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A Gazillion Little Pieces

From Diablo to Marvel Universe, Gazillion's David Brevik has some stories to tell

In the opening keynote at Unite 11, David Brevik outlined the past, the present, and, most importantly, the future of the games industry. He's well placed to do so; a co-founder of Blizzard North, a co-creator of Diablo, and one of the intrepid souls who set sail with Flagship Studios, few can lay claim to Brevik's success or setbacks.

In this interview, Brevik holds forth on staying relevant, the free-to-play future, taking on the Marvel Universe, and the introduction of real-money transactions to the world he helped create.

GamesIndustry.bizYour keynote speech was about the future of the industry, broadly speaking, and I noticed that a lot of the trends you mentioned - social networks, mobile technology, the App Store - have really emerged in just the last few years. Is it difficult to stay relevant in that rapidly changing environment?
David Brevik

Well, it's something I'm passionate about so I don't really consider it to be a chore. It's exciting. I embrace all of these changes. And although it may seem like a lot has happened in the last few years, I can say that it always feels like there's rapid change. A new piece of hardware is coming, people are congregating around a new website, new business models, new opportunities, some work, and some don't.

GamesIndustry.bizSomething that came through in your talk - and I don't know whether it was intentional - was that these huge, overnight changes are rarely so sudden. They are generally the result of a long series of incremental steps, just as a game like Diablo led to much broader changes further down the line.
David Brevik

I think that's always happening. It may seem like there's sudden change, but most of time it's telegraphed. It's very rare that something like Facebook comes out of nowhere and makes such a big splash. Most of the time it's a process of evolution.

A direct relationship with the customer that was never available before... A lot of effort was wasted on people who had no interest in what you were doing

David Brevik, Gazillion Entertainment

Even if you take cellphones: at first you had the car-phone, which was this nightmare of a giant box, but they got smaller and smaller, and then, in Japan, they started playing games on these things, and then that came over here. And then you get the iPhone, and that changes a lot... They just did it right, but you could tell that it was coming, right? People were already making games for the mobile space, and it was growing.

GamesIndustry.bizIt was less the hardware than the distribution platform there - the whole ecosystem Apple provided.
David Brevik

Right. A direct relationship with the customer that was never available before. Before, I'd put [a game] on the shelf at Target...I don't know whether they're there to buy blankets, or videogames, or what. A lot of effort was wasted on people who had no interest in what you were doing.

GamesIndustry.bizIs that empowering? When you first started there was much more of a separation between the people that made the games and the people that bought them.
David Brevik

There was nothing. There was no feedback. I sold my one copy of my BMX game, I don't even know who bought it. As far as I know it was my mom. And I never get to talk to that customer: Did they like it? Did they install it? From that to now, when we're getting feedback all of the time, is amazing. Measuring all the clicks, and how long they're playing, what they're interested in, and how we can improve. To be able to do that in a live environment is really exciting.

GamesIndustry.bizYou were involved with Flagship, which was a very ambitious studio, and it's fair to say that many of those ambitions went unrealised. What did you take away from that experience that informs your current project?
David Brevik

Well, a lot. There were a lot of lessons learned there. The big one was that we tried to develop all of the technology from scratch, and that was a much harder road to travel than I imagined. In the past, it wasn't that much of a big deal to create your own engine. We had only done 2D games, so not only were we trying to make our first 3D game, but also develop all of the technology from scratch.

That was a really big hurdle for us to get over, and since then I haven't been developing engines. It doesn't make as much sense. I don't want to be an engine company - I want to make games... Often you'll have ideas that you might need to write custom technology for, but at the same time try to not bite off too much.

We just tried to do too much. We had massive ambitions, and we were used to working under the kind of deadlines we had at Blizzard, where we had the luxury of letting the product out kind of when we wanted, and not on a specific deadline. We were, y'know, running out of money [laughs]. Developing in that fashion, with that mindset, was a new reality for a lot of us, or was a reality that we hadn't experienced in a long time.

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Matthew Handrahan avatar

Matthew Handrahan


Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.