Following part one of our exclusive interview, Dave Perry talks about the challenges of new IP, what he thinks of Nintendo's recent successes, and what he likes in a good conference.
Q: During your presentation, you mentioned a game you had been working on...Plague...and how you were stopped by the estimated USD 17 million cost. Was your concern with the financing, or more that the low installed base of next-gen consoles wouldn't allow you to earn your money back?
It was a new IP. It is very difficult to get massive pick-up on new IP when all the branded IP comes out. You have to be realistic. What does new IP sell? It isn't big, big numbers. The Wii didn't exist. There was no rumour, even, of the Wii. We didn't know that market would exist. So, ultimately, the spreadsheets were being honest and it just wasn't working out.
God bless the people who go ahead and just do it, but a lot of people lost a lot of money at that stage when they just dove in. So I feel it was the right decision to make business-wise.
You want to put your head in the sand and go for it and just say that it will be okay. I'm guilty of that too, but it is not the right thing. I'm not saying that we all have to make cheap games, but we have to think business models through before we execute.
Q: As the installed base increased, would there be a possibility of your coming back to this game concept if it now makes sense?
Absolutely. When there are 100 million PlayStation 3's out there, it's a whole different conversation. But we're not there.
The other thing that made me laugh was the delays on the PS3. Don't forget about that. My burn rate was half a million a month. So, when Sony announced they were going to slip [the launch date] by six months, that was a three million dollar slip. I remember thinking 'Oh my God!' Because that's another three you wouldn't have budgeted.
Somebody's got to pay. At the end of the day, the employees don't say 'Oh, Sony slipped? Well, we won't charge you for the next six months.' It's not going to happen.
Q: What do you think about the development situation on the Wii, in that a lot of publishers are jumping in late to the party and they've also got to compete with Nintendo's first-party titles?
That's the bottom line. Do your homework. You have to allow for that. You can't assume it is going to be like the other platforms, because you are going to have Nintendo taking most of the sales. And if Nintendo really sees you as a threat, they will take the moves to wipe you out. They are not going to let you win.
Meaning, if you sell your game and you are charging USD 60 or 50, or whatever price you choose, they will sell their games at USD 39.99 and they will kick your ass. So, the bottom line is, whatever you thought your business plan was, they can shake your world at a moment's notice and they have a track record of doing that. So I would be very concerned with wanting to bet the farm on a Nintendo platform.
But I think it's wonderful that they're back. They deserve absolutely everything. They were so innovative. It was such a strange way to go. Everyone's in the arms race, and they just completely come out of left field. 'We don't do anything of the stuff you expect...we don't play movies, we don't play music, we don't really have a great online service...'
Comparing their online at launch to Xbox LIVE is night and day. For a gamer to compare the two, even today, there's still no comparison. They still haven't quite caught up.
That doesn't matter, though. What matters is the fact that things are easy to play. Hopefully, everyone heeded the Nintendo message. Easy to play is very important in this industry. Does anyone get that yet? You can go back to Apple, who taught us the same thing. Time after time after time they put out a new iPod with the same controls. Why? Because adding ten more buttons, which would have been very tempting and very easy to do, would have made it more complex. Keeping that system, that round dial that does everything magically, is part of the proof that making things easier sells.
At conferences for a while, before the Wii, I talked about the fact that, if one of the companies took away all the buttons and left us back with the A and B buttons and a d-pad, would the industry die? The answer is no. I believe we would find a way. Every game would still work.
I'm now very interested to see the response next time around from Microsoft and Sony. Do they just do an arms race move, or do they work on controls too? [The Wii] was very disruptive to our industry, and we need that. That's what keeps us all very healthy.
Q: But what about the PSP? It had fewer buttons than the PS2 controller...no second analog stick, only two shoulder buttons instead of four...and people complained about the controls even though they were arguably simplified. Or is that primarily due to the type of games it has?
The PSP is a platform that didn't really get the sell-through that they needed, so they accepted ports. When you accept ports, you're in trouble. You are going to end up with exactly that frustration--why is the game not as good? If you have a PlayStation 3 version of a game, the PSP version is going to be like the bastard stepchild of that game.
They really need to restart the PSP program in my book. They really need to bring out the PSP 3.0 and start again and try to get a lot of units out by reducing the manufacturing costs, by taking out all the motors and drives and stuff they have in there...get all of that out of there. That will make it even more sexy-looking, because it will be thinner again when they get all that junk out. Then, hopefully, the platform will actually get enough interest so that people will make a game specifically for it.
Q: Do you think Apple will get there first? They've got the digital download aspect nailed down, a nice screen, WiFi...
But no 3D. Apple would kill the PSP dead if they put a 3D chip in there but they haven't done that. And they aren't going to add buttons to its face. Apple isn't a threat, I don't think. They're not going to do that.
For the next one, Sony needs to step the graphic power up again. If you were to compare Assassins Creed on the PS3 to Assassin's Creed on the Wii, [players] need to be able to see that kind of remarkable difference. To realise that the PSP is the dominant medium...meaning that they don't want DS anymore...or that players will think that all the games they want to play are on the PSP.
It's the same way I feel about the Wii. I have my Wii but all the games I want to play aren't on it. That's just a shame. I want all kinds of cool games that are coming out, but none of them are on the Wii.
Q: Now that Austin GDC is over, is there anything about it that stands out in your mind?
For me, this is my first Austin conference, and it is great that we have a conference that is very aggressively focused on online gaming.
I go to another conference where the whole conference is user-generated. In other words, you come to the conference, and you pull a time slot, and everyone has to talk about what you want to talk about. It is a really interesting thing. Trust me, it is very addictive. I've been multiple times now. You get all that brainpower and all the contacts and all the information they have, and they're not allowed to talk about anything else. They have to focus on what you want to talk about. Very, very interesting.
I'd like to see this conference similarly disrupt the notion of conferences. This is the perfect location to do this. To shake up what a conference is. I feel potential when I am here, that this is the kind of place that would get it and really pull it off and then change the way other conferences work. There is an opportunity here because the people who are here totally get this stuff.
Dave Perry was the founder of Shiny Entertainment and now operates GameConsultants.com. He is working with Acclaim on MMOs and is also on the GDC advisory board. Interview by Mark Androvich.