 1999 Michael Krahulik. This interview is © 1999 Jason Bergman & Mike Wilson. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't try it...or we'll damn you.