In 1990, EA hired Scott Orr as the lead designer of its NFL Madden series. By focusing on what he says is the most important question in game design – ‘Is it fun?’ – Orr laid the foundation’s for the franchises future success. He left EA in 2001 to pursue other ventures and is currently CEO of D2C Games, a firm focused on the creation of original arcade sports/action video games and episodic content. Founded in 2006, the company develops and publishes worldwide for video game systems, personal computers and 3D mobile platforms. Its game Spogs Racing is headed to WiiWare later this year.
You established the Madden series, a franchise which in time has come to represent the kind of complexity and deep mechanics typical of a blockbuster title – are you looking to repeat that kind of thing on WiiWare? If so, how would you reconcile that with the platform’s attempt to give life to smaller ideas?
Madden has evolved into a very complex game in recent years, but it didn’t start out that way.
The first console versions I designed in 1990 were for the Sega Genesis and Nintendo SNES. The graphics and sounds were primitive compared to today, so playability, fun factor, game balance and accessibility were the keys to success. The essence of sports gaming is face-to-face competition and being able to smack talk and psycho out your opponent up close and personal.
Our goal with our WiiWare titles is to recapture and emphasize those elements while also taking advantage of the Wii’s capabilities, i.e. supporting both the remote and classic controllers.
We’re also putting a unique social spin into our games with user created/customized content and games that allow novice and hardcore players alike to play each other and have a great time.
You’ve said before that Madden was built on an ‘is it fun?’ principle’ – do you feel that is what is missing in the market today? Is Spogs Racing an attempt to recapture that?
For the mass market, spending hours to learn and master an interface is neither fun nor practical. Sports games have become increasingly complex and as a result oriented mainly towards hardcore gamers who can devote the time to learn and play these games. That leaves a large group of mass market, social-oriented gamers out in the cold (including former hardcore players who no longer have the time or patience to participate at the same level).
Building “fun” into a game is more art than science – what’s fun for one gamer may be boring to another. The key to my success has been to design and produce games that I find fun to play. Fortunately, millions of other gamers have agreed with me over the years and this new generation of games we’re creating plays right to my sweet spot.
For example, our first game title called Spogs Racing introduces a never-before-seen feature called ‘Crash N Grab’ where racers literally crash and steal upgrade parts from their opponents in real-time. No need to spend money at a garage to buy upgrade parts; instead, get what you need when you need it, and face the challenge of losing your best parts to your opponents – game balance in its finest form!
D2C has expressed an interest in episodic content – would you be interested in trying that via WiiWare?
A core part of our publishing strategy is to support our WiiWare titles with additional episodic downloadable content. This allows gamers to expand their game experience with new features and enhancements at their pace in a very cost effective manner. For example, we’ll be making ‘racer packs’ available for Spogs Racing that will include new content such as tracks, car parts, and more.
What does digital distribution offer that the traditional retail model doesn’t?
The obvious advantages are no inventory cost or risk and better potential to reduce piracy.
Less obvious is that this form of distribution allows smaller publishers like D2C Games to compete with the big publishers due to smaller scope and less costly development and marketing.
Digital distribution also gives us worldwide distribution right out of the gate to reach international markets and, as noted above, allows us to support our products with episodic downloadable content.
What excites you about WiiWare which other distribution platforms do not?
The WiiWare channel drives developers to innovate, take risks and create new IP since ports and re-works have separate distribution on Virtual Console. Our primary product focus is on new IP. That, combined with the Wii being a truly mass market platform, WiiWare is an ideal distribution channel for us.
As an independent developer, what advantages does WiiWare provide you when compared to other publishing relationships?
The WiiWare approval process is simpler and less intrusive than other distribution platforms. As a result, we can make decisions much faster and reduce financial risk, which encourages us to think outside the box and take more creative risks.
Does WiiWare offer anything which other consoles’ digital distribution platforms do not?
Yes, WiiWare is limited to original, new IP while older retro titles are distributed via the virtual console channel.
One criticism leveled at Xbox Live Arcade is that retro titles have overrun new IP. Wii of course keeps retro separate with the Virtual Console channel – do you think that this will help new concepts succeed better via WiiWare?
Absolutely – it gives gamers looking for new, innovative content a place to go without having to sift through a ton of retro or knockoff titles.
Gamers will ultimately determine the success or failure of any given title. Our bet is that they will be looking for innovative, high-quality, original IP more than retro or knockoff titles.
Financially, what kind of impact do you expect or hope sales of your WiiWare games to have on the studio’s business?
We’re forecasting that WiiWare titles will account for 35 per cent of our revenue this year and upwards of 40 per cent in future years.
And how do the costs of developing a WiiWare game compare to the games you have made previously (both console titles, and any made for Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network)?
The cost of developing WiiWare titles is comparable to our other downloadable titles. Compared to the high-end console titles, they are a fifth to a tenth the cost due to the smaller scope of the downloadable titles (40 megabytes maximum versus multiple gigabytes).