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Jesse Schell

Next week's Unite keynoter talks new platforms and challenges, plus the DS market

Jesse Schell has been running Schell Games since 2004, with the team currently working on Bigpoint's The Mummy Online MMO. Prior to founding his own studio, Schell worked for seven years as a creative director at Disney and before that a circus performer. Ahead of next week's Unite Conference, we catch up with the before presenting a keynote at the Montreal event.

Here we talk about working with the Unity middleware, the challenges of developing on some of the newer platforms, how the browser-based MMO is coming along and the state of the DS market. You're keynoting the Unite Conference - what were the reasons behind your accepting that invitation?
Jesse Schell

Well, our studio is very passionate about Unity, and I've been a huge proponent of 3D on the web for ages and ages, and I've been fascinated by the momentum that Unity is starting to get. We've been working with Unity quite a bit and I feel like it's coming into kind of a break-out year here - so when they asked me about speaking, I was pretty excited. The company has some pretty high-profile proponents as well as yourself - I remember it was Phil Harrison that keynoted a couple of years ago - so there is a good momentum. Is part of that the platform's flexibility? In days when development costs can get pretty high, is that important?
Jesse Schell

I think part of it is being able to have an engine that runs well in-browser without having to think about it... that's a pretty good thing to have. Then there's the whole multi-platform aspect that's very appealing - right now it's hard to know what the right market for a game to be in. Should a team be focusing on iPhone, on console, on the web?

This helps people feel like they can hedge their bets a little, because if they start in one place they can always port it over to another one if it doesn't work out. Or if it does work out they can get it to a lots of different places quite cheaply. What is your perspective on the platforms available for start-ups, splinter developers, micro-studios and the like? With iPhone, iPad, Facebook and now browser games really taking off, there's a lot of choice for products that are more affordable to make?
Jesse Schell

Yep, there's a tonne of choices. So what advice would you offer to people trying to make those decisions?
Jesse Schell

My advice would be to make a game on those platforms that you think can make you some money [laughs] - because what's going to make you money on different platforms will be different things at different times. It's not like there's any one platform that is the right platform for every game.

It's some combination of quality and novelty that really drives sales on a given platform, and if you've got some idea that got something that will work really well on a particular platform, that's what you should focus on.

I often tell people that if they've not sure what platform they should be on, then their idea might not be strong enough - because a lot of things that really succeed have a lot to do with the platform.

For example, look at something like Angry Birds, which is a huge hit on the iPhone. If you try to do that on the Wii or XBLA I don't think you'd have nearly the same success - because so much of it is that it's a nice touch-based game. The same is happening on Facebook. Meanwhile with browser games you're reliant on traffic, and with the console download spaces it's all about relationships... so there is choice - but where are the places to make money?
Jesse Schell

Well, you can make money all over the place, but the thing is, most of the markets are crowded. As it becomes easier to make games, more and more people are doing it - and more choice for the developer just reflects that the consumer has more choice as well.

They have games available all over the place, so there's more and more competition, and one of the things that makes it hard is that you need some kind of marketing concept - how are people going to find out about your game? You can cross your fingers that your game will be so great that everyone will talk about it, but there's so much to talk about.

The world is so crowded and there are a lot of great games that come out... viral appeal alone isn't enough to make them a huge success. If you don't have some way to get the marketing going, you're going to have some challenge.

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