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Jason Kingsley - Part Two

Rebellion's CEO on the challenges of MMOs, the importance of proper scoping and budgets, and players not finishing games...

In part one of the interview with Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley he talked about the economy, digital distribution and MMOs.

Here in part two he continues his thoughts on the development of persistent online games, and covers the subjects of accurate budgeting for projects, as well as players not completing games.

GamesIndustry.biz The videogames industry has grown hugely in the past decade, and there's an obvious maturity coming to the business side now, more efficiency, and so on. Do you think we'll see the costs for MMO production coming down?
Jason Kingsley

It is interesting - the simple answer is that I don't know, because I don't know enough about that space. But what is interesting is realising that while I've been in the games sector for a long time, I know how to make games, there are other areas like the casual market or mobile phone market that we've dabbled in, but just thought was too much hassle.

I mean, how those guys make game for mobile phones, I don't know. What is it, 360 SKUs? It's hard enough just doing different language versions of a game, let alone then all the mad stuff that goes with making a mobile phone game.

So I think the simple answer is, who knows? It'll be a braver person than I that pontificates on another person's area of expertise and tell them if they're getting it right or wrong, but I certainly think there are lots of challenges in making that kind of a game.

There are lots of challenges in maintaining it, and I do wonder whether there's a tipping point in terms of number of players, where it becomes a cultural phenomenon just because so many people are playing it, and because so many people are playing, then others get to playing - and gets you into a cycle.

Whereas if you started from ground zero, I doubt if you absolutely replicated certain hugely successful MMOs now in exactly the same way, because we're in a different stage in the cycle - a different time, where people know and expect different things - it probably wouldn't be as successful now.

Maybe other things would be more successful, and you do wonder sometimes - you've got this concept of the cutting edge and the bleeding edge, and maybe some things are too early. There were MMOs long before World of Warcraf which fizzled and died, and you could argue, I don't know whether they were better or worse, but you do know there's a sweet spot in timing for any opportunity like that.

GamesIndustry.biz World of Warcraft was probably a perfect storm, where everything was in the right place at the right time - the right production values, the right brand, the right level of broadband penetration, the right average age of gamers for subscription models, etc.
Jason Kingsley

I do remember playing the first Warcraft game on the PC, then the second one, and the third one, and suddenly it became this online thing.

GamesIndustry.biz What about development costs then - are they too high, and unsustainable?
Jason Kingsley

Well, we've got a range of projects, and a range of budgets - if it's the right product, then the right budget needs to be assigned to it. It's simple economics, isn't it? If you make a game for USD 10 million that really isn't worth it, then you've lost yourself a lot of money. But if you make a game for USD 1 million that sells a million units, that's brilliant.

It's like movies - it's not rocket science. You've got to spend the right amount of money based on the potential for sales, and I think you get people spending a tonne of money on a really good idea, and they haven't got a clue whether it's going to sell or not. Consequently it might make a mint, or it might lose a mint - and that's what it really comes down to, it's a balance of development cost against quality, against sales potential.

I always think to myself that if you're spending so much money developing a game that in order to break even it's got to sell four million units, you're giving yourself a mountain to climb.

But if you're spending enough on a game that a million units will break even, that's a much easier mountain to climb. It all comes down to that - don't spend the wrong amount of money... which is easy and trite for me to say, but you hear of people putting ridiculous budgets into a specialist area of gameplay, and it doesn't make any sense.

Or the wrong genre, the PC market for example - you might have a kids' game on PC for GBP 50,000, and yeah, it might work. If you're making a kids' game for GBP 1 million on PC, you're asking for trouble. But you make an adult shooter on PC for GBP 1 million, you'll be fine - so use the right budget for the genre

I mean, hey, as a developer I can always spend more money on a game if you want me to, but at the same time you've got to scope. We will work with our clients and make sure that we scope a project - do they want a bigger game, or a better game? Because we've got a certain amount of time and a certain amount of budget, and you can't make an enormous, great game for that budget.

But what you can make is a smaller, great game, or a bigger less ambitious title. And I think what's interesting is that publishers are very sophisticated now, and they understand that. They're not asking for the moon on a stick any more - there was a time, a few years ago, when they'd set a budget and ask for the moon on a stick, and we had to say we couldn't do it.

That's not something that anybody likes to hear, and we try to make sure that we communicate to people what can be done, to what timescale and to what budget. We've worked miracles with some games, we've made some games that have sold incredibly well - but if they'd had another few months of polish would have had a better rating.

But then, we think of ourselves as being interested in two types of game - one is day-and-date with a media release, and the other is with the right amount of time to make the game as good as it can be, especially if it's an original, or we're given the right amount of time, and then we're aiming for a better critical rating as we don't have to tie it in with a movie.

I'm not saying that we ever aim to make a bad game, because that's not how it works, but you have to sacrifice something. If somebody comes to you and says they want a game in twelve months, you can do that - but you've got to be careful in what you do, and you've got to make sure you work professionally with the clients to scope the game, so a good game can be made in twelve months.

Sometimes you can say to them you could make a really great game in 24 months, but they want the game out in 12, and those are the needs of the industry, and so you work by them - then everybody knows and is professional about it.

Quite frankly I was talking to some fellow developers over breakfast, and it's really odd the number of people that don't actually finish playing games. And it's sad in a way, because we want people to see the whole game that we've made, and when only ten per cent of people who start a game, finish it, we really ought to think we're doing something wrong.

Either the game's too long, it's too difficult, or whatever it might be - or we've set the players expectations incorrectly. I'd prefer it if 50 per cent of people who played our games, played them the whole way through.

Imagine, from a creative point of view, if you've missed the end of a game - we've been building up to that, and you haven't seen it.

GamesIndustry.biz Would episodic games help there? Maybe take a big game and release an episode every month for a year?
Jason Kingsley

Now, it would be a brave person to do that.

Jason Kingsley is CEO and creative director at Rebellion. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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