Revolution Software is best known for it's Broken Sword series, a franchise that continues to add a modern twist to a traditional formula, and with last year's release of Broken Sword: The Angel of Death proved that there's still an audience for adventure games.
Here, Revolution's Charles Cecil discusses changes to the videogame business and how there are affecting his studio. The company isn't going to trade on past glories as Cecil reveals Revolution is set to announce new projects in the coming months, and how episodic gaming and downloadable content models are informing his business decisions.
GamesIndustry.biz: What's Revolution Software's current focus, what's the studio working on and what plans are you putting in place for the next couple of years?
Charles Cecil: Personally I'm doing a fair amount of consultancy. Which is great, because one of the problems previously was that the studio had a high overhead which meant that we didn't have the time to design games to the point at which we could go into production at the most appropriate time. We would then have to try and pre-sell the game to publishers and it all got quite messy.
You know Revolution has the Broken Sword and Beneath a Steel Sky IP, and as well as coming up with new ideas - we're being very cautious, I have to be careful about what I say but - we're being very active as well. I would hope that within a few months we would have a lot of news about new original games and titles based on our existing IP. But the key thing is that we're under no pressure to move forward fast, and that is incredibly refreshing.So you're financially stable enough to take it at your own pace and not feel pressured to produce something in order to get money back in the chest?
Exactly. Obviously with Broken Sword: The Angel of Death we worked very closely with Sumo Digital (OutRun 2, Virtua Tennis 3) based in Sheffield, and that worked very well. Certainly that was a model that was proven with that particular project and on an on-going basis I would like to develop that model further.So can you tell us about a little bit more about that business model?
Revolution used to have an overhead of GBP 100,000 a month and we were a single product company - I did try to expand that by dovetailing projects but that wasn't very successful. The problem with original projects is that it could take three months to be signed to a publisher, or six months, or it could never be signed. Because of that production becomes very difficult to plan.
The great thing about company's like Sumo - which are predominantly work for hire - is that those contracts are much quicker to sign up and plan. Also, there is a much more stable relationship with publishers. Because a publisher is very happy and prepared to pay the costs per person plus a reasonable overhead. That's a model that both the publisher and developer have come to accept, and it works well.You've mentioned you're working on new IP. What are the main problems associated with developing original projects?
The problem with development of original IP is that publishers, quite understandably, want that IP. The value of any developer is in its IP. We've got into a position were a publisher will expect the studio to develop the IP at its own cost and take the risk, and once it's proven the publisher will expect the developer to sign the IP to them. It's not a very attractive model because the studio takes the risk and loses the benefit.
What Revolution is exploring is trying to find new ways of getting IP to market which benefits the publisher and the developer. One of the ways is to reduce the risk and the costs in the first instance.You're paying for the development yourselves and there's no guarantee you'll be able to sign the project...
Games are so insanely expensive, and part of that comes from a legacy, which I remember very well in the '80s, where publishers were actually showing off and proud of how expensive their games had been to develop. What's much more interesting is to look back and think, do games need to be this expensive? If there's an existing technology, why not design a game around that? If you have certain assets let's be constrained by them. Instead of a game costing 10 million dollars it should cost a fraction of that because you can reuse the technology and the assets. That's the direction we're going in at the moment. That's also great from a design perspective - instead of having a blank piece of paper, you have these constraints.With that in mind, you must be wary of the next-gen systems. They may be headline news and everyone wants to be seen to be associated with them, but to work on them you have to start from scratch again.
The most interesting aspect of those consoles is the cheaper, downloadable content market. Look at Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet - that's not a 20 million dollar project. It's a game that's innovative, sweet, very imaginative, but it's not relying on incredibly expensive production values. And at GDC Phil Harrison stood up and promoted that as an incredibly important part of the strategy for PlayStation 3.
My sense is that we're moving in the direction where different markets will merge. One analogy you could draw is television and film. In film you have the blockbusters. Gears of Wars was clearly a blockbuster, people are happy to pay GBP 40 for that and feel it's good value. But then we have all these smaller games like Katamari Damacy that get very well reviewed and perceived very fondly by people within the industry, but don't sell to a wider audience. My view on that is you can only sell something for GBP 40 if it's truly epic. Therefore, what we need to do is explore ways of bringing these highly innovative and great games in a different way. And that's more like the TV model where you sell something cheaper and find ways to distribute it to a wider audience and maybe advertising can cover some of the revenues. We've got to find different models where we have the epic games on one side and the more 'indie' games on the other.
Episodic gaming is perhaps the closest thing to a TV model in the games industry. Is that something Revolution is interested in following?.
In principle, absolutely. I'm really interested to see how TellTale Games do with Sam & Max because that's a developer that is very much blazing the trail. If that model proves to work then I think it will be a very interesting one. But as far as Revolution is concerned, the jury is still out on that.Revolution's trademark adventure games are more suited to the PC, or perceived more as PC games. Do you see the same opportunities in the PC market as you do in the console market?
If you look back to the first Broken Sword, which was launched on PC, we then approached Sony to find out whether they would do it on the PlayStation. [Original publisher] Virgin Interactive were very interested but Sony weren't particularly attracted to it. But the game was extraordinarily successful, it sold around 300,000 units which in those days was pretty significant. What was interesting was that a year later it cost more to buy Broken Sword on PlayStation from eBay because Sony stopped publishing it. Games like Broken Sword, or any other adventures, if they're well handled, have a universal appeal across all formats. On PC they work well because of the point and click system but with consoles there are plenty of opportunities to change that system to fit the joypad. I am a big advocate of the idea that a good game will work on pretty much any format because each format has a wide audience and plenty of opportunities.
Charles Cecil is managing director of Revolution Software. Interview by Matt Martin.