Jenova Chen: "We Were Lucky"

Journey developer says a mixture of timing and reputation key to thatgamecompany's success

Indie developer Jenova Chen has explained that Journey would not have been possible without the mixture of luck and timing which saw thatgamecompany sign a deal with Sony for the launch of PS3.

"I think we were very lucky to be able to work with Sony," he told GamesIndustry International at GDC as he spoke about thatgamecompany's PlayStation Network deal.

"Right now digital distribution is the future but at that time no one was developing anything for it! When we signed the contract the PlayStation was due to launch in four months, so they were in dire need for content."

So no answers for developers looking for quick success tips then. He said the sales of the first title, Flow, led to the trust that enabled them to make the much riskier Flower.

"When we pitched Flower I didn't really know what the game was," he admitted with a smile. "I just said 'hey, we want to make a game that is about feeling of being in love to others.' Sony's publisher side was actually crazy enough to sign that."

Entertainment, in the end, is a food industry for feeling

Jenova Chen

"I think it was also because at the time Phil Harrison was the president and he was really trying to push for innovation because Microsoft had the lead."

Since the interview at GDC Harrison has actually signed a deal to take over the role of corporate vice president at the Interactive Entertainment Business for Microsoft.

Chen admitted that had he tried the same pitch with someone else in different circumstances, "I would be killed."

Thatgamecompany signed a three game deal with Sony, and Journey represents the final game in that deal. Chen fended of questions about whether or not they would sign up to a similar exclusive deal again, but its clear he's a man more interested in the message and feel of games than what platform its on.

The critics are currently swooning over Journey, a game based largely around anonymous strangers and sand, and Chen thinks it's because the industry and its consumers are craving a taste of something new.

"People are just getting tired of the same things. Maybe when Flower was launched three years ago people weren't necessarily that sick of the [traditional] games," he said, comparing the reaction to Journey with that of Flower.

"I think the most important thing is that it's 2012, it's not 2005, it's not 2007. Humans always have a desire for bigger variety, we started eating just fruit and raw meat, but look at how how diverse they type of food we're eating today is."


"Secondly I think we are just better as making games. We learn and we improve our skills. And Journey is also more conventional compared to the other games."

He was also surprised that more people weren't creating online games that did away with the traditional lobbies and online codes and friend's lists required by most titles.

"Everything I just talked about means shit to a kid," he said, his voice rising for the only time in the whole conversation.

"Everybody keeps talking about social games, but the social games today are not really socialised. You play an online multiplayer game, and the technology allows you to bring 64 people together but what they're doing is focusing on their own power. Not on connecting or being friends or having a shared emotional state together."

He hopes Journey will feel social without the need for points or powers, with gamers trading emotional investment rather than Farmville style barn components.

"Entertainment, in the end," he said, "is a food industry for feeling."

Journey was released on the PlayStation Store in the US yesterday, and will appear today for European territories. To read a breakdown of its reviews, click here.

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Latest comments (5)

Private Industry 10 years ago
Downloaded it already last week and played a little bit before ME3 came out its really cool so far.

Wouldnt mind if they make another deal with Sony seeing how they can freely make what they want while still supported by them.
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Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 10 years ago
The problem with making deals is that, unless "Total creative freedom" is locked into that contract. It's not guaranteed there will be no interference in future. Management seem to have a need to stick fingers in pies, taste them and then add salt without telling the chef. Just look at the ending of Mass Appeal 3 for a prime example of this nonsense in action.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Peter Dwyer on 14th March 2012 1:21pm

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Radha Kotamarti Senior Programmer, Ubisoft Massive10 years ago
I hope more studios and game directors take inspiration from games like Journey and Dark Souls when it comes to the online space.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Radha Kotamarti on 14th March 2012 1:36pm

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David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers10 years ago
I got a chance to speak with Jenova at E3. He's seriously a genius for game design - I was humbled just to get a chance to give feedback on that build of Journey. He's also incredibly kind and was constantly smiling - given the stresses of E3, his attitude was refreshing.
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Private Industry 10 years ago
They only had a publishing contract compared to BioWare who is owned by EA and since I didnt finish the game yet it needs of be seen how the ending is. So far I cant complain about the game halfway finished the game.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Private on 14th March 2012 3:13pm

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