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Interview: Vanguard's De Ronde Talks Online Lessons For The Console World

Vanguard Entertainment Group co-founder Martin de Ronde talks to Gamasutra about the studio's objective: bringing lessons on persistence and socialization from the online world to the world of traditional console games.
It's been just a few months since Guerrilla Games (Killzone) co-founders Martin de Ronde and Michiel Mol unveiled their newest venture, Vanguard Entertainment Group, but the studio is already making headlines, signing its first project, Gatling Gears, with EA Partners and appointing a former Disney Online exec as the company's CEO. Vanguard merges de Ronde and Mol's online game production company, Karami, with PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade studio W! Games, developer of Greed Corp. Karami was founded about a year and a half ago -- "right at the start of when social and online were really taking off in a big way," de Ronde tells Gamasutra. "We sat down and said, let's set up another games company -- what's our passion, and where's the growth?" Rather than establish yet another fully-staffed 150-person dev studio, de Ronde and Mol wanted to create something of an incubation house, where they could develop interesting core concepts and then outsource some of the development. "We spent more than a year attending every show on the face of this Earth that had anything to do with online," laughs de Ronde. And all those events seemed to have a common theme, he says. "One of the things that really struck us was that a the leaders of the pack -- Zynga and Playfish, and the big guys from Germany, Gameforge and Bigpoint, and even the early ones like Club Penguin and Habbo, the RuneScape guys -- those guys are not years ahead of us, they're light years ahead of us." Recognizing the knowledge gap between you and the market leaders is "pretty important when you're trying to start a new company," says de Ronde. The second big takeaway, however, was that so much of the industry was watching these companies to see what worked and who succeeded. "It was going to be a very crowded market, and it was going to be difficult to compete with those guys," says de Ronde. "We come from a console background, developing high production value products over the past 10 years. We wanted to see if we could bring that to the online games market." That's where W Games came in. De Ronde says the studio is currently transforming itself into a "specialist in the downloadable games genre for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and Steam, the 'third console' at the moment." "We sat down at a certain point and basically noticed that we got on really well," he said. "The shareholders in both companies sat down and said, 'instead of trying to bring next-gen production values to the online world, why don't we bring all the things on how to build your product as a service, and how to get that viral mechanism going?'" In other words, rather than trying to compete directly with the online giants, de Ronde hopes Vanguard's marriage of ideas can bring the best and smartest lessons that world -- from social elements to community relationship -- to the traditional AAA console space. That doesn't mean making Facebook games on consoles, he clarifies. "The example I used to give was, what if you were playing Gran Turismo, and suddenly after three minutes the game stops and says, 'you're out of fuel, you need to wait 6 hours' -- that's something that is unacceptable." "But the mechanism of returning on a regular basis, and engaging with the product more often, is something that is very valuable to the console audience," he continues. "Knowing that your PS3 box is a persistent machine where every time you turn it on, something has changed -- that's something that we're looking to explore." "We definitely don't have plans to bring 'games by numbers' to the consoles," he adds. "You could almost see it as... we're taking the battle to our own home turf." Gatling Gears, the studio's first project and a twin-stick shooter set within the Mistbound universe of Greed Corp, is just a starting point, de Ronde says. Further down the line, the studio's projects will be "the same genres, the most popular genres on consoles, but they will have a lot of features that will make them feel much more persistent, and much more part of a bigger thing in a simple, clever way."

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