GP: When you released Crysis, there was a huge amount of hype surrounding the product. How did you juggle the expectation the public and the media had, and at the same time keep the development team happy?
Robinson: It was definitely a hyped title, like a lot of these titles are! But the challenges - one is creating the hype, and the second is making sure the product matches the hype. Because obviously all you want is a positive experience at the end of the day. What you don’t want is to create the hype and then be unable to match it.
So yeah, we’re really happy with Crysis, we thought it would be a 90+ rated title, and it ended up being a 90+ rated title, which was a huge success for us, and a huge success for Crytek.
But the challenges involved in creating a product with that sort of quality, though, are very complex. Not least of all is constantly testing the title six months before release, you have focus testing, play testing, and you have research trying to find where the product sits in the quality market.
It was very important for Crytek – they wanted a 90+ title – they had FarCry, which was 90, so it was really important this was at least a 90 going forward. So that obviously had some interesting challenges, as to where the product would be when it came out.
Particularly because the market is always moving. A 90+ title last year wouldn’t be a 90+ rated title twelve months later, because the landscape changes. Tastes change.
GP: So just expanding on that, do you feel the industry has become obsessed with marketing, perhaps to the point where advertisement outweighs development?
Robinson: I certainly don’t think that’s the case today. I think any developer, and if I were running a development studio myself, I would think that everyone would want as much marketing as they can get for their product, but as far as numbers go, the amount spent on development is still ahead of advertising.
So I think that if you were to talk to Valve, if you were to talk to Crytek, if you were to talk to any of these companies, they would all say they would like more spent on marketing.
But they would also recognise you get to a point where there is no additional value added by spending more money. How about you though, do you think more should be spent on advertising?
GP: Well, I think a really good game should pretty much sell itself? With Crysis, there must have been that happening as well, surely?
Robinson: I think so, it’s sometimes quite surprising that as much as the demos, all the stuff that was done for the twelve months particularly pre-release, and all the videos that Crytek put together, it’s amazing how many people didn’t know that the product was available. Even though you think it’s been telegraphed via things we’ve been saying, and communicating, things that Crytek were communicating, people still didn’t know the game was available! Or at least not always.
So I think again that’s why you need marketing, that’s what’s behind it all, so that people do understand the product is now in the stores, and you can go buy it now.
GP: Absolutely. So how do you feel the games industry has changed recently? Do you think electronic distribution of games is really the only way forward?
Robinson: It’s funny – if you’d asked me five years ago, “would you buy a CD, or a digital download for music”, it’s a funny thing because five years ago I would have said to you that I’d always buy the CD. Why would you want a digital download? I want the physical media.
Our buying habits have changed, because I look at my household and we don’t buy CD’s anymore. You know, the iTunes revolution means that I’ll always buy it online first. Not least because actually, it’s the time of day that I want to buy it. Being at work, it’s difficult to sometimes get to a store, sometimes, on a whim, you just fancy buying a piece of music, or a game, so you just want that game now. Or at one in the morning – I want to play a game, with a fast link the game is always there to play.
So in a way, the consumer changes, driven by lots of things, whether it be internet shopping, whether it be iTunes music, or whatever else, I think that the digital downloading of games will keep advancing. I think it will be much more a part of the business in the future, than it is today, just because the consumers are being trained by other media, and from that perspective that’s something we’ve been looking at and working on. We need to find the right path between conventional retail and online distribution, and there has to be a balance that is right for both to prosper.
Is digital download much of a factor in New Zealand?