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Q&A: D2C's Scott Orr Talks WiiWare, PSP As 'Sleeping Giant'

Developer D2C Games (founded by Madden veteran Scott Orr) has announced SPOGS Racing for WiiWare, and Gamasutra talks to Orr about why his firm picked Wii's downloadable service over the others, and why he thinks the PSP platform is "a sleep

Mathew Kumar, Blogger

May 5, 2008

13 Min Read

Developer D2C Games (founded by Madden veteran Scott Orr), which announced $6 million in funding in mid-2007, has announced SPOGS Racing, a "frenzied, arcade-style" racing game to debut on WiiWare. SPOGS Racing features racers that can be customized using in-game images and vehicle parts - with players able to steal upgraded parts from opponents with the title's "Crash N' Grab" feature. More information on the cartoon-styled, family-oriented downloadable title - for which PC and PSP versions are 'coming soon', and which looks to be one of the more fully-featured games in development for WiiWare, is available on the official SPOGS Racing website. In this interview, Gamasutra talked to Orr about why firm picked Wii's downloadable service over the others, and why he thinks the PSP platform is "a sleeping giant" in terms of possible sales. The State Of D2C We last spoke to you over a year ago, and what's been happening with D2C? You secured $6 million in investment in mid 2007, but we haven't heard much from you since… SO: We’ve been very focused on developing our initial games for WiiWare, PSP and PC and expanding our publishing capability. While we did launch several "digital video comics" for PC last fall and one for PSP earlier this year to rave reviews, the sales results have been disappointing. So, at least for the near term D2C Games is going to focus on its mass-market downloadable sports and action arcade games. Our first game, SPOGS Racing, launches in mid-May for WiiWare and in June for PSP and PC. In the fall, we’ll publish the first of our Chalkboard Sports series as well as launch PBR (Professional Bull Riders) in conjunction with Crave Entertainment for multiple platforms as both retail and downloadable products. You've chosen WiiWare rather than, say, Xbox Live or PSN -- why? SO: Wii is a true mass-market platform that appeals to gamers of all ages and capabilities and is the perfect fit for the kind of games we’re developing and publishing. Yes, Wii has shown that easy-to-play games that are fun and encourage social gameplay can be very successful in a world of high-end platforms and games. We also believe the PSP is well suited to this type of game which unfortunately has not been typical of UMD offerings to date. In fact, I believe given its installed base and increasingly strong sales, the PSP platform is a sleeping giant just waiting for the right kind of content that’s value priced and easily obtainable. As for Xbox Live and PSN, we’ll continue to monitor their development. We are very encouraged by the success of Live, which shows that even hard-core players will pay for and play simple games that appeal to them, which up to this point have mostly been lacking in originality. What happened with the comics? SO: We released four digital comics last fall for PC and one earlier this year on PSP. While they have received critical raves, sales have been disappointing especially on the PC. Fragmented distribution, limited marketing other than PR, and lack of consumer awareness certainly have had an impact. It may also be as simple as comic (graphic novel) fans would rather read a printed page held in their hand rather than on a monitor. We’re probably going to license the digital comic books to a company that’s focused on advertising-based digital media distribution. Nevertheless, it has been a worthwhile experiment and we did acquire some great potential game content in the process. Your company blurb states you wish to "reintroduce fun, simple and social games" -- what's your idea of fun and simple, especially social games? SO: Our mission is to develop games that appeal to the broad, mass market gamer, of all ages and skills. Having seen this industry grow up from the beginning I believe the time is right to go back to the basics and create original, easy to play, incredibly fun and social game experiences for a new generation of platforms and gamers. Our target market is the MySpace, Facebook, YouTube generation of gamers who want to create content and share it with their friends (or the world as the case may be). Mass-market downloadable games are the perfect format to take creative risks and develop features that support the wants and desires of our target demographic and give gamers new and exciting game experiences that they help mold themselves. - Do you think that the primary aim of games is still to be "fun"? Films and other more mature "artforms" don't always have to be "fun" - they can be disturbing or moving in a way that isn't exactly pleasurable... SO: I still believe people play interactive games to primarily have fun, especially when other people participate. This is particularly true