Zoe Mode's creative director talks about the importance of telling stories to new audiences - in new ways
One of the speakers at the Nordic Game Conference and Career Expo later this week is Ste Curran, formerly a journalist with Edge, and now the creative director at Kuju's Zoe Mode studio.
GamesIndustry.biz spoke to him ahead of his session to find out a bit more about his design principles, and to discover his thoughts on bringing videogames to new audiences.
Q: What attracts you to the Nordic Game event this year?
Ste Curran: Well, I met with Tom [Felices, event director] in Lyon last year, and he was telling me how he wanted Nordic Game to be a different conference in outlook and structure to other entries on the conference calendar. He wanted the keynotes and sessions to be different, and that's a philosophy I believe in.
I think that a lot of conferences miss opportunities - you've got all of these incredibly creative people, very talented, in the room and unless I've just been unlucky with conference sessions in the past, but I tend to find it's usually a man stood in front of a series of PowerPoint slides, which were prepared by somebody in his office, and he takes you through them very patiently - and that sends me to sleep, it's not what I'm really interested in.
I've always want to take part in sessions which I would find interesting and enthusiastic, and differently presented - that's what I said I'd like to do at Nordic Game, and Tom said that's what he wanted as well.
Q: Your session is called 'Stories About Stories' - without spoiling the surprise, what's it about?
Ste Curran: Well, it's going to be stories about the stories in videogames, little tales that people are going to tell about the games that they've worked on, the games that they've played, and it's all held together by a bigger story from me, but I'll leave the rest until the session.
Q: It's been a little while since the Zoe Mode rebrand now - how has the studio changed in that time?
Ste Curran: I think the Zoe Mode branding was more of an outward-facing thing - Zoe has always been quite a different studio, at least different from the ones that I visited in the past. I've seen an awful lot of different set-ups, but never anything like Zoe's outlook of bringing games to slightly different audiences - but not in a patronising way.
That's something that I'm really interested in, and fits in with the telling stories thing as well - it's all about telling stories to a type of gamer who isn't necessarily interested in the stories that we've grown up with as gamers, things like becoming the hero, saving the princess, and so on. It's telling a different kind of story, and telling it in a different kind of way.
Q: You must have watched the Nintendo effect of the past 18 months with great interest then?
Ste Curran: Sure, and Zoe is fortunate to be very well positioned for that, and the sort of games that have been breaking through in that time are the sort of games that we've been working on for longer than that - so it's a fortunate, or some might say smart, move to have predicted that.
On a personal note I did a talk last year at GameCity in Nottingham called 'My Mum', and it was all about how my mum got back into videogaming, and is all to do with the way that videogames started as quite a broad, accessible medium and then gradually funnelled down into this niche of adolescent boys - and is now trying to build its way out of that.
And it's working right now, just not necessarily with the sort of games that people expected.
Q: Is it trying to build its way out of that, or is it trying to build its way as well as that?
Ste Curran: Oh, totally, as well as that. Those games will not go away, it's a huge market - there will always be room for Grand Theft Auto. I don't have the sales for Wii Fit to hand, but it's selling tremendously well, and you couldn't find a game less similar to GTA - and they're not hurting each other's sales.
Videogaming is a wide, wide form, and is big enough to contain lots of things - some of which we haven't fully explored yet.
Q: Arguably only a wide form relatively recently though?
Ste Curran: Well, that's the way that the market is sweked. It takes someone brave enough to push that market, to form it - it's a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Sony was smart enough to do that with SingStar, and then Nintendo took that fully on, and focused on it even more strongly - and it's worked really well for them.
In fact, Nintendo has kind of stepped outside of the console war between the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, because its consoles have a completely different audience almost all to themselves.
Q: Is it that the time was right for that change, or was it about the right product coming along?
Ste Curran: I don't know - it's not like girls are a new technology...they've always existed, and people have always wanted to sing, dance and play games like that. It seems to me that you could talk in terms of things like marketing capacity and throughput of units, and so on, about whether the industry is in a better place to attract that kind of market, but I can see an alternate reality where the first few games that were developed weren't necessarily sword-and-sorcery games, but maybe were dancing games - so that games developed as more of a teenage girls' hobby, and only just now would we be busting out into the GTAs of this world.
I think there are a lot of things that make it the right time for gaming, I think it could have happened earlier. In a way, it did happen earlier. People talk about it now in terms of Nintendo, but SingStar did a lot for getting PlayStation 2s in front of teenage girls - just for that game. And SingStar is totally valid as a videogame, I think it's as precisely designed as any action game.
Q: Isn't the difference that before the Wii, the traditional gaming audience - and the industry to an extent - was a bit snobbish about games like SingStar, whereas now the amount of money that Nintendo has made has forced people to take a different view?
Ste Curran: Absolutely, they can't afford to argue with the money - because these games are doing huge, huge numbers at the moment. Whatever they personally think of these games...I see furious kids on the Internet saying that Wii Fit isn't a proper game - but whatever they think of it, it's selling millions of copies because people want different things from games.
Everybody is naturally cautious, and the big-selling games have always been the Halo, GTA, Mario titles, which very much sit in a certain demographic on the whole, so when the publishers have gone to invest in games they'll always invest in things like that, because that's where they see the money.
Then all of a sudden some things have broken out and now that new market has proven that it's a completely justifiable investment, so that they can green light these projects and know that the audience is there.
Q: Do you think that, following the generally less rabid coverage of the GTA IV launch, that the social view of games is beginning to change now - have we turned a corner?
Ste Curran: I've always thought that would happen. People are terrified of things they don't understand, and slowly - as videogamers get older and the games become more ubiquitous - it gets better. You'll always get scare stories in the Daily Mail - just as you do with everything else that can be amazing but is sometimes not.
It's something that always used to frustrate me, but as I've got older I've realised that it will go away eventually. I think the industry does make itself an easy target sometimes, but it is maturing - it is getting bigger and broader, and I'm excited to be a part of that.
Ste Curran is the creative director at Zoe Mode. Interview by Phil Elliott.
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