Exclusive Interview: Dave Jaffe And Scott Campbell
Happy Holidays to all! We give you this exclusive interview with Eat Sleep Play's founders, which is guaranteed to be a great read. Scott Campbell, Incognito founder, and Dave Jaffe, ex-Sony designer responsible for the likes of God of War are now in business together, and we wanted to chat. What's up with that new project? How do you view the PS3 and exclusivity? What's your take on innovation suffering in the recession? That and much more is below, and because these two guys have worked together many times - including the first two Twisted Metals back in the PS1 days - it only makes sense that they both decided to go the independent route together.
Check it out!
PSXE: Dave, what prompted you to leave Sony and start a studio of your own? Was it all you or did Sony have anything to do with the decision?
Jaffe: "They had a lot to do with it...they didnít pay me enough. Sony probably pays more consistent and more lucrative royalties than probably any other company that I know of, so I donít mean that like a slam against Sony; itís just a reflection of the way the industry works. You can contribute in a significant way like I did with God of War and theyíll pay you nice royalties, but then you look around at your peers and theyíve produced equally or even less significant titles, and theyíre putting more money in their pockets.
It began to make less and less sense to continue to be an in an environment that no matter how hard I worked, I wouldn't be able to do what I wanted to do; I'm 37 now and I'm not getting any younger, so why not grab for that brass ring? So then I began to talk to Scott Ė who sold Incognito to Sony for a nice chunk Ė and I started to realize that there are all kinds of benefits to owning your own company; things I never knew about before. You know, you can steer your ship wherever you choose to steer it. Look, everyone can go down; these days, everyone could be on shaky ground so if youíre going to be on shaky ground, you may as well follow your own destiny."
Scott, did you and Dave make the decision together to found the new studio? What are your long-term goals?
Campbell: "Yeah, we did make the decision together. Dave and I started working on the very first Twisted Metal; back in í95 and í96, and every time we work together it has been a great experience. He was always with Sony and I always was independent; I was with Singletrac and started Incognito. Then he got to a point where he said he wanted to go the independent route. So we did Calling All Cars together and started Eat Sleep Play. The long-term goals is an interesting topic, really; the business model when we first started Eat Sleep Play was that we wanted to focus on smaller, casual PSN type titles; games you could get on Blu-Ray or on the PSN. The thing thatís appealing about Eat Sleep Play is that Dave and I have experienced the value of owning an IP. Well, in the casual market, there is an opportunity sell your own game; create your own IP and establish it there, so this is still part of the business model.It was just so refreshing to turn a game around really quick, Calling All Cars goes back to old-school, addictive arcade-style gameplay. But it only went to a certain audience Ė no matter how good the game is, sales will top out at like 300,000 Ė and we were like, itíll be tough to maintain the studio at that rate. So we decided to change a bit and to focus on something more medium-sized Ė not blockbuster huge, but medium."
PSXE: Analysts have predicted that although sales may not suffer in this recession, innovation might, due to publishers not wanting to forward the capital to small developers with new ideas. Do you agree with this, and because you and Scott are well established with Sony, do you think Eat Sleep Play is in a better position?
Jaffe: "Eat Sleep Play is just as susceptible as any other company; Factor 5, Free Radical; those guys went under. You know, it can happen to anybody. Hereís the way Iíve been envisioning it: itís like Steven Spielbergís "War of the Worlds," where people are just getting randomly picked off by those tripods and this guy is running down the street, just hoping to make it to the end. When he gets there, heís just grateful he made it down the street alive. Sometimes, it seems like thereís no rhyme and reason to any of it. Obviously, though, there could always be reasons why a company goes down, whether itís bad network or business decisions. So there are reasons why companies are still around and why companies die, but sometimes it just feels random. At Eat Sleep Play, we donít look at ourselves and say weíre economy-proof. Right now we have a really great deal with Sony and theyíre happy with what weíre doing.
But no, I donít buy that innovation thing, though...I mean, thereís a difference between an IP and innovation. This industry is the most fertile for creativity right now; I donít think innovation is going to suffer, but I think a new IP is going to be a little more challenging to get off the ground." (Jaffe goes on to speak at length about EAís Mirrorís Edge and Dead Space; the former specifically, in that the timing was wrong for its release, and it was definitely innovative although perhaps not as fun as it shouldíve been. Itís not one of his favorites, but itís clear itís a well-made game, although he couldnít get into the atmosphere). "I just think it would be unfortunate for EA to look at Mirrorís Edge [and its lacking sales] and use that as a reading of tea leaves and say, 'oh, we shouldnít have done that IP.' See, Sony wouldn't do that."
Scott talked about this same topic, but as he revealed certain things we promised we wouldn't talk about just yet, we are holding that back until they're ready to officially announce everything.
Some say that a developer can make a more graphically intense game if they just focus on the PS3, due to its extra power. Next yearís exclusives (Killzone 2, GT5, GoWIII, Heavy Rain, etc.) may prove this theoryÖwhat do you think?
Jaffe: "Iím not a technical guy, but I think thereís no arguing that theory. I think thereís a lot of truth in that, but the reality is itís not that important. Yeah, that may be true but whatís more important: getting a little bit better graphics or getting substantially more sales and more people buying your product? The value in this argument is so minor and of interest to so few people in the industry that itís not the real compelling reason to stay exclusive. There are business reasons to stay exclusive: I love working with Sony, for example, Iíve worked with Sony all my career. I donít know about Microsoft; all I know is working with these guys at Sony has been great. Theyíre business people but theyíre also artists and they want to try new things. I donít know how Home is shaking up...but itís still interesting; itís a neat attempt at something. Thereís definitely a philosophy that trickles down from on high at Sony that weíre not about following the herd. I think this is in Sonyís DNA. I like working with the company thatís going to allow the game the room to breathe and find its own voice; I love working for a company that gets what that means.
As for me, I think exclusivity does matter. Itís cool to have your system; itís the cast of characters of your network. For me, I just love to be part of something that defines the PlayStation experience. Yeah, Iím going to be able to enjoy a lot of different games when I have different consoles, but with the PlayStation, you know, these are my games. Thereís a unique fraternity thing going on that has a lot to do with your system, and I think thatís cool; it brings a little flavor to gaming."
Campbell: "I donít have anything compare it to Ė Iíve never had to do multiplatform Ė Iíve always had the luxury to focus on the Sony consoles. That theory is a lot more true with the sequels of first-generation PS3 titles; I saw screenshots of Uncharted 2 and that was just unbelievable; I just donít think the lesser consoles (on paper, I should say) could deliver that level of richness and detail. But I will say itís [PS3] a very challenging box to develop for. The problem you run into is the "creeping elegance" factor- you get something done like the shaders and you look at it, say you can do it better, then do it over and over, and you get into this pattern of, "we can do this better." It blows the schedule to hell. You also have to keep an eye out for what other developers are doing to exploit the hardware. It takes a pretty damn experienced team to deliver on that machine; but once you get that first version out, you know exactly what to focus on, know where you can do better, etc."
12/19/2008 Ben Dutka