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 Metal s 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 didn’t pay me enough. Sony probably pays more consistent and more lucrative royalties than probably any other company that I know of, so I don’t mean that like a slam against Sony; it’s just a reflection of the way the industry works. You can contribute in a significant way like I did with God of War and they’ll pay you nice royalties, but then you look around at your peers and they’ve produced equally or even less significant titles, and they’re 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 – who sold Incognito to Sony for a nice chunk – 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 you’re 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 ’95 and ’96, 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 that’s 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.
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. Here’s the way I’ve been envisioning it: it’s like Steven Spielberg’s "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, he’s just grateful he made it down the street alive. Sometimes, it seems like there’s no rhyme and reason to any of it. Obviously, though, there could always be reasons why a company goes down, whether it’s 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 don’t look at ourselves and say we’re economy-proof. Right now we have a really great deal with Sony and they’re happy with what we’re doing.
But no, I don’t buy that innovation thing, though…I mean, there’s a difference between an IP and innovation. This industry is the most fertile for creativity right now; I don’t 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 EA’s Mirror’s 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 should’ve been. It’s not one of his favorites, but it’s clear it’s a well-made game, although he couldn’t get into the atmosphere). "I just think it would be unfortunate for EA to look at Mirror’s Edge [and its lacking sales] and use that as a reading of tea leaves and say, 'oh, we shouldn’t 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 year’s exclusives (Killzone 2, GT5, GoWIII, Heavy Rain, etc.) may prove this theory…what do you think?
Jaffe: "I’m not a technical guy, but I think there’s no arguing that theory. I think there’s a lot of truth in that, but the reality is it’s not that important. Yeah, that may be true but what’s 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 it’s not the real compelling reason to stay exclusive. There are business reasons to stay exclusive: I love working with Sony, for example, I’ve worked with Sony all my career. I don’t know about Microsoft; all I know is working with these guys at Sony has been great. They’re business people but they’re also artists and they want to try new things. I don’t know how Home is shaking up…but it’s still interesting; it’s a neat attempt at something. There’s definitely a philosophy that trickles down from on high at Sony that we’re not about following the herd. I think this is in Sony’s DNA. I like working with the company that’s 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. It’s cool to have your system; it’s the cast of characters of your network. For me, I just love to be part of something that defines the PlayStation experience. Yeah, I’m 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. There’s a unique fraternity thing going on that has a lot to do with your system, and I think that’s cool; it brings a little flavor to gaming."
Campbell: "I don’t have anything compare it to – I’ve never had to do multiplatform – I’ve 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 don’t think the lesser consoles (on paper, I should say) could deliver that level of richness and detail. But I will say it’s [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."
PSXE: Dave, after seeing a little of God of War III, do you regret in any way leaving; do you wish you could’ve been part of that project?
Jaffe: "Actually, here was my response to GoWIII- I had gone to Santa Monica studios and I saw the trailer they were going to show on the SpikeTV [Video Game Awards]. But they didn’t show it all; I was watching it on TV and I was like, "I don’t know if they’re going to dole this out over time, like break the trailer up into chunks throughout the night and we’ll eventually see the whole thing." But they didn’t do that. Anyway, when I saw that trailer, to me, it looked like a next-gen God of War. You know, I’m not blown away; I expect the level design and codes and stuff to be as good as it has always been, and yeah, it looks just like a next-gen God of War.
But they showed me this [other] sequence – that’s all I can say about it – and they must’ve put it together only two or three days prior to me showing up. And that’s the stuff that absolutely blew me away; it looked better than Gears 2; it looked like a Renaissance canvas-style painting come to life. Stunningly beautiful. I actually found myself getting nervous and sweaty and I was like, "why am I getting like this?" But it was because I was wondering, "how the fu** are we going to compete? The bar has just been raised again." Our game just doesn’t look that good and it never will, and there are reasons for that. But no, I don't say I want to be part of the project and I wish those guys the best."
PSXE: What can you tell us about the new project you’re working on?
Jaffe: "This probably constitutes the best game design work I’ve ever done if – and that’s a big if – everything comes together and I get everything I want in the game. I’m not saying others will feel that way but I’m crazy in love with the design. We haven’t figured out what the scope of this game will be, though, because we might take a chunk of this game and sell it on the PSN or go further and sell it on Blu-Ray. We’re looking at the market, the budget, the schedule, that type of thing. We’ll have a meeting next month at Sony that will tell us how far we have to go. But it’s all up in the air right now and the scope is utterly scalable."
Again, Scott had plenty to say concerning this topic, but it's stuff they wish to keep under wraps right now. We can tell you a few things he said: first of all, they're using the Warhawk engine as the basis for the game. This makes sense, of course, as Warhawk was an Incognito title. Secondly, they had initially planned to make something smaller; their initial plan was to make it available on both the PSN and Blu-Ray. But the game keeps getting bigger, and while they're not ruling out a PSN offering, it may not happen now. Thirdly and lastly, they cannot give out an estimated release date, but Scott did say they have several "critical milestone deadlines" coming up in January.
PSXE: Down the road, what kind of games do you see Eat Sleep Play making? Anything different from the action genre?
Jaffe: "Well, my gaming diet is much more varied than Scott’s. He likes the action and arcade stuff; the meat-and-potatoes games, so that’s where his mentality is. I’d say 80% of my mentality lives in that space, too, but are we going to eventually branch out? You might see a casual game, you know, something for the PSN or iPhone. Something more casual, more stuff like what PixelJunk is doing. But we won’t do huge stuff; we won’t do a game like what Quantic Dream is doing with Heavy Rain , you know, nothing to that degree."
Campbell: "I think our forte is in the action genre. I don’t ever see us doing role-playing or anything like that, but it’s possible you’ll see a FPS from us at some point. We’re suited to the action games, but anything is possible. We could do something simple and casual or something larger and fulfilling like what we’re working on now."
We would like to thank the founders of Eat Sleep Play, Scott Campbell and Dave Jaffe, for speaking to us at length. We probably took up too much of their time, but when gamers get to talking… And that's the point; these guys are gamers. They're businessmen, of course, but who they are and what they're passionate about comes shining through in every word they say. We get caught up in that, and talk right back, and that's why we spent an hour and a half talking to these two guys. Pretty sure I could've spent another 30 minutes talking to Scott about Eat Sleep Play's business model and the direction of the PS3 and the industry, and another hour talking to Dave about God of War III and MGS4 (the MGS4 discussion; I can't even include 'cuz it's off-topic and this is really long, anyway).
We hope you enjoyed the interview, and when they're ready to lift the lid on that secret project of theirs, we'll tell you all about it. Stay tuned! In the meantime, please feel free to visit Eat Sleep Play and Dave Jaffe's blog .