Earlier today, Activision Publishing officially lifted the veil on the brand-new Sierra. Fostering independent development may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Activision, but the megapublisher is hoping to change that perception with the reborn Sierra label.
Shortly after the news broke, GamesIndustry.biz chatted with Bob Loya, senior director of external development, to find out how Sierra was given new life and what it's planning for the future. Regardless of your memories of the classic Sierra, Loya believes the new Sierra's focus on indies will enable it to resonate with a wide-ranging audience, even those too young to remember King's Quest.
GamesIndustry.biz: Can you tell me how the revival of Sierra came about? Whose idea was it? How long has it been talked about? What ultimately led to Activision giving it a thumbs-up?
Bob Loya: Launching a new indie-focused Sierra has really been a team effort across all of Activision. There's a group of us here at Activision that have really enjoyed many of the indie games that have been released over the past couple of years, so we started to evangelize the idea of creating an indie label where we could help developers create and distribute great games. We had already been talking to Lucid Games about doing another Geometry Wars title for some time, and we have always wanted to work with The Odd Gentlemen so were given the thumbs-up to start pre-production with each. The final decision for the new Sierra label was given when we presented early demos of each game to some key decision makers at Activision and they loved what they saw.
"we firmly believe you do not have to be a huge team to create a high quality gaming experience. You can create smaller, more focused experiences that are equally fun and memorable in their own right"
GI: Reviving Sierra with a focus on indies and digital distribution seems contrary to Activision's "fewer bigger better" stance. Why is the publisher changing course?
Loya: Before I go into more detail, I think it is fair to point out that while Sierra is a part of Activision, the Sierra team operates somewhat separately from the rest of the other franchises. That said, Activision's core business will continue to focus on our big franchises such as Call of Duty, Destiny and Skylanders. But as the digital business has continued to grow year over year, we've seen some amazing games coming from smaller studios, and Sierra's goal is to help amplify these indie studio-created games by giving them the visibility they deserve. At Sierra, we firmly believe you do not have to be a huge team to create a high quality gaming experience. You can create smaller, more focused experiences that are equally fun and memorable in their own right. From a business standpoint we believe that quality and passion will always pay off. Just look at some of the indie titles that have released on XBLA, PSN and Steam over the past year.
GI: You got Ken Williams' blessing so to speak, but will Ken or Roberta be actively involved in any upcoming projects, especially with something like King's Quest?
Loya: Ken and Roberta Williams are not involved with the new Sierra. However, Ken is aware of our plans and has expressed his excitement for the new King's Quest and what developer The Odd Gentlemen are going to do with it. As you know Ken and Roberta are living a life outside of the gaming industry and if they ever wanted to come back, we'd welcome their input and any opportunity to work with them. Until then, our focus is building a new King Quest adventure that lives up to the excellent standards they created.
GI: Is the hope to revive more old Sierra IP besides King's Quest, or is the goal really just to fund new IP from talented indies?
Loya: Both, we are really focused on working with talented indies on great IP, regardless of whether the IP comes from Sierra or elsewhere. The key for us is to match the right indie developers with an IP they are passionate about.
GI: Do you look at this new Sierra as Activision's smaller, experimental side, similar to how Ubisoft has worked on small projects like Child of Light?
Loya: I have a ton of respect for what publishers like Ubisoft and 505 Games are doing in the digital space. Child of Light and Brothers are fantastic games that I really enjoyed. I would say that our initiative is similar, as it does allow us to work with different teams and genres, on unique and interesting projects. We pride ourselves on having great creative talent at Activision, and the new Sierra initiative will allow us to work with very talented, independent developers on a variety of new, fun and entertaining video games.
GI: Who do you see as the target demographic for the new Sierra? Does it worry you that a 20-something year-old may not even recognize Sierra?
Loya: Sierra's target audience is anyone who enjoys unique and well-crafted video games. We expect the Sierra label to be appealing to a broad group of gamers, because the games will be engaging and edgy and fun to play. We definitely want to respect the older fans who remember the classic, fan-favorite titles, but also welcome in a new era of Sierra gamers.
"We are looking at each partnership on a case-by-case basis, but our goal is to have long-term relationships with the indie studios we work with. We're certainly open to the idea of indie devs retaining ownership of IP"
GI: How much money will be invested in indie projects through Sierra in the next few years?
Loya: I won't go into detail on financial specifics for how Sierra plans to operate the business, but I can say Sierra will bring the proper level of support to each indie developer/project.
GI: Obviously certain old IP like King's Quest or Geometry Wars remains the property of Activision, but will Sierra let other indie devs keep the IP rights if something original is made?
Loya: We are looking at each partnership on a case-by-case basis, but our goal is to have long-term relationships with the indie studios we work with. We're certainly open to the idea of indie devs retaining ownership of IP, but again, this will really come down to what makes the most sense for each project.
GI: What's the advantage in bringing back the Sierra label, besides nostalgia?
Loya: It certainly helps that there's a generation of gamers and developers who are fond of the label. More importantly, the Sierra name has a "feel" to it that really helps everyone align with the objective of creating truly special, independent games. It just works well when we talk with potential indie developers about Sierra's vision. We really like the idea of developers being able to interact and be represented by a brand they have a personal connection with.
GI: Given that these games will be digitally released, is it fair to assume that they're not as large as AAA projects like Call of Duty, and that they will be sold at lower price points?
Loya: Every Sierra project will be viewed on its own merits, depending on title, genre, featureset, etc. However, it is safe to say we will see different price points and project sizes.
GI: Platforms mentioned that Sierra will concentrate on include digital storefronts on console and PC but not smartphones or tablets? Why is that?
Loya: Sierra's focus is on console and PC games for now, but I would not be surprised if some of our product eventually moves into the mobile space. We're taking things a step at a time.