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Lorne Lanning on the return of Oddworld - and the mid-tier indie

Digital distribution and self publishing enables experienced teams become self-sustaining -- and the Oddworld creator shares his story of finding his way back.
"With self-publishing I’ve sold more copies of Stranger’s Wrath than the publisher did originally."
- Oddworld Inhabitants' Lorne Lanning The Oddworld franchise was a staple of late 1990s and early 2000s, but the series -- and its developer -- flamed out with the disastrous release of Stranger's Wrath for the original Xbox. Lorne Lanning, founder of Oddworld Inhabitants, argued at the time that EA wouldn't promote it -- a claim he echoes in his new interview with UK newspaper Metro. In the article, Lanning dishes a lot of dirt about how publishers manhandle developers, but more salient is his discussion of how he was able to bring his company back with sales of catalog titles -- a process kick-started in 2010 when Stranger's Wrath was ported to current platforms. Lanning's next game project is Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty!, a remake of 1997's Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, due on the PlayStation 4 later this month (with other platforms to follow.) It'll sell for $30 on release. There's a confluence of events that makes this possible: digital distribution, self-funding, self-publishing, and the blockbusterization of triple-A games. The means and opportunity for success are there, Lanning argues. If Lanning's quote above -- and his new approach -- are familiar, that's because they bear a striking resemblance to Double Fine's story -- its rebirth as a fully independent studio, and the success it's found selling its overlooked-at-the-time Xbox/PlayStation 2 classic Psychonauts digitally. Lanning thinks that the mid-tier is on the rise because it offers players an alternative to small-scale indie projects in scope, while also offering an alternative to triple-A games (which he describes as "really big high dollar value titles that new gamers are not that interested in because they’re basically just shooters") in style and content. He analogizes what's happening in games to the state of the film and music industries. Mid-tier indies are relevant because "in film the best picture every year, at the Academy Awards, is usually going to independent films; because they have richer stories, because they didn’t have a $200 million marketing budget that said you need to be a shitty movie like Transformers or Godzilla," Lanning points out. Mid-tier studios will be able to survive -- and even grow, cautiously -- on a game-by-game basis, Lanning argues, which he analogizes to bands that can sell enough of their music to a dedicated fan-base to survive. If that happens, he says, "We’re still in business and we can fund another game... Let’s put it in a musician’s context. If you’re a musician making another album is more important to you than making millions and millions of dollars, right?" You can read the original, lengthy interview at Metro's website.

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