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Krome's Steve Stamatiadis

The studio's co-founder talks self-publishing and making Microsoft Game Room

Best known for creating the Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, Krome was founded in 1999 and has gone on to become one of the largest independent developers in the world.

It was recently announced that Krome would also be responsible for developing Microsoft's new Game Room, following the company's successful delivery of Scene It? Box Office Smash. It's also on the verge of releasing its first self-published title, Blade Kitten, on PSN. We spoke to one of the company's founders, and its creative director, Steve Stamatiadis about how work has been progressing on both. So you're showing your new PSN game Blade Kitten at GDC. How did development for that game come about?
Steve Stamatiadis

We said after doing Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, which was a very large game and involved 140 people spread across different studios, that we didn't want to do another big game straight away, We did the Wii, PS2 and PSP and each of those SKUs was a variation of the PS2 one but each had its own unique content as well. So there were three, but that meant two full games worth of content, and having to deal with the next-gen one too - matching that. It was a really big project but it did very well - it's done 7 million across the SKUs since it came out. But we decided, no more big games for a while.

Unfortunately this game [Blade Kitten] was going to be a really small game, but it sort of blew out to be able the same size as the Ty games we did. It's about the same size as that but with a smaller team.

It'll be out in April or May and it's going to be episodic as well, so there'll be two episodes. One will have about 5-6 hours of gameplay and episode two will have a further 2-3. And we'll price them so that episode two costs half that of episode one. We're trying to keep the price down on it as well - we'd love the see the whole thing go for about $15. Nothing's official yet, but we're definitely trying to do it cheaper because we don't have to pay for discs or distribution, so if we can turn a profit with a lower price that'd be great. I think online people might try something they haven't seen previously if it's $10, think twice about it at $15 and wouldn't touch it at $20. Especially if its an unknown franchise...
Steve Stamatiadis

It's unknown, but if you're there you might take a chance on stuff. Which is one of the strong points really of downloadable games. At $10 they'd rent a movie for the same price, so they'll try it. In stores, with boxed games they're $60 and you're thinking twice about which one to get or which you have to lose from your collection to take to GameStop to trade in for that game. What have been the benefits to publishing the game yourselves?
Steve Stamatiadis

Well, you can do weird stuff like feature a cat girl instead of going for the usual style of game, like space marines. What we're trying to do is a 2D platform game based on classic games like Strider. Like the 16 bit stuff, but obviously now we've got the new technology to do cool stuff visually. Stylistically you can make it look like a comic book, which was the original inspiration.

Ironically the comic book [we designed] was put together to show a publisher. But then we were like, "It's going to be really hard to sell a publisher the idea of an anime pink-haired cat girl game." I just said we could put it in a comic, and I'd show the world and they have something to read and something in their hands. And then we were doing Ty and I was putting off doing anything with Blade Kitten until after Star Wars, then at that point we just thought, with downloadable content why don't we just publish it ourselves?

So in the end we didn't do any of the comic book stuff. But, I keep saying, it's world building. It contributed a lot to the characters and the universe and stuff, so when we're doing the game and someone is like, "so what should this effect look like?" I can say, "well on page 25 there's something very similar to that - let's use it as a starting point."

So, before we started the game we basically printed out all of the comics. The on-demand stuff now is great - you can print one copy, which is stuff you couldn't do when I started doing comics 20 years ago. You had to do a run of 6000 copies - it was really just painfully expensive and wasteful. Now if someone wants to buy they can download it on the web, and if they want a hard copy then they've got it.

But you get to work with smaller teams - on a large game working with 120 people you don't even get to meet some of them - and get to try stuff out. And launching a new IP, digital is a good place to try it and see if it's got any traction. It's easier than going to a publisher to try to get one title signed up for an unknown IP, because you've got no chance of doing that nowadays. Anything that's a little bit different, there's going to be less of a chance.

Whereas, do it online, you can find your audience easier. They don't have to go hunting down boxed copies somewhere. You've got a publisher that's got to decide they want to do it, then get through distribution channels and see if they want to pick it up - your Wal-Marts and stuff - they might not want it and then your smaller niche market is never going to see it. Go directly online and your audience can find you that way. Smaller groups can get access directly to what they want to get hold of. That's what I'm hoping - I could be totally wrong... And is it the first game you've done the publishing for?
Steve Stamatiadis

Yes, so for us we've gone through the whole, "so we're going to publish a game, what does it entail?" And it's a lot more than you would have thought. The marketing side, just getting ratings. Sony's been good, but it's the ratings - getting ESRB, getting PEGI, getting the German one, the Australian one - it's stuff a publisher usually takes care of. That's a lot of work just there - and you start to appreciate the amount of work they do that you're never exposed to as a developer.

It's like, how it affects your release date, how it affects your submission date to Sony and all that stuff that before you just used to go, "well we just get it to the publisher on that day and the game comes out and that's all we need to know about."

Now it's like, okay so we've got to have ratings back for then, so we can submit to Sony on this date, then it comes back and we're like, where do we put the legal lines for the game? It's been a learning experience and we've learnt a lot in a very short time but it'll help us when we do another one in the future. The plan is, we've done the first one and there'll be a second episode, and I'd like to do more using the engine since we spent all this time developing it, it'd be silly to go, "right, let's throw that away and do something different."

It's a pink haired cat girl - you have a lot of scope for doing stuff, you don't have to take it too seriously, which I like. I don't want to work on a dark, gritty, grim game - there's a lot of them already. I wanted bright and colourful, to have some fun. We've just been able to try out stuff - like having a sidekick that goes off and does things, and a sword that floats.

There are often elements you want to try in games, but if you do something like Star Wars there's only so many things you can try. You don't want to get too far off the rails. You're doing it for an audience - if we were doing a Gears of War style game you can't go and do stuff like this because the audience doesn't expect it.

This game is designed around, "so here are some things that don't usually work because they don't fit in with the games'. But if you design the game around those elements and make them fit in, they work much better. So on the one hand it's a huge experiment - realistically it's like, "yeah this could all crash and burn." But then the response we've got so far has been really good. They like the fact it's a 2D platform game, and the art style. My thought is, "phew, we chose well."

We could get lucky and do really well, but I'm actually just happy to get it out. I've done all the design, direction and the script-writing on it - it's really been my project and if it fails it's my fault, if it does well it's my fault - take the blame or take the accolades basically.

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