Gamasutra posted a Spore-centric interview with me recently. Three days earlier, GameSetWatch put up an excellent interview with Tilted Mill founder Chris Beatrice, in which he talked about his company’s interesting decision to buy the right of their Egyptian city-builder Children of the Nile from the original publisher. We also both talked about the games industry in general, and I was struck by how similar our responses were. See if you can guess who said what…
On AAA games:
However, I do think triple-A 3D RTS PC games are exactly where not to be right now.
I would not want to be in one of the classic triple-A franchise battles right now. I think that’s just a very bad place to be, whether that’s fighting games, RTSes, FPSes.
Will RTS as it exists right now be here in 20 years? The classic “Build a base, build some barracks, go attack the other guy…” Part of me wonders if this is just a temporary dead-end, because RTSes could be everything from Railroad Tycoon, SimCity, MULE, Populous… those are all RTSes.
So RTS really means, “real-time war game” to me. It’s funny because the Caesar series was always a “real-time strategy game” long before those others came into existence and eventually dominated both strategy and PC games overall, but it wasn’t called that because the distinction was unimportant for that type of game.
On RTS gameplay:
Unlike the RTS category in general, which has become more and more focused on targeting a core group of players with the skills and experience – and machines – to play what has become a highly evolved, and in my opinion exclusionary, genre.
The RTS genre in general has a big problem, in that it’s one of the most ghettoized. I think there are a lot of players who will play almost any type of game except for RTSes, because people just have the sense of, “There’s a thousand things to do. I’ll never be able to get them all. I’ll never be able to handle it all.” I think your classic triple-A RTS game is going to become less and less meaningful to most gamers, and when we look back in fifteen or twenty years in the future, aren’t going to be the games that helped move the strategy genre forward.
On managing expectations:
Stardock, for example, has made a lot of money with Gal Civ… Just knowing, “Okay, we’re not going to sell a million units, but we’re going to sell 250 or 300,000 copies of it.” It’s not hard to make money. You can make a lot of money doing that if you set your budgets. If you set a realistic expectation for your project, you can definitely make money. You just need to set your budget correctly. But those kinds of returns just don’t interest a lot of major publishers.
Of course we still want our games to look great, but let’s be honest, the last five to eight years or so have really shown the diminishing returns in chasing the screenshot, if you know what I mean. In PC games there’s a ton of opportunity, potential for originality and innovation. And I think there’s also plenty of money in the “middle” – that is, in games that sell 30,000 to 300,000 copies, rather than millions.