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Leading the Way

Vanguard's CEO Arthur Houtman on changing the nature of core games

Three months ago Vanguard Entertainment Group was officially launched, with former Guerrilla exec and OneBigGame director Martin de Ronde as chief creative officer.

Earlier this month the company unveiled Arthur Houtman as the new CEO, and here he outlines the developer's vision for the future - what kind of games it wants to make, and why the console digital platform environment needs to change. First of all, what's Vanguard's business going to be?
Arthur Houtman

Basically our idea is to look at what's been happening in the gaming scene as far as social gaming, and that kind of thing, and what that could mean for more core games. So it's not about what, on the one hand you might say are all these games that aren't really considered games - the Farmvilles of the world, which are more click-fests than anything that's really skill-based.

But there are a lot of features surrounding those kind of games that we definitely feel attracted to as gamers - how you get your friends involved in games, the persistence of the games, things like that. We think there are a lot of lessons to be learned, and games as we know them have hardly changed over time.

We get better graphics and there are some mechanisms that pop up in casual games, but for the more classical genres there's not much evolving in there. For the last five years I've been working in online, and for the last year and a half with Martin [de Ronde] we've been really looking at all directions in terms of what online could mean for core gamers.

It's clear that there's a real need in the console space to have on one hand games that give a slightly different experience, even though it's still the same kind of game - but I think the persistence of games is something that's attractive. We're used to buying a full price game, going off and playing it, and then turning the console off - and when we want to play it again, we go back... but there's no persistence, and I think that's something interesting.

As to involving friends and other people in your games, there's a little bit of that going on, but again it's very discrete, let's say. It doesn't really make sense of your experience of the game itself - it's almost like an add-on.

That's a little bit of it - looking at the social and online game space, whether that's MMOs or Farmville, and then seeing how we can take lessons from there to the console world and make games that are on one hand better, but also lighter. That's why we're looking very intensely at the XBLA/PSN space - making smaller game experiences, but having more persistence. And these are games you're looking to create internally?
Arthur Houtman

We have about 45 people here internally - a big development team. Previously our big game was Greed Corp, which is still out on XBLA; the next one that's just been announced is Gatling Gears with EA.

So we definitely want to develop internally - we have quite a list of ideas we want to explore, but with 50 people we have to be smart on how we divide our resources. But definitely in the first instance it's a lot of things we have here internally, and we want to continue to develop the ideas, the prototypes, and see how it goes. At one point in the industry's development talking about a staff of 50 would have been considered a big number. Nowadays that's not the case for the big core games - but it is quite a lot of people for the downloadable platforms, isn't it?
Arthur Houtman

I think it's a lot of people when you look at smaller games, definitely - we're thinking of running two different projects in parallel, and being very smart about it. Also, because some of the things we want to be doing is a little bit of new terrain for us as well - and there again are some of the learnings in the social space, where companies put out the core bits of a game, see how it's received and evolve from there.

A lot of these games aren't even finished when you put them out; of course, a lot has to do with your business model as well. If we're asking £40-50 for a game, people expect that to be a top-notch experience. If it's more of a freemium model or really cheap, people know it's a smaller game, that fewer resources have gone into it. They don't expect as high a level of quality, so people in the social space can get away with bringing out games that aren't really complete, and they have "beta" written on them for their whole lives.

Not that we want to make games that have a low level of quality; one of the main things in starting the company with the team that we have is that the quality has to be console-level - it's not about making half-baked games without any real mechanism. The whole experience has to be quality - but it doesn't have to be a 20- or 40-hour experience.

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