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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

GamesIndustry.bizTackling a project of so much bigger a scale than your previous games must have thrown up some quite unexpected problems...
Paul Wedgwood

I think during the first two commercial games that we made, I was more of a tyrannical dictator. And I think that during the process of Brink's development I learned much more to trust the talent, the people that had great ideas, let them go and iterate on them, and ultimately their execution was so much more important than that silly idea that I had at the beginning. No matter how attached I am to it, how much I believe that it was so unique and different, it just isn't worth anything. We have so many ideas for so many games that we're never going to make, and all of them brilliant, right? If they ever turn out to be successful it will be because of the execution. The thing I learned, the one thing I urge any other British developer to do if their bag is the triple-A blockbuster stuff that really gets attention and they want to sell millions of copies and really good review scores and everything else, is to recruit the best talent that they can, and pay them properly.

If there's one thing we suffer from in the UK, it has been this continuous exploitation of game developer talent until we drive them into the ground and they become cynical and burned out and hate the industry and everything else. I think that at Splash Damage we've always believed in paying people more than the industry in general, giving proper benefits and being respectful of work/life balance. We suffer from the same challenges that every studio does, we crunch 6 day, 7 day weeks sometimes: it can be really, really challenging. But to be honest with you, when the studio isn't in crunch we still have people working 6 or 7 days a week because they like what they're doing. People are still around at 11pm in the evening: maybe they're playing a game at their desk, maybe they're downstairs in breakout room. If you're at the office and you're having fun, then you're on the right track whether you're working out of hours or not.

GamesIndustry.biz How much did losing that tyrannical dictator thing mean you had to consider employees as that much more important individually?
Paul Wedgwood

I think really it was that sense of wanting to get the right people before going wherever we were going to take the studio next. We started that in 2008 and just would not compromise on the people we were hiring. Everybody had to have shipped multiple, high-scoring, triple-A, multi-platform games, or we just weren't going to talk to them at all. And so we slowly built a directorial team that was people like Richard Hamm who did Fable II, Olivier Leonardi who did Prince of Persia and Rainbox Six: Vegas, Dean Calver who did Heavenly Sword, Tim Appleby who did Mass Effect...

We just kept plugging these people in, alongside the people who had been with the studio for eight years until we had a team that was exactly the right balance of hardcore multiplayer obsessive crazy people like me, and people that were just as focused on execution, on making something that was really polished. And that's been our focus. We won't know until we ship whether we got it right. But if we go by simply the reception of shows, at the end of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars for the PC - you know we didn't do the console versions, which weren't great - but we did do PC version of that, which scored very well, got about 120 awards and nominations... It was kind of the end of the PC era, I think, at that point, and we felt really proud of the things that we'd done, but it was declining market, sales weren't hugely strong - unless you were World of Warcraft and had some sort of subscription-based model...

GamesIndustry.biz Or Team Fortress 2, which was some unfortunate timing for you guys...
Paul Wedgwood

Right, right. And Activision chose to launch us the same week about Halo 3, a week before whatever that year's Call of Duty was, so that was a little bit of a challenge. We also wanted a deal with a publisher where they weren't going tobe launching three shooters at the same time as ours. Cos it's too hard with a new IP to get attention, it's hard enough as it is without having to compete internally with your publisher. So that really worked out well on the Bethesda software side, in their slate for the coming year you have Fallout: New Vegas coming out now, you have Hunted, you've got us, you've got Rage announced but not coming out at the same time as us. Bethesda marketing and PR are very focused - it just works out very well for us.

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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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