After four years of development Just Cause 2 finally saw release last week and we visited Avalanche Studios to talk CEO and co-founder Christofer Sundberg about the future, present and past of the studio.
You mentioned that this is a brand new Avalanche Studios, how do you see the next five years for the company?
We have been forced to refocus and ransack ourselves thoroughly to see why we were doing this thing. Whether we were interested in growing a big company with lots of employees or if we just enjoy making games. And we arrived at the conclusion that the latter is what drives us forward.
Once we arrived at that conclusion, we spent a lot of time thinking of how to achieve this - how to deliver quality, and make development more enjoyable. We decided that we should not work on that many projects, but put our effort into those that we feel fit us perfectly, and where we feel the client is good to work with. And this has just started at the beginning of this year, when we began our new project and this far we are enjoying ourselves. Last year we didn't.
Between the lines I picked up that you are not working on an original IP this time around, but a license. Is that a correct assumption?
Yes, that is correct.
What is important to think about when working on a licensed title?
First of all, when we have looked a different licenses - some licenses are just plain boring to work on, it must be a fun license that fits with who we are and our technology, so we don't increase the risk. Which would have a direct effect making the project frustrating and boring, because we would have to developed new technology that would take focus from the core development, making the actual game.
That's how we look at things, then you have to consider development time. That there is a reasonable chance we can create something great. There can't be too much work getting approvals. Sometimes there are so many stakeholders involved in a license that it complicates things. There has been situations where we have been pitched projects from different directions, so you can tell there was some kind of legal trouble brewing. We were stuck in something a bit like that in 2001, when we were working on Tremors at old Rock Solid Studios, where there were several parties who claimed that owned rights. And that is something you have to be very mindful of.
Development time paired with access to the license holder, and their support so that its not just a case of them calling the shots, but rather that they work with you, is what's important. And we have found that now, which feels great.
With the technology already in place, what is the least amount of time needed for development?
That's 24 months. Any less just won't work. You have to consider that it takes a while to get started, and time moves quickly when you're enjoying yourself. So, I believe 24 months is the absolute minimum for us.
We got to see one project you worked on last year, AionGuard (which appeared on the cover of EDGE). I assume it is now cancelled/put on indefinite hold. Is that a game you would like to return to at some point?
Yes, absolutely. We have invested a lot of money into that property. And now it can't be called AionGuard, given that the first ones to react on the EDGE cover were NCsoft who didn't appreciate the fact that we were also making a fantasy game with Aion in the title.
Perhaps it wasn't terribly good for your game to be confused with a MMORPG either?
Yes, that's true. But we said that we were only glad to do away with that title. But the actual game is something we would love to continue working on. I believe that it fills an open space in the market for this category of game, so we'll continue with that. I believe there will be an opportunity for that once the industry stabilises a bit more. And there is a will to pick up something a little different and take a chance on it.
What you're saying points to what is perhaps a dangerous approach from the industry to shy away from original ideas, and that we might see a downturn for the industry in the years to come, because of an unwillingness to invest in new ideas now...
That is true. Innovation, new ideas and technological progress is what has driven this industry forward. So there will definitely be a backlash. But I feel much of that is because the wrong people are sitting on the other side of the table, who don't possess enough knowledge to tell whether an idea is good or bad. I'm not saying that all of our ideas are brilliant, but in many cases, such as the one with AionGuard, it was given an unfair evaluation by many publishers. Many had a hard time grasping what it was about, some thought it was an RPG, and so on. I felt it deserved a better reception.
Going back to Just Cause 2, what's your goal in terms of sales?
We have a fairly conservative goal set that it should do double of what Just Cause did. That means approximately 2.2 million copies. It definitely has the potential to do so. It's been a great boost of morale to see all the positive reviews coming in. A bit of payback...