MAY 2009: GRIN talks about the future of the company
The following interview was conducted just three months ago before GRIN closed its doors for good. It is being republished - without amendments - to provide additional context into the company's sudden plunge into bankruptcy.
It’s grim at Grin’s headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden. Like the geographical stereotypes of sunny California and rainy Wales, the Nordic region is apparently an area awash with dark drizzly days, bitter cold nights and angry overcasts.
“Great weather for games development” jokes Bo Andersson, company CEO.
Though it may be bleak through the windows, Grim’s founding brothers conduct themselves with bright, breezy enthusiasm. It takes just a few minutes speaking to them to realise they love their jobs, and absolutely adore videogames.
Develop sits down with Bo and Creative Director Ulf just as Grin’s three-year project – Bionic Commando – gets ready to launch, and catches the duo in a particularly jubilant mood.
Your colleague Per Juhlen has recently implied that there are a number of challenges in releasing digital content, despite assumptions to the contrary. Care to elaborate?
Ulf: It’s not as easy as people would have you believe, of course, but it’s still a lot less hassle than putting a product on the shelf. Boxed retail, with all the extra people involved in that, the cost of goods, the importance of marketing; it puts a lot more pressure on things.
In that sense, it’s still true to say that developers can be more playful with digital games, because ultimately there’s less risk involved.
And the challenges?
Ulf: It’s still much easier to make digital games on the PC than it is with XBLA and PSN. With the consoles’ online platforms, Sony and Microsoft have their own rules and regulations to follow, and you have to have a pretty robust QA session to get your game out there.
That’s something which smaller independent developers run into. They may have a small, effective team that can make a great game, but they could run into problems when testing their content. And with so much QA, the costs suddenly go up.
Put it like this: for five guys making a game, you’ll ideally need 25 people to properly QA the thing.
Microsoft and Sony demand such extensive testing, and their quality checks are not dissimilar to AAA retail games.
Bo: Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Bo: But it is a barrier. That’s what independent developers have to consider before making a game for PSN and XBLA. You can’t just think “oh we’ll have the code done by this many months and the graphics by this many months and we’re done.”
Submission will take up a third of your time, and QA will take up a big chunk of your time as well.
Ulf: Starting QA very early, and having one QA guy active on your team throughout the project would be my advice.
Digital distribution continues to gain prominence. What do you think needs to be done in order for that system to flourish?
Bo: I think Sony and Microsoft can help developers more with the QA and submission process. That system needs to be easier, more accessible and less of an invisible cost.
But generally speaking, the PSN and Live platforms are good at the moment.
Ulf: It’s really nice that, whoever you are, you can get the same sort of attention with the interface. I don’t think the big publishers can muscle their way in for more exposure on the platform; it’s a level playing field. That promotes quality.
As an independent developer, are you interested in Sony’s Pub Fund scheme?
Bo: It’s a good initiative. It’ll definitely get the attention of a lot of independents. Sony is gunning the right way with it if they want to be competitive, and of course they want to.
I don’t at all see it as being harmful to the market. It’s a cool idea in this climate.
And would you be interested in it? Would you mind console exclusivity?
Bo: We would absolutely consider it. Pushing technology hard in one direction, to one system, is something that we’ve always enjoyed.
Grin is a company that can run several paths at the same time, so I’m not saying that we’d want to put 250 on a single project all at once.
Ulf: But it would be cool though! That would be some project right there.
Bionic Commando and Rearmed is a game based on fairly old franchises. In modern gaming, just how lucrative are these old franchises?
Ulf: Rearmed is a good example of how lucrative they are. It outsold a lot of games when it was released.
I think the old brands can still attract people’s attentions in the media. The game press usually know what these games are and so I think they’re given a bit more attention in the media.
The reason we’re seeing more remakes these days is that if something sold well a few decades ago the feeling is that it can still sell well today. Really, if you can keep to the standards of these games – if they were initially good, of course – and if you can retain the same gameplay values, you probably are looking at a good product.
So I think you could say that game remakes are a way of lowering risk. You see these sort of remakes in the movie business all the time.
Bo: The whole Deep Impact/Armageddon scenario.