1: Hello who are you and what are you and your company known for?
Hi, I’m Dave Grossman, known for writing, designing, and/or directing story games. Things like Day of the Tentacle, Pajama Sam, or The Wolf Among Us, to name a few from different decades. My company is Earplay, which is known for making stories that you play with your voice – kind of like radio plays or audiobooks, but where the player gets to control the main character in the story, using voice recognition through Alexa, or Google Home, and sometimes on iPhones, too.
2: How did you personally get your break into games?
I answered an ad one day and LucasArts hired me as a designer, for reasons I have been unable to fathom. There may not have been a lot of competition. It was 1989, when only weirdos actually wanted to make videogames. “Breaking in” to the industry is a term I didn’t hear for some years after that. But as a computer science guy with a focus on AI, I was happy to find a gig where I wasn’t designing missile guidance systems or actuarial software. Making games was neither reprehensible nor boring, and it let me exercise creative parts of my brain that I like using.
3: What advice would you give as a mentor to anyone either entering the industry or especially now that you are part of a start up, as a start up?
Whether you’re starting a venture or just trying to find your first job in games, I’d say this: remember the reasons why you did it. It’s easy to lose track of your own motivations in all the chaos. Leave yourself a note if you have to, and pull it out any time you’re having a tough day at the office.
4: Is there any current or past game that you would have loved to have been involved with? How and what would you have changed about them if you could?
I think I would have enjoyed working on The Sims in some capacity. I love to play with a good toybox, and that is one. I would probably have tried to inject some discoverable threads of story in there, Easter eggs of adventure or something like that, built out of the mechanisms that drove the simulation. Whether or not that would have been a good idea I leave to the imagination of the reader.
5: What are your thoughts on crowdsourced funding and what makes or breaks an attempt to go that route for funding?
Although I haven’t tried it myself for various reasons, I’m philosophically a fan of crowdsourced funding. That and digital distribution have made it possible for people to try all kinds of weird things that you’d never be able to convince a traditional publisher to back. But lots of campaigns don’t work out, even if the ideas are good. My naive opinion is that the two most likely factors for success versus failure boil down to marketing and budgeting. If you don’t figure out how to promote the idea it’s not going to go well, and likewise you have to be realistic about how much money it will actually cost to make the thing you want to make, or you’ll run out and no one will be happy.
6: You have a lot of experience on episodic releases. Can you say how successful as a revenue stream that kind of release schedule might be, compared to forms of micro-transactions? What are your thoughts on the recent news about “loot” boxes and the impacts that might come about if they are considered to be a form of gambling in the US?
As far as microtransactions versus episodic goes, one of those is a monetization method and the other is a release strategy. You can do both at the same time, and now that I think about it, I have – not long ago I was the lead writer on a free-to-play Futurama title called “Game of Drones.” It doesn’t make a lot of sense to compare the two side-by-side because the main reason for doing episodic release has nothing directly to do with money, it’s about motivating the audience to keep coming back over time, building a relationship with them, so they don’t forget about you when the next shiny thing comes along. There isn’t really a financial benefit for the developer – because you have to be making things well ahead of release, and money takes a while to get back to you, you still have to start production with enough in the bank to fund an entire season or you likely won’t reach the end.
As for loot boxes, I can’t pretend to be any sort of expert on them, as I mostly make and play the wrong kind of games. But when I was a kid we bought packs of bubblegum cards hoping to get something cool, and nobody tried to call that gambling even though it preyed on exactly the same sort of dopamine-based addictive behavior to pry money out of the pockets of children. Supposing the courts did decide to put the kibosh on it, I suspect that game developers would just find a way to do something really similar that was still legal. I doubt it would change much.
7: When starting out a project, do you plan to hit as many platforms as possible or how do you narrow it down, especially with Earplay
, looking to be so new?
8: VR/AR hardware and gaming, a fad or here to stay? How do you see your audio platform evolving beyond just a mobile system with all the recent interest in VR/AR?
VR and AR have got some cool stuff going on, but both have got some hurdles to get over before they achieve the kind of mass-market enthusiasm that they’ll need to make it long term. One of the reasons I’ve been working with audio and voice recognition these past few years is that it was easy to see how that could quickly and inexpensively become an integral part of people’s lives. I can imagine the “integral” part for AR as well – just not the “quickly” or “inexpensively” – and the prospect excites me. I’m looking forward to technical advances that will give us more augmented reality that actually augments the contents of reality instead of using it as wallpaper for something unrelated.
I also think, and perhaps this is what the second part of your question is getting at, that both VR and AR could benefit greatly from voice recognition as a component of how you interact with them. There are some technical hurdles there as well, mostly having to do with lag – but smart people will figure that stuff out soon enough.
9: As a designer, what are some of the silliest questions you get asked at a party? Do people think you just play games all day still?
The comment I get more than any other is “that must be fun.” The last time a new acquaintance said that to me was literally less than twelve hours ago. I sense a general lack of awareness amongst the population at large that game development is a) difficult and b) work. But, that said, I find it much more rewarding than other things I might have done with my life. So my usual reply is along the lines of, “Yes, sometimes it is.”
10: Finally……Any advice for your last boss?
Er… yes. But I think it might be a bit late for that.
Thanks Dave, for a great insight towards all things design!
If you would like to know more or to connect with Stéphane, check his profile out on Gamesmith.com and his company, Earplay.
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