Industry veteran John Romero, who was a leading creative in the advent of 3D shooters like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake, has made the leap to free-to-play games with his new company, Loot Drop. With two new titles out - Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Commander for Facebook and iOS devices - Romero took a break from making games to discuss Nintendo, Kickstarter and the future of game development in this exclusive interview.
Q: What's your studio set-up at Loot Drop?
John Romero: We're about 40 people right now and there are four of us as lead designers that run our game teams. Right now it's turned into three teams with extra people on them temporarily before the fourth team starts on another thing. We have a fluid fourth team that drops in when you need help.
Q: Are you working on original content as well as the Ubisoft Ghost Recon games?
John Romero: Yeah. Actually, the Ubisoft game is the only licensed game that we worked on.
Q: When you factor Moore's Law into the equation, how do you think tablets will impact the future of consoles?
John Romero: It's already starting. It's easy to look down the road and see the big companies asking "why are we making hardware still?" It's just getting so cheap now on these other all-in-one devices. The iPad isn't like the Nook where you can only read books and do limited things. It's a computer. It does everything. So why would consoles deliver something that is less than what an iPad can do? To do that is something that is extremely capital intensive. It takes a ton of engineering and money and time to compete with a really fast all-in-one computer that you're going to have to charge less for and be in competition with the iPad.
"The fact that I don't really care about the Wii U or even want to find out more about it says something. It doesn't look like it is innovative, and to me the Apple ecosystem is the place I like to live in"
Q: Where does that leave the bigger game makers?
John Romero: I can see companies like Nintendo probably feeling like they did make the right decision to create a ton of IP because that IP is very powerful for Nintendo and IP transcends platform, even though they've locked it to their platform. Other companies that don't own all that IP are going to have more trouble in the industry.
Nintendo can probably live off of their IP without any hardware, where other companies that are huge like Microsoft has no IP and relies on everybody else to make it for them. Without a platform, they just have an operating system. If everybody decides to go Android or Apple, there you go. The development of the IP is just extremely important and Nintendo has been doing that since they started. So they made the wisest decision.
Q:What do you think of the Wii U because it's been getting a lot of mixed reactions? Heading into E3?
John Romero: It's funny. I have a philosophy of the way that I see things in the industry because I've been doing this for so long. I don't sit and read every little piece of news all the time because I'm really busy with the things that I do. News that reaches me is usually more important. When the Wii was coming out, it was one of those "I have to have one of these things" and I had to pull some strings and get one because it was sold out all over the place. There was this game called World of Warcraft and I heard about it and I had to get it. There are these things that are really big that I'll hear about, but I don't hear about a lot of the other things.
Over time those big things became big things, so the fact that I don't really care about the Wii U or even want to find out more about it says something. It doesn't look like it is innovative, and to me the Apple ecosystem is the place I like to live in and the Nintendo ecosystem has stopped their innovating ways.
Q: What do you think that says about the future of Nintendo after the success they had with the Wii?
John Romero: With the Wii they were very underpowered. The design was more powerful than the hardware, and the library is what stood that platform up for a while, but I think that the new Wii U is just to me not interesting enough to even pay attention to anymore. If that means overall on the huge scheme of things that it's not going to do very well, it might be because I'm not that excited about it and maybe a lot of other people are not excited about it.
Q:What do you think of the other next gen consoles coming from Sony and Microsoft?
John Romero: I personally don't care what the next gen of consoles are because I'm not excited about consoles anymore. The Wii U or any kind of future Sony or Xbox are just not that exciting because I have a PS3 and a 360 and sometimes I will play a really great game on them like Red Dead Redemption, but my game playing has tended to go back towards the PC and the iPad and iPhone. Maybe it's just a sign of the times, but that's where it's gone for me.
"The refinement of the delivery of Kickstarter pages is happening. Everybody is trying to hone the pitch and figure out how you get the most people interested"
Q: What do you think of Kickstarter?
John Romero: I think it's unbelievably cool. Kickstarter is such a great thing. I don't know if Kickstarter was actually out when Notch started doing his own thing for Minecraft. He did his own thing showing people what he was working on it and having the donate button there. That was his little Kickstarter. And then with Tim Schafer, that was really the beginning of everybody going to Kickstarter now. There will be competitive sites to Kickstarter that have different things. The refinement of the delivery of Kickstarter pages is happening. Everybody is trying to hone the pitch and figure out how you get the most people interested. People are trying to figure out what the magic formula for doing a great Kickstarter page is.
Q: What impact do you see Kickstarter having long-term on the traditional publishing game industry?
John Romero: Right now I can't see it really having any effect on the game industry. Right now what has been kickstarted are projects where everybody really liked playing this game and a creator wants to do a sequel or a new version. That's great because it's a small army that wants to play an upgrade to a game that's 20 years old and it's great that fans can vote with money whether they actually do want to see it or not. It's super Democratic and I love that.
Q: How do you see Kickstarter growing?
John Romero: There's a company that has really great design cred and has delivered great products. They put a watch that they want to make up on Kickstarter that uses electric paper-type technology for a super thin watch and they wanted $100,000 to do it. They got over $10 million. They blew Tim Schafer's funding out of the water. It's interesting to see the widening of the audience of people that will start looking at that site as a place to shop for very unique things and feel like they're backing somebody to do something cool.
Q: What are you playing for fun these days?
John Romero: Right now for some reason I'm pretty excited about World of Warcraft and I know several people who have re-activated accounts and gotten back into it. I don't know why because I don't have any marketing that I've seen from Blizzard any time recently other than Diablo III, but a bunch of us are playing World of Warcraft again and consequently Blizzard announced they still have 10.5 million people in this game.