of sports games but any genre that supports social gameplay is likely going to be “fun” oriented. There’s no doubt that movies can successfully range from fun to disturbing due to the passive/linear nature of storytelling and solo orientation of the experience (especially in a movie theater). Games require players to interact – not only with what’s on the screen but also with each other – and consequently lead to a different kind of experience compared to movies. That doesn’t mean that games can’t affect our emotions -- in fact, sports games appeal to our competitive instincts and if you’ve ever seen a player throw his controller across the room after a bad play know that emotions can run high. But that’s the result of that very interaction with the game rather than the theme or style of the content. What's your opinion of the industry right now? SO: Clearly, the high end of the market is full of great products that feature incredible graphics and sounds, consuming gameplay and hundreds of hours of enjoyment. The problem is that too many of these games require hours to learn and even longer to master. That’s fine for solo and network players who have the time and talent to master these games, but for the broader casual and mainstream market they’re complicated, expensive, time-consuming and hard to play. I think that’s one reason the high end of the market is increasingly becoming not only a hits driven business but really a mega hits driven business. Given the unbelievably high development budgets of some of these games, publishers really need them all to be hits. The challenge for the industry is to get hard-core gamers to buy all the games that are actually worthy let alone those with high promise that fall short. With the advent of content download capability for this new generation of platforms, we see a tremendous opportunity, particularly in sports, to bring back the fun of the late 80s and early 90s for a broad range of gamers of all ages and skill levels with smaller-scope, less-expensive, social-oriented games. Orr's History In The Game Biz You first worked with the Commodore 64 in the early 80's, and it often seems now most people in the industry come to it from a background of consoles and PCs, rather than the early home computers. What did you learn from working with it? Scott Orr: Home computers like the Commodore 64 and Atari 400/800 opened up the market in the early 80s to developer/publishers (like my company at the time, Gamestar) who didn’t have the capital to compete on cartridge based systems like the Atari 2600 or Mattel Intellivision. Those platforms also allowed us to create more sophisticated games -- so innovations like character-based skill ratings and more realistic play in sports games emerged early. Nevertheless, those home computer platforms were primitive by today’s standards in graphics, sound and processing power. My game design philosophy developed on those platforms where ease of play, fun factor and game balance set you apart rather than over the top graphics and sounds. This was particularly true in early sports games where head-to-head play was usually much more rewarding than solo play against simple, often inept computer AI. As a result, still believe that the essence of sports gaming is head-to-head play and that’s a core focus of our new mass-market downloadable sports games. The difference is now with much more powerful hardware, the play experience is significantly enhanced with better graphics, sounds and computer AI. But just because it looks and sounds great doesn’t mean a game needs to be complicated, hard to play or only appeal to hard-core gamers. What we’re bringing back to the market are easy to pick up and play game mechanics, an emphasis on fun over realism and features that encourage players of all capabilities to play together and have a great time. I don’t think these mass-market-type games will take market share from the high-end games but they will expand the market and reach a broader group of gamers. The tremendous success of the Wii, which emphasizes games for the whole family, is testament to this. It's obvious that sport games have always been the main part of your work, but what was it that drew you to simulating sports -- especially at such an early time when they would be so primitive? SO: I literally got into the business because I couldn’t find any decent sports games on home computers or 8-bit consoles other than Intellivision. Even the few good games out at the time were essentially two-player-only games, because even if they had a one-player mode, the computer AI was less than competitive. In fact, I was told by industry “insiders” at the time that computer gamers didn’t want sports games. My instincts told me otherwise and sports games to this day represent about 20% of the business with some platforms more sports oriented than others. I think one reason I was right is that the Atari and Commodore computer platforms appealed much more to a mass market consumer than the early Apple and PC platforms. With the introduction of 16-bit platforms