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DICE 2011: How 5th Cell Generates Million-Selling Original IP

With millions in sales for original series Drawn to Life and Scribblenauts, 5th Cell Co-Founders Jeremiah Slaczka and Joseph Tringali discuss the process they use to create games at a D.I.C.E. Summit 2011 talk.
Offbeat developer 5th Cell has seen 3.5 million in lifetime sales for the Drawn to Life series and another 2.5 million for the Scribblenauts series, each of which took roughly a year to develop and only a few dozen team members to create. Yet in a recent D.I.C.E. Summit talk, company co-founders Jeremiah Slaczka and Joseph Tringali said it wasn’t merely luck that drove these success stories, but a set of guiding principles that help set their company apart. The first principle: finding a good partner. This means a publisher that does more than paying lip service to talent, and knows that “you have to trust talent when times are tough,” Tringali said. A good partner will also know that clearly demarcated project milestones can often be a hindrance to the way game development actually works. “[Most publishers] assume that making games comes in chunks and there’s a smooth progression to it. There’s not.” Completing a project on time often means eliminating pretty documentation, PowerPoint presentations and “everything that’s gonna get in the way of us making a good game,” the pair said. When deciding on a game concept, 5th Cell decides whether they want to be first to market or best in breed, usually coming down on the side of the former. Just reacting to the latest trend isn’t the way to profiTability, they said. “Just because the Facebook market is exploding doesn’t mean much to us because we don’t play Facebook games,” Slaczka said. “Why compete with Zynga who eats, lives and breathes these types of things when we don’t?” And once it comes time to implement that concept, it’s important to make sure there’s someone with the ability to implement that vision without getting bogged down when problems threaten to derail the project. “Democracy doesn’t work [in game development] because everybody has their own take,” Slaczka said. “With original design, you want to make sure that [original] take comes through.” When hiring new members of the team, the 5th Cell founders said finding someone with the right attitude and a passion for the company’s products is much more important than development experience. “Somebody can have talent and not experience and that would be fine with us.”

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