One Big Game's Martin de Ronde
The non-profit publisher talks about casual games, development cycles and the organisation's reception in the games industry.
One Big Game is a non-profit videogame publisher, which plans to donate all proceeds from sales to children's charities. One of the main figures behind this project is Martin de Ronde, who worked in the PR sector of videogames before setting up his own studio, and eventually working for Guerrilla Games to help develop the popular Killzone title.
GamesIndustry.biz spoke with One Big Game's director Martin de Ronde at the GameHorizon conference about working as a non-profit organisation, the appeal of casual games to developers, and how the games industry is responding to charity.
Q: What is One Big Game?
Martin de Ronde: The idea basically came about as a result of me being very interested in charity meets games or meets games technology. I was involved in a project called StarChild, which was like a second life for children's hospitals, where kids could go online to create an avatar. They could meet other kids in hospital online as well as their parents if they weren't able to come to the hospital on a daily basis to come and visit them. I think that was a wonderful way of utilising technology to do something good for the world.
So, after we sold Guerrilla to Sony, I started thinking about a new thing, a new thing I wanted to work on. I wanted it to be a charity, I wanted it to combine with games, and I was watching a documentary on the 20th anniversary of Band Aid and I was like 'that's what we need to do', we need to do for the games industry what Band Aid did for the music industry.
The original idea was that we were going to create just one game with the input from 10 or 15 famous game designers, similar to the hit single that came out at the start of the live aid-band aid phenomenon. Soon we discovered that there was such a positive response throughout the games industry about our initiative that we said 'well let's open it up and organise the equivalent of a concert' - instead of doing just one big game we're going to launch a casual games portal.
The casual games are all going to be created by some of the most famous names in the games industry which have been responsible for millions of unit sales, and so hopefully by using that creativity we hope to generate a couple million dollars for charity.
Q: Why did you decide to go for smaller casual games rather than the big game?
Martin de Ronde: The big game is still on the cards further down the line but there's a couple of things for the big game - If you put 15 famous games designers in a room for the weekend, unlike a hit single, you won't get a game. These people all work for different companies and there's all sorts of legal issues you'd need to work out and, probably the most important reason, you probably need USD 10 million to create the big game, if you think in terms of 'we're going to do a PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and PC multi-format extravaganza'. You need USD 10 million before you generate, if you're lucky, USD 20 million or USD 30 million, if the game is a success.
Mind you, if you do get those people on board and you get the 10 million I can't see it failing. It's like if James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola are making a movie together there's a lot of people that would go to the cinema in order to see it. But you need to get rid of the logistical issues and how are you going to integrate their ideas? You'd need to have one encompassing game designer, so we said 'let's still do that but we want to get to market as soon as possible so let's set up a casual games portal'. The funny thing is a lot of the people we've been speaking to really like to get away from their 3-4 year project for a brief period of time and help us with a flash game contribution.
Q: How did long development times for triple A games effect you decision to work at One Big Game, and do you think it effects other developers in a similar manner?
Martin de Ronde: I left Guerrilla, partially because I wasn't looking forward to another five year cycle, production time is shorter, but effectively from the first time we started talking about the game which eventually turned into Killzone to when it was released took us a good five years. Whether it's three or four or five years that's a long time, and I looked back on it and said 'if I do another five years I'm going to have worked on the franchise for ten years and that will have been a third of my life'.
There were other reasons why I left as well but that was one of the main reasons. One Big Game, personally, allows me to work on many different projects at the same time, which is much more fun. I also see with the developers I speak to go 'that's cool, I've got an excuse now to work on small game for a brief period of time' and from a business point of view it is also very interesting to developers who are contributing to One Big Game because if they haven't been involved in casual gaming and online distribution models they get an option to experiment with just that.
Q: How have you found the response from developers?
Martin de Ronde: I haven't had a single negative response. Our main enemy is going to be time not a lack of enthusiasm, there's no people going 'I think this is a rubbish idea and I don't want to do it.' Everybody thinks it's a great idea, it's just the people we're talking to are developers they are sometimes struggling to meet their deadlines and they're sometimes struggling to keep their businesses going. So if you ask them to do a project that isn't going to generate any profit for them or turnover for them for the time being then obviously they need to see how they can factor that in within their resource planning - but having said that, at the end of a project, a big project, there's always floating resources.
We're really looking for people to take the brands they are renown for and famous for and produce an indie style game, either as a parody or has a clear link to the game they're working on - so it could be that they actually release a game on One Big Game which may also serve as a bit of a promotional for the game that they are releasing six months down the line or 12 months down the line.
Q: Are there any legal issues around IP with this?
Martin de Ronde: The people we speak to own the IP, let's say developer X is renowned for a famous action adventure RPG game, and they decide to base a game on that. They maintain ownership of the brand, they maintain ownership of the game idea, we get a distribution deal for 12 months where we release the casual game for 12 months, after that they can do whatever they want with the game.
One Big Game does not own any IP. We do not get any rights other than distribution rights, so ultimately it could still be very rewarding for developers to contribute because we're going to be a launch pad for developers to either build a new brand or revitalise an old brand or promote an existing popular brand. And at the same time they're doing a lot of good for the world because they're raising a lot of money for charity.
Q: How do publishers respond to what you're doing?
Martin de Ronde: There are two sides to publishers, they own a lot of talented studios which they purchased over the last couple of years so we've gone to publishers to say 'can we speak to studio x for them to do a contribution?'
With publishers, the response has not been negative in any way, it's just that there's more people involved and we need to look at it from a legal point of view, from a marketing point of view, from a PR point of view and from a resource production planning point of view.
If I sit down with an independent developer they can say 'yes I'm going to do it' but if I sit down with a publisher's studio they say 'it has to go through five or six different departments before we can say we can do it'.
Q: Are you going to try and publish the titles through retail shops or is it all going to be through your portal?
Martin de Ronde: We're going to do it through our portal but at the same time we're looking to strike distribution deals to get the games out there to as many different people as possible. Some of these publishers have very successful casual games portals, I wouldn't mind our games being on those casual games portals. I'd be very interested to see our games appear on those channels.
Q: Why are you headquartered in the US not Europe?
Martin de Ronde: The US is obviously just a place we have to be, that's where the bulk of the developers are. In the US there is a much healthier culture when it comes to non-profits, over here non-profit is often seen as non-profit, you don't have to make profit. In the US you're treated as a similar business partner, you're there to make an awful lot of profit the only difference is you're doing it for the public benefit. So you can be really aggressively commercial, which is good because that is what we should be doing.
We're going to be getting some really, really good product so we should be approaching this like we're a commercial publisher, we need to be aggressive about how we market it, we need to be going out there spreading the message and we need to maximise our revenue where possible, whenever possible. I've always felt the climate in the US for non-profits is far more competitive and healthy.
Martin de Ronde is the director of One Big Game. Interview by James Lee.