like Genesis and SNES, “home” computers faded away as game platforms due to the lower cost and better graphic and sound capabilities of the new generation of consoles. You also worked on Eagle Eye Mysteries with Stormfront Studios. It's probably my favorite edutainment title. What were your memories of it? SO: Eagle Eye Mysteries is a product line that in many ways I’m most proud of. It was a labor of love for both my team and the team at Stormfront. EA had made a strategic commitment to test the waters in edutainment with the creation of EA Kids so getting the project approved wasn’t too difficult -- I later heard from Larry Probst, EA’s President, that I had used up one of my Madden "silver bullets" to get the green light but I suspect he was just kidding. We had a limited budget and aggressive schedule (what else is new) but through hard work and perseverance delivered a strong edutainment title that broke new ground and literally created the kid mystery genre in the spirit of Encyclopedia Brown, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew – not to be confused by the hugely successful Carmen Sandiego series which was more of an adventure game. EEM turned out to be one of, if not the most successful of the non-licensed titles from EA Kids. Sales were consistent year after year and I believe the series won more awards than any other EA Kids original property. It also appealed almost equally to boys and girls, which was rewarding for me since most of my games up to that time appealed almost exclusively to males. Do you have any thoughts on Stormfront's troubles, or otherwise your work with Don Daglow? Don and have been friends and business associates for 20 years now so I was stunned and personally saddened by the news. Stormfront has created a number of hit franchises over the years and their contribution to the business has been significant. I’m confident Stormfront and/or Don will make a comeback in the future, likely with a different focus but still with a strong commitment to quality products and strong work ethic. After you left EA you moved into mobile games development. Why did you make the change then, so early in the mobile phone game biz? SO: In 2000, I made the leap from the studios to EA Online, initially driving strategy for their sports business and later designing and starting development on a multiplayer online version of Madden. When EA decided to shift gears and cut their spending on the online initiative I started thinking about other options including interactive TV and mobile games. After leaving EA in the spring of 2001, I chased venture capital for the rest of the year against all odds considering the capital markets were still reeling from the dot com bust and mobile games were only a reality in Japan with DoCoMo. We were able to raise $4 million and Sorrent opened its doors in January 2002. Jamdat, Digital Bridges and a few other companies were already well funded and a year or more ahead of us. We felt at the time that we may have arrived a little late but it turned out that our timing was just right. By focusing on sports and teaming up with Fox Sports for branding (and later with Yao Ming for China) combined with an emphasis on high quality and multi-player technology, Sorrent quickly established a leadership position in the business despite its later start and lower capitalization than its closest competitors. What's your thoughts on the mobile industry now? Any thoughts on Glu, which Sorrent became? They seem to be relying heavily on licenses these days, like most mobile games companies. SO: The mobile business seems to be in somewhat of a lull -- as you mentioned most companies are focused on licenses, there is little if any marketing from the carriers or game publishers and consumers’ appetite for simple games on small screens is not growing as fast as predicted. Glu is symptomatic of the industry’s challenges. After going public last year to great fanfare it has subsequently reported good growth but still no profitability and according to many analysts is over dependant on OPIP (other people’s IP). Consequently, it has lost more than half its market cap since its IPO and the buzz is gone (or at least in limbo until something big happens). Given the limitations of marketing their products, especially on the handsets themselves, it's no wonder that most content is licensed since that gets them better "deck" (menu) position and consumers are at least familiar with the property if not the product itself. What’s exciting about the mass-market download segment is that we’re developing/publishing real games that are more than just time killers. WE also have much better opportunities to actively market the games in the manufacturers’ online stores with detailed product descriptions, gameplay videos and even slice-of-life commercials.

About the Author(s)

Mathew Kumar


Mathew Kumar is a graduate of Computer Games Technology at the University of Paisley, Scotland, and is now a freelance journalist in Toronto, Canada.

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