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Q&A: Thatgamecompany's Santiago Talks flOw, Emotional Gaming

Following her Hollywood & Games Summit panel appearance, Gamasutra talked with Thatgamecompany's Kellee Santiago to learn more about the reception to the company's PlayStation 3 downloadable game flOw, emotion-based games, and whether the company c
Following her Hollywood & Games Summit panel appearance, Gamasutra talked with Thatgamecompany's Kellee Santiago to learn more about the reception to the company's PlayStation 3 downloadable game flOw, emotion-based games, and whether the company could make a move for the Wii. Santiago co-founded thatgamecompany in 2006 with flOw creator Jenova Chen, after graduating from the University Southern California Interactive Media MFA program. Together they had worked on a number of projects, including the 2006 IGF Student Showcase award winning Cloud. flOw was a success from the standpoint of critical reception. Was that a one-time deal for you, or does flOw do better for you, in terms of financial return? Kellee Santiago: We get some royalties off of it, but we're in a three-game deal with Sony for PlayStation Network. In that way, no, we don't see a direct impact, because we already have two more games lined up for them. But they tell me it's the number one PlayStation Network game right now. That's pretty exciting. I was really surprised by it. Really? What did you think might do better than flOw? KS: Sudoku, or Calling All Cars. Maybe Calling All Cars, but I don't think the audience is there for Sudoku. KS: That's possible, and I know they have a large demo for it, so I don't know how many people end up purchasing it. And I don't know how well Calling All Cars translates to different territories. flOw is available worldwide now. Can you talk at all about what you're working on next? KS: I can't talk too much about it, because we're in prototype development, so it's even new for us. We want to start with an emotion that's different from mainstream games, and explore that emotion. It's not Cloud and it's not flOw, and that's all I can say. Can you say what emotion it is? KS: I hesitate to do that! We're still experimenting, so I don't think I can. So you're doing a game a year? KS: That's my goal. It's funny because so many veterans in the industry are working on games that take years. Spore has been going on for many years now, for instance. But even by the end of flOw, which was only seven and a half months, we were ready to be done with it. It's kind of a good pace for us. Does that include prototyping and the design phase? KS: Yeah. There's a certain amount that I expect to happen at the end of every project. When we were getting to the end of flOw, we started doing little prototypes for our next concept, to see if that was the direction we wanted to go in. There's some overlap, but it's pretty much a year. After the three-game deal with Sony, by that time all of the other consoles will have their independent networks, like Wii Ware. Have you guys been thinking about that, or is it too far down the line? KS: A little bit of both. Obviously we're trying to keep our eye on what's coming down the line, even in PC development, or what's been talked about here about convergence between different digital distribution media, which is very exciting. Once we're on the third project, we'll probably take a look at what's after that. It's so awesome to have this opportunity to grow our company under Sony. The exclusivity deal is going to be up, though, so it's a little nervewracking because we'll be on our own. Hopefully by then, we'll be ready for it. I'm still hopeful to see something like Cloud on the Wii. KS: We like Cloud for sure, and we'd be excited to see it on one of the new consoles, definitely. Thatgamecompany has six people? KS: Yeah, the company is six people, and we're at eight people now for this project. That's our max. After you've made the game, do you have to do additional work to get it onto the PSN store and integrated into their service? Or does Sony take over from there? KS: PS3 is the first console any of us have developed for, so I don't know how much harder or easier it is than any other technical requirement process. We didn't really have a problem. Maybe it was because there was no question as to whether flOw was going into the store or not. It was just part of the development process. Is there anything else that's struck you about the Hollywood & Game Summit? KS: There were only two female presenters here, right? There was me and Amanda Goodfried. There was also supposed to be Peggy Kim, but she couldn't make it. But it's true -- there aren't a lot of female game developers, especially the type that put themselves out to talk. KS: I thought it was interesting that a lot of people here got asked what games they liked to play, and it seemed that about 85 to 90 percent of the people were hardcore gamers, which is actually a minority of the gamer market. I don't know what that means, but I thought that was interesting.

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