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Splash Damage's Paul Wedgwood, Part 1

The Brink boss on paying staff well, going AAA or bust and why VC doesn't work

UK studio Splash Damage has traditionally worked with id Software properties, previously creating Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, but with the upcoming Brink it's striking out into its own territory. Still independent but working very closely with new publisher Bethesda, it's now seeking to make the transition from PC multiplayer shooters to larger, console audiences.

At the recent Eurogamer Expo, GamesIndustry.biz sat down with gregarious CEO and game director Paul Wedgwood, for a discussion which covered the dangers of mediocrity, the skyrocketing costs of triple-A development and the importance of paying developers well.

GamesIndustry.biz What's it like attending a UK tradeshow for a change?
Paul Wedgwood

It's not bad. I realised getting off a plane in LA a couple of weeks ago that it was the 28th flight that I'd taken in 12 months. So it's been a pretty crazy year. We've just been everywhere, from spending a lot of time in Washington DC talking to Bethesda, to trundling out to places like Dallas and Bentonville to do distributor meetings and sales meetings in Cannes... The consumer shows, which are my favourite now, are QuakeCon, PAX, GamesCom, Eurogamer here - there isn't the Leeds one this year, but it's been really cool. I love this point we get to where people are playing hands-on because up until then everything is technically smoke and mirrors.

You just don't really know whether your crazy ideas actually make any sense to other gamers. You hope that because you're a gamer other people are going to be thinking the same way that you're thinking, but really our job in the games industry is to predict what we really want to be playing in two or three years' time, and if no-one else is doing, do it ourselves. That's quite a challenge sometimes. You see studios make really compelling things, but they're just slightly left of where they need to be. But for us this time around I think Brink seems to be working out. At Eurogamer we've got the biggest stand, but we've got the biggest queues as well - two, three hours down there.

GamesIndustry.biz It's amazing, the lead time problem - we've seen it happen in films a few times, where you end up with three giant meteor movies at once, but it seems newer for games. How much do you still relish that long tail, or is making something in a couple of months starting to look appealing?
Paul Wedgwood

Oh God no, we've never done that. Everything we've ever done, we've had really long pre-production periods. In the case of Brink, we spent a year and a half on pre-production. With a decent-size team, just prototyping and iterating on ideas and trying crazy things out, iterating on things that didn't work... While the game that we have today largely matches the kind of high-level concept that we wrote in early 2008, the same key features are there - freedom of movement, a world that you haven't seen before, the floating city, blurring the line between singleplayer and versus mode - the game as it is exists because of dozens of people iterating endlessly on the same ideas, and throwing things out that don't work, bringing new ideas in. That's the way that we've always developed stuff. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars was four years, Brink will have been three...

GamesIndustry.biz Did you think 'this time it's going to be different - we'll get this one nailed in two years?'
Paul Wedgwood

I think every developer starts out on every project believing that they now finally know everything about the game development process, and it's going to be straightforward. The problem is that the projects that are most interesting are quite often the ones that involve the biggest risks. And I think if it pays off then you end up with something brilliant. By the numbers development is the kind of thing that leads to perfectly predictable release dates, for movie cash-ins and merchandise and that kind of market. For Splash Damage it just wouldn't sit well with us to create something where somebody's spending a third of a week's salary on a single videogame and then they feel ripped off by the developers with something that wasn't worth their time.

Longevity is something for us. Wolfenstein Enemy Territory seven years on is still one of the top three most-played multiplayer games worldwide. We've had 15 million downloads of that game, half a billion matches completed: and we gave it away for free. So that's pretty good value, right? But if you go and you buy a game that only lasts you five hours, that's £8 an hour to play a videogame. That seems like a ridiculous proposition. What we hoped with Brink is you play it for a couple of hundred hours over a couple of months, and you're paying 20p an hour. And that seems fine.

GamesIndustry.biz How tough is it to get that word out there in the current market though? People seem to hear what's the current greatest thing and then stick doggedly to it, and if for any reason word on the street is that a new game isn't as good as that it can end up in trouble. We've seen a lot of that with Red Dead this year, which apparently stymied stuff like Alan Wake and Blur.
Paul Wedgwood

Yeah. Well, I mean for new IP we're definitely with the right partners. For all intents and purposes, Oblivion was new IP - I know it was part of the Elder Scrolls series, but people weren't buying it because of that. Fallout 3, most of those six million people that bought that game didn't play Fallout 1 or 2. And in both cases they were hardcore role-playing games that translated incredibly well to the console, that scored in excess of 90 per cent. So it can be done. I think there's proof that with a really talented publisher you can get the word out there about new intellectual property. With Brink, everybody knew that we were a hardcore PC multiplayer shooter studio, but we came out right at the beginning and said we're making a multiplatform game that blurs the lines between solo, co-op and multiplayer, and we're still a hardcore shooter developer, it's still going to be incredibly deep. We're not trying to nerf things, as though some sort of simplified interface is the way to solve the newbie problem. It isn't the issue. The learning curve isn't solved by dumbing your game down. And anyway, there aren't two markets that like softcore and hardcore games: there are just people that are new and people that aren't.

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Alec Meer

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A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.

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