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Driving Change

Eutechnyx's Darren Jobling and Todd Eckert discuss the changing landscape of both the industry and thier company

Change is difficult and there is always the risk that the effort will not only failt o pay off but also cause irreparable damage. The games industry, according to many, is approaching a time of change from traditional retail to online media and Eutechnyx is also approaching change as it begins to develop its own IP and diversify away from its core racing-titles.

GamesIndustry.biz spoke with Darren Jobling, director of business development, and Todd Eckert, director of North America, about the changes the company and the industry are currently going though. They discuss developing open-world titles, MMOs, outsourcing, free-to-play games and the perils of relying on advertising.

GamesIndustry.biz Ride to Hell seems quite different from what you usually do. Why have you made this change and why now?
Todd Eckert

I don't really think it's refocusing. I think we'll always be dedicated to driving games but we'll also want to expand our pallet. So if you have an engine that will do driving games really, very well then you kind of want to keep pushing the boudaries of what you can keep doing. For us going to characters and driving physics was a logical next step and as games become more involved, more photos realistic it simply expands what we're capable of doing. That's really why we're here: to push the possibilities of what can be done.

Darren Jobling

That's obviously one of the reasons we've got Todd on board. His movie background in working in the film industry, he's bringing some of those skills to the character stuff. So we're not afraid to bring in external people who are experts in their individual fields, just the same as we did with Ferrari Challenge. We brought in Bruno Senna, Ayrton Senna's nephew, who knows a lot about car physics, drives GP2, drives Ferrari Challenge - he was the car expert.

GamesIndustry.biz You told me you had a lot more time to work on Ferrari Challenge than you had on a lot of other games and that it has shown in the results. How big a challenge is finding time to develop games?
Todd Eckert

It's probably the biggest issue for anybody making any type of art or media product. You take a film analogy for example, in film everybody would probably like to have a 90 day shoot and unlimited post and instead what you end up with is a 40 shoot and 2 months post. It ultimately becomes a question of the economics of whatever you're doing and your intention of what you want to create, where do those meet? For games it was kind of a happy accident that we wound up with the extra time but the result we feel was pretty great.

What we're doing in the future we're focusing on a lot of original IP, and when you're doing that you have the ability, hopefully, to dictate to a degree the terms by which you will create that product. We're in pre-production right now on an original game and we hope to have a full 24-month development cycle so we can really spend the time with adequate tech in pre-production so we can create something as great as we envision it. There is another driving game where we'll have a longer development cycle than we've ever had before. It's focussing on hopefully being able to dictate the terms by which we make these games and hopefully the results will be really positive.

If someone comes to us with a game and says 'we need it for Thanksgiving next year'. Then the realities are you're going to have a while where you negotiate the contract and they're going to say 'fine but you have to deliver it by October 1st'. So that's it, you either accept those terms or not and those limitations will affect the game you play. If it's your own you have a little more control over it.

Darren Jobling

With Ride to Hell we're just at the end of pre-production which was nine months, so that will be 18 to 24 months when it's finished.

GamesIndustry.biz Do you think you have enough time to enter into the free-roaming mission based market dominated by GTA IV?
Darren Jobling

We have done free-roaming games in the past, so it's not as if we're staring from scratch, we do have experience in that. Ride to Hell is offering something quite different; it's not a GTA competitor directly.

Todd Eckert

It's a different mind set. Everything about it is really different. Is our tech and finished product up to the level where it can be compared to something like GTA IV? I think it will be. There's a lot of attention to detail and we feel very confident about the title.

GamesIndustry.biz You said that you didn't mind going outside the company for expertise. What is your level of outsourcing and how important and tough is that?
Todd Eckert

It's funny because at the moment we've been very lucky the company is growing a lot. We're hiring in all four of our studios, Chengdu, Hong Kong, in Gateshead and in Pittsburg in the US. That's for a couple of different reasons, one of the reasons is to expand the basic capacity of the company because we've had quite a few titles this year that we've had to turn down and also to give ourselves a broader base from which to make games. We're hoping to be the company that creates the next great experience.

It's something as little or seemingly unimportant such as the rain effect on Ferrari, which we're very, very proud of. When you're able to park a car and the rain, each drop, has its own density and it raises the puddle and the leaves float away - there's just something very cool and realistic about that. When you have that level of realism it allows you to concentrate on other parts of whatever the game may be, so for Ride to Hell maybe it's story art or perhaps on the new one that we hope to announce, maybe at Lyon, it's the characters; very clearly drawn characters unlike anything you've ever seen in games. So that's really the focus. At the moment we're also pretty lucky that we're finding really great people.

Darren Jobling

Another thing, we were in very early outsourcing wise. I think we're still one of first developers to have its own studios in China - the way I see it is that outsourcing is stage one and actually building a studio is stage two. Now with outsourcing even China and India are getting pretty expensive so it gets to the next stage, which is owning your own studio. You're going to see a lot more developers going down that rout.

GamesIndustry.biz What do your studios in China do?
Darren Jobling

Hong Kong specialises in environment, so it's basically an artworks studio and user interface programming. Chengdu specialises in cars, so they did all the Ferrari challenge car and they'll do the motorcycles in Ride to Hell.

Todd Eckert

And other aspects for games that haven't been announced yet.

GamesIndustry.biz Last time we spoke you mentioned you were working on an MMO, how is that going?
Darren Jobling

Very good. I think a lot of people are going to be extremely surprised. Extremely surprised in terms of what we've got, who we've lined up and it's going really well.

Todd Eckert

Our partners on the MMO will take a lot of people by surprise...

Darren Jobling

On the MMO: It's like taking the pieces of a jig saw and disassembling them and putting them together in a totally different way and it's something that nobody else is doing.

GamesIndustry.biz And you said you were tempted adopt the free-to-play business model with this and how important do you think the model is?
Darren Jobling

Yeah we are tempted. Personally I think free-to-play is most probably going to be the future of the industry, it's the way it's going to be.

GamesIndustry.biz Why?
Darren Jobling

With the internet, people associate it with something that they get at no charge and I think that it's a case of building on that with something that you no charge but has incredible value.

Todd Eckert

It's a tricky spot because music never figured out how to take the economic realities of streaming music in a sharable world and make it work for the industry. It was exacerbated by the fact that the traditional powers in that industry fought for so long that they also alienated all the people that loved them too... I think it's very important that as games move from, maybe, traditional console models to online models that people figure out how to not only work with the technological realities of what they public wants but also to recognise that if people can't make any money on games then they can't make them. It's up to us, all of us, to figure out how to do this.

Darren Jobling

There's a mental barrier where people don't always associate free with quality. That's really one of the big battles. How do we as an industry get people to accept that something may have no initial charge but still be good?

GamesIndustry.biz What do you think of ad-supported business models?
Todd Eckert

The other problem is, you can go to the early days of television in the US; television wound up being sponsored by advertising- certainly a model that people talk about in games. The problem was that advertisers say you had one primary sponsor of whatever the television show was. They would say 'alright we're your sponsor, you're going to run the script by us every week and you're going to tell us who is on. If we have any potential problem with that person or that content we'll simply stop sponsoring the show.' What that did was it took a lot of creativity out of television because it became so focused on the money as opposed to the content. I would hate to see that happen to games.

Darren Jobling is the director of business development and Todd Eckert is director of North America for Eutechnyx. Interview by James Lee.

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