While a majority of new start-ups are focusing on the buzzing social and mobile games markets, a bunch of enthusiastic characters in Philadelphia are happily sticking to what they know and love - hardcore games on home consoles. The rules may have changed slightly - to create digital content rather than code on a disc - but Play Eternal are fully focused on creating triple-A games from scratch, complete with an old-fashioned publisher partnership and hopes of establishing a franchise.
Here, in this exclusive interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Mike Worth (COO), Brandon Van Slyke (CCO) and Lou Tranchitella (CEO) discuss why the console business is still an aspirational place, the reason for publisher partnerships, transmedia ambitions and how quality can speak for itself.
My background is kind of crazy. I started off as a chemist but was looking to change careers. I wanted to get into something that was more fun and enjoyable. I went back to school and got a degree in game art and design and met Mike. He was looking for work in the games industry and we got to the point where we decided to bring work to Philadelphia. The only way to do that was to start our own company.
Lou and I created a non-profit called VGI: The Videogame Growth Initiative, because Philadelphia is not a hotbed of game development. I started work in television and film and I've done a lot of good stuff for NBC but again not being plugged in to games we were hitting a brick wall. We came up with a non-profit to create a video game industry in Philly, by talking to the state, talking to local government and we really made a lot of progress.
Part of what would happen was people who were building studios would come to us and we'd try to get them funded. After two or three years we'd done business plans, market analysis, pitching to VCs. So we learned by helping our friends' studios all the intricacies of building a video games business. And then that leads us to Brandon...
I was at Vicarious Visions as a game designer and I've worked on a wealth of different projects at different studios. I was the combat designer on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 which is where I met our CTO. Last May we had the lay-offs and I took the summer off, started to do some work in Unity, and me and Mike go way back, we've been friends for years. I called him up and we had two different studios, we both launched our individual entities at the time and over the summer we built a small mobile game in Unity. And at the time we were talking about moving away from the console space but that's not really where our passion lies.
So we ultimately just decided that we wanted to do premium digital games for consoles, to leverage the knowledge that we have from working on larger titles. I ended up taking a contract job at Blue Fang working on Carmen Sandiago. While all that was going on we were working behind the scenes making sure everything was in order legally, forming the studio, the business model. We met with the Trinigy guys and they've been a great partner for us, we're using their tech for our demo to showcase the title at E3.
There's been a big shift and a lot of studios haemorrhaging, so there's a lot of available talent.Brandon Van Slyke, Play Eternal
We're not dinosaurs!
I've worked in the social space and I enjoy those products, there's great opportunities in those areas but the types of games I'm passionate about - I grew up on hardcore gameplay. I love console games, I loved the opportunity to work on them when I was at Vicarious Visions. We were looking at the space and everything is going digital - Xbox Live, OnLive, Gaikai. It just seems that there's a real opportunity.
There's always room in the major leagues for a pitcher with a 95mph fastball. From a creative standpoint there are certain games that we love. We're all hardcore gamers. We have children and there are certain realities of that audience. We don't know if we want to charge for a $60 dollar game that someone could only play a quarter of. If we can have the kids go home, get on to Xbox Live, get on to PSN and pay $20 for a game that they can enjoy immediately - that's interesting to us.
Combine that with digital distribution. We've found games that we like - Lara Croft: Guardian of Light is a great example. From all of our business research we can see a great space that's growing, where we can build the games that we want on the timeline that we want. It's an area that the publishers are clearly pouring more and more resources and attention into. At the same time, we're being true to ourselves.
We're building games that we like to play ourselves and if you build a great game somebody is going to want to publish it. That's really where the bottom line is.
It's stuff that we've heard over and over again. If you build a good game there is always good market for it.
And we feel we've done all the right research to build a game on the budget that makes it profitable, that makes it enjoyable and makes a strong addition for a publisher to have in their arsenal.
Over the years we've built up a network of really talented individuals. We started to pull the team together and build a really solid group of professionals who believe in the product and believe in the team. There's been a big shift and a lot of studios haemorrhaging so there's a lot of available talent. And a lot of those people are interested in working with a team like this.
We're a smaller, agile team and we can ship a product in 12 months with a team of 20-40 people. That's really quite appealing, it creates a sense of company culture, a sense of enjoyment and ownership.
It's very circular, everyone's feeding off each other.
We will stretch into different categories, but we've picked a team for a category we want to stretch.
People are passionate about working on this. Everyone we've brought in we've sat down and if they're not into it they will get the sense that it's not the right thing for them. They like the company that we're building. We're not just building a game, we're building a company. This game is only one aspect of the company. It's not a one-shot deal, it's building something that is going to maintain and stay.