Hey, Kotaku readers! I'm currently wrapping up development on our Summer of Arcade game Hybrid as we speak! If all goes well it should be out the door early next week and then it's on to finishing up our other game, Scribblenauts Unlimited for the Wii U (and other platforms), which we debuted at E3. I'm really proud of how both teams have worked so hard to make the best products 5TH Cell has ever done. On a personal note, my daughter is now 3 months old and loves to smile when she's not trying to drool all over everything.
Anyway, if you don't know the drill by now, well you must not come here often. Onto the questions!
Foohy—Silence by Kinja asks "How much relevant knowledge—both technical and artistic—did you have before entering the video game industry?"
Honestly? Zero. I've always had an interest in art. When I was eleven, I wanted to become a comic book artist, but beyond a basic understanding of color theory and art history, I got nothing. And programming? I tried Python once, and it almost strangled me. I've played with some level editors and had a basic understanding of scripting, but I couldn't tell you how to use LUA.
Being versed in programming or art tools in your job is helpful but not always needed. There's plenty of non-technical roles within the game industry, such as entry-level QA, business development, production, design, PR, writing, voice over. While all those jobs could benefit from a better understanding of programming or art they aren't required.
DarkNemesis25 questioned "What's your take on advertising and marketing on mobile games? I'm making a game that's coming along wonderfully and has an impressive art style that can rival top apps, I'm taking a while to get it finished but how do I advertise or market games like these? google ads? search results? flash banners on kids sites? I just don't know how to get my app out there, what should I do!"
When you're a new player in the industry it's tough to get noticed. There are over 600,000 apps on the Apple Store alone. That's a lot of competition. What's worse, over 60% of all apps don't break even. The average revenue generated from an app is around $500USD.
Outside of Apple or Android advertising your game within their devices, there's not much a small developer can do to get their game noticed. The amount of money you would need would be more than you have. Kind of depressing huh?
But I have some good news for. New, original games from unknown developers can and continue to succeed in these crowded spaces. How? Easy! The developers made something people wanted. If your product scratches an itch the customers want, it's possible you'll hit it big. Just focus on making a great game that people want to play, and the rest will come. I promise.
kaploy9 said "Do you ever get catering at the office?"
Sure, plenty of times. It ranges from quick pizzas to awesome made-to-order food from specialty chefs.
What's really cool, though, is that employees also bring in baked goods and other homemade stuff on a consistent basis. No one forced them; they just started doing it. I love that, seeing people chipping in and offering up things to others simply because they want to.
Einsteinsassistant posited "You're CEO and Creative Director at 5TH Cell. Before you got there, had you ever considered developing games at another studio or even switching to a different studio, feeling 5TH Cell may not be the right choice?"
I wake up every day and thank God that I have the job I do. The worst day I've ever had at 5TH Cell is still better then the best day I've had doing any other job. Though, to be fair I've never worked at another game studio, those other jobs weren't on a career path that I cared about.
I have a passion for doing my own thing. I haven't worked for someone else in a long time. I did apply to a couple of game companies before starting 5TH Cell, but I never made it past the interview process. I guess that was a good thing.
bbilbo1 asked "What's the longest time you (or a coworker) has gone without sleeping or even without eating as the result of working to a deadline?"
In the early days of 5TH Cell in 2003, I was pulling in 100 hours a week. But that's because you're in startup mode trying to get the company off the ground and started on no cash or employees. I've personally never gone more than 18 straight hours actively working. After that point, things get kind of out of whack and your productivity sinks into a blackhole; heck after 12 hours its horrible.
A friend of mine told me a company he worked for made him work 40 hours straight once. An entire week's worth of work in a single sitting. That's both insane and dangerous. People have died from exhaustion working those kinds of hours. For management to demand that of him was completely unethical .
Wenmandarin wrote "It seems developers and players alike have recently been worrying that any future MMORPGs that come out are destined to be nothing more than mere WoW clones. This really concerns me because I'd hate to see a repeat of the Great Crash of 1983 so soon after Americans have eked out a place at the top of video game popularity in recent years. How do you feel about this sentiment; do you think that it is a necessary cause for concern, and what would you propose (or not propose) to break or shift gameplay away from the "holy trinity" (tank, healer, dps)? I know that MMOs are far from the only genre that represents the VG industry at large, but if there is anything I have learned from following the slow downward spiral of the global economy, it is that expectations matter a whole lot."
MMORPGs are very costly to make, due to their enormous scope. So a lot of publishers want to make the "smart" bet by looking at market leaders (such as WoW) and copying them. There's nothing special about this strategy, it happens with mobile games. it happens with console games. The only difference is there's a lot fewer MMORPGs around due to their cost. The best games always innovate. They zig when others zag. Right now WoW clones are hot because WoW did so well, but, before WoW, EQ was the big hotness everyone was chasing. The industry will always be like this. Llook at movies! How hot are comic book movies these last few years? That won't last forever it's just the current wave we're riding on.
However the solution is already upon us in the F2P space. Here we're seeing all kinds of exciting risks being taken because it's a new space where there haven't been any rules defined yet. Also the products are smaller and cheaper and thus easier to take a risk on. The game market isn't going to crash, only rapidly expand and contract in different areas.
TheCrippledNewt asked "What do you think is most important when looking at a potential new hire? I'm not talking about something specific to a certain job like a programmer, artist, etc but a more general view of what 5th Cell wants when looking to take in new people. A philosophy, if you will."
This is a very easy question to answer. Attitude is the number one thing we look at 5TH Cell. It doesn't matter how talented you are, if you can't work well with others in a positive way, then you should look elsewhere. We built the team working on Hybrid almost completely from new hires and it's worked really well because we screened for individuals who met our requires and thus would gel well with others. We also really search for candidate who enjoy solving problems that no one has tackled before. We take on some pretty interesting design challenges with our games, and we need candidates that find that sort of thing fulfilling.
PSWii2008 questioned "What is your favorite cookie? Are you an Oreo man, or a chocolate chip person?"
Oreo's are good once in a while, but chocolate chip is forever.
Alright, another month of "Ask a Developer Anything" is down in the history books. So I guess that's it for this month. I'll see you next month, Kotaku.
Jeremiah Slaczka is the CEO and creative director at game development studio 5TH Cell. Best known for his multi-million unit selling franchises, Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life, Jeremiah focuses on creation of innovative new titles. His latest project, Hybrid, will be part of the Xbox 360's summer of arcade. 5TH Cell is also making Scribblenauts Unlimited for the Wii U and other platforms.