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Realtime Worlds' David Jones

The head of the Crackdown and APB studio talks investors, retail, motion-control, recruitment, E3 and more!

Realtime Worlds is one of the UK's largest developers, responsible for hit title Crackdown and now working on ambitious MMO game APB - but while the company tends to keep its own counsel on industry developments for the most part, this year CEO David Jones is presenting keynote sessions at both GameHorizon and Develop.

Here, in the build-up to next week's event in Newcastle, we spent some time with the man himself, to get his thoughts on investor funding and the economy, the future of retail and online game, E3's motion-control revelations, recruitment and careers in the industry and his feelings on Ruffian's Crackdown 2 deal. Why are you speaking at GameHorizon this year?
David Jones

Well, basically, a lot of people - especially developers and publishers in the UK - have been asking us questions. What we've been doing, why we've chosen to go down the route we have, what were the challenges? So I thought we may as well use something that's industry-focused, but a little bit on the business side, which GameHorizon is, to explain those things - what we see as the potential upsides, what the downsides are - rather than sit down with everybody individually. It's generally a pretty senior level of business people that you'll be able to communicate with?
David Jones

Absolutely, and we'll be talking about how we've seen our business evolve, things we've found after 25 years in the business, and how we've tried to do things differently. I think it's a good audience for that, and it should spark some interest and thought, maybe give some people guidance - especially on the development side for people who are wondering what the options are. Last time we spoke was after you secured USD 50 million of investor funding - because that was in place, I guess you've probably not been affected by the economic conditions?
David Jones

No, and even if we did have a game coming to market I still think we would have weathered it. I don't think, in terms of retail dollars, it's affected that much. Obviously internally, if we wanted to go and raise more money for example, that's going to be a huge challenge.

I think the only way it's affected us is just in terms of staying focused - there's probably a lot less room for manoeuvre. Maybe about 18 months ago if we were in the same position in the market and saw an opportunity, potentially we could have gone out and raised some more money based on that.

But from our perspective, and I think for any VC-backed company, it's about being laser-focused. In terms of the market, I don't think it's been affected that much in terms of retail dollars. Obviously for some publishers the results probably aren't so good, and they will use current conditions as a market for that, but a lot of that is to do with things like used game sales - there are definitely other areas that are affecting publisher dollars. We've seen other companies with investor funding get into trouble, when those investors have been looking for a return - for you guys I guess the plan's always been very clear, in terms of putting titles out to market, so have your investors continued to be supportive of that?
David Jones

Yeah, absolutely. We've stayed on track to do exactly what we raised the money for, so from that perspective they've been very happy and supportive. You could look at it both ways - the way the market is, it's only the strongest and fittest that really will survive.

I'm sure like anybody, they've invested in quite a few things, probably some of which have seen a definite decline in the business models, such as advertising - there are definitely some of those companies that have been affected.

But our end-user business model, videogame sales and online gaming, those markets have been pretty resilient - so hopefully they'll view us as one of the ones that will weather the storm, and do well out of it. APB is the key product you're working on at the moment - how's that coming along?
David Jones

We're very, very happy with it. We're looking at a launch date of early 2010 - we've got the partnership with EA Partners cemented, because we knew we'd need to start building presence at retail, marketing-wise. And we've signed a deal with a company on the hosting side - so everything's going really well.

We're playing the game every day now, hosted internally - obviously it's a company first, we've never done anything like this before, but overall I think everybody's pretty confident that we'll have a successful launch. With an online game there's a potential opportunity to do away with retail completely - obviously now isn't the right time for that?
David Jones

I think you're right - but first of all, with big-content games, just distributing it online might be a bit of a challenge. We've basically got a full DVD. Those barriers are coming down, and the costs of doing that are coming down, but we're trying to innovate enough in the game itself without trying to innovate in the way that we distribute the game - we want to take some risks, but I don't think we want to change every single thing from day one.

It's just about picking the areas where we feel there is a good opportunity, but in terms of just getting the game into gamers' hands, we felt that was maybe pushing the envelope too far.

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