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Journey dev "excited" to look into free-to-play and mobile

Jenova Chen on his desire to prove artistic games can be hugely profitable, and why he won't be Kickstarting games anytime soon

ThatGameCompany scored an overwhelming critical success with Journey, but company founder Jenova Chen wants to show he can create an overwhelming financial success as well. Speaking with GamesIndustry International at the DICE Summit last week, Chen talked about his ambitions for the company's next project.

"The current stage of our goal is to create a game that's actually going to make a commercial success, that's actually going to make the publishers or investors say, 'There's a huge market there. We should put money into seriously developing these high quality games,'" Chen said.

Chen's motivation for that goes beyond the obvious. The developer said that as he's traveled to various conferences and schools giving game design talks, he's been approached by aspiring developers who say they've been influenced and inspired by TGC's work. However, their efforts to follow in Chen's footsteps have been met with adversity.

"I think free-to-play is both exciting and also really dangerous."

Jenova Chen

"They say, 'Wherever we go to find jobs, people always say you need to focus on how to trap the player, keep them playing the game, get them addicted to it, how can you increase the return of investment, make them pay more money,'" Chen said. "And that's not the job they want."

As a result, Chen said he feels some responsibility to help would-be developers looking to create the same kind of personal, emotional experiences he has tried to make. TGC has created artistic games, so these developers know it's possible, but the studio hasn't been able to open doors for people to follow through.

Journey won awards, but now Chen wants something to make money.

"The money guy hasn't seen any potential," Chen explained. "They are not convinced it's worth the money to put in all this hard work and effort to make something very emotional and artistic. They don't see the money there."

When asked if that meant TGC was going to enter the mobile and free-to-play market that seems to be drawing the bulk of investor interest these days, Chen hesitated to confirm anything.

"This is definitely where the money is flowing," Chen said. "I think free-to-play is both exciting and also really dangerous. So we're still testing out what will go there. How are you going to make people feel emotion when they're constantly on guard that you're manipulating them to make money? That's something I'm excited to look into, but I can't commit and say it's definitely going to be free or definitely going to be mobile."

"[M]ost of the people who played our games are teenagers and college students. How much money are they going to have to donate?"

Jenova Chen, on Kickstarting a game

Chen was more certain about Kickstarter, saying he wasn't considering crowdfunding his next project. He referenced a quote from David Jaffe in which the Twisted Metal designer likened Kickstarter to a "dick measuring contest" for game developers, an awkward situation Chen said he wanted to avoid.

"The other thing is I think most of the very successful Kickstarters are by veteran celebrity developers who made these games people in their 30s and 40s used to love," Chen said. "They're the people who have loads of money to donate. And I'm thinking that most of the people who played our games are teenagers and college students. How much money are they going to have to donate? So I think it's not my time yet."

Finally, Chen weighed in on the next-generation of consoles, whether the new efforts from Sony and Microsoft or upstart competitors like Ouya, GameStick, or the Steam Boxes.

"I like chaos," Chen said. "Quoting Joker, 'Chaos is fair.' In consoles, it's very difficult to create a fair competition at this point, but with all these new consoles coming out, it's very exciting. I'm sure we're going to get the best out of them. I don't think they all will survive, but the best will. And we will have a cheaper console out there that's going to be indie-friendly [with] digital distribution."

As for the more entrenched console warriors, Chen's enthusiasm seemed a bit muted.

"I don't know what's going to surprise me," Chen said. "It seems like it will be the high-end console with a better graphics card and stronger computing power. But I don't think there will be anything that's going to be revolutionary like the Wii, for example."

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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