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Game Design Expo: Radical's Zmak Gives Original IP Reality Check

Is wanting to develop an original IP madness at its best? At the recent Game Design Expo at Vancouver Film School, Radical Entertainment's president Kelly Zmak (Prototype) provided a complex reality check, outlining the overwhelming creative challe
Many studios aim to develop their own IP, but in the current console market, many factors can make this daunting. At the recent Game Design Expo at Vancouver Film School, Radical Entertainment's president Kelly Zmak provided a complex reality check: Developing original IP requires huge financial investments, confronting overwhelming creative challenges, and meeting the challenge of rising artistic standards in the industry. Thinking Ahead So you want to develop an original IP, such as Radical's recently announced Prototype? Zmak pointed out the financial challenges first: “This means you’re coming to me asking for 30 million dollars out of pocket over a period of 30 months," he said. There are creative challenges to prepare for, too. Zmak says a question to ask ahead of time is: "You’re going to have to push a creative team to their limit and beyond. Are you really ready to take that on?” "Do you even know what platform you’re going to ship on?" Zmak continued, reminding the audience that the technology is a major consideration. And lastly, artistry: "The emotional element created through an artistry is important. The artistry of our game is actually more important than the game play mechanics. This is sacrilege, I know." Began Zmak, “The game industry starts at Hard. It doesn’t start at Easy. It doesn’t start at Medium. It starts at Hard. Our job is to make sure you don’t start at Stupid.” Pitching an idea is its own separate battle, Zmak reminded. "Pitching isn’t about making the product. It’s the process of selling the idea of it.” What's At Risk? Again, the money is major. "If you screw up, that money is gone," Zmak reminded. And yet perhaps more difficult to value than money, Zmak went on to explain that the very concept of innovation itself could be at risk. “Here’s the deal," he explained. "You’ve got 30 months and 20 million dollars and 70 people spending time together -- often more than they get with family -- and for that time, you get to think, 'I’m doing something really amazing, new, innovative; it’s going to be the best project of my life.'" But what often happens, Zmak continued, is that "time, schedule, budget, milestones, and all of the realities of life set in. So what’s at risk? Innovation. And it requires everyone up front to acknowledge ‘we will make mistakes’.” One's reputation is at stake, too. "It's ego!" said Zmak, highlighting the difficulty in maintaining perspective. And relationships: "What happens if you fail all of these people you’ve invested this time with? At some point you’re going to want the credit of the designer — the fame, the fortune (which, by the way, you never get). In the process, you will probably find some fame, but not to the extent you expect it." Amid all these risks, said Zmak, the bottom line is this: "If you want to do something original, you must learn to work with people." More At Stake Industry teams are growing, noted Zmak, and that means costs are going up. "30 million is development dollars, the audio, all the aspects. How much does it cost to market? Ballpark 20 million. So you’re up 50 million bucks and you haven’t even got to shelf. Then you’ve got distribution costs. $7 per unit. $57 million in." With all this at stake, advised Zmak, it comes down to the strength of the idea. "You’ve got to actually sell your ideas," he said. "Whether you’re a designer who is creating an original IP or you’re a level designer who wants to sell your idea to your lead, you’re in a position of proving your ideas." Finally, getting that original idea made into a successful IP can take time, learning from mistakes, and tenacity. Concluded Zmak, “You’re in the process of learning. Never stop.”

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