Freestylegames’ boss recalls the studio’s darkest hour
A throbbing, head-swirling morning-after brain-ache hit the DJ Hero team before they even had the chance to go to the party.
Last year, London studio FreeStyleGames was awaiting the announcement of its biggest creative risk to date; a turntable-peripheral and game package based on the same principals as the inestimably successful Guitar Hero franchise.
As news, analysis and initial impressions of DJ Hero began to pour in, FreeStyle’s baby was deemed an ugly and expensive one.
“The mood in the studio was really low,” admits creative director Jamie Jackson.
“This is the absolute truth, when the first news of the game came out, and everyone slagged it off, the whole studio was depressed, because we’d given our life to it,” he tells Develop.
One of the biggest challenges facing FreeStyleGames was the reputation that preceded its owning publisher, Activision.
The Activision empire – self-proclaimed as the biggest third-party publisher in the world – was often slammed for running its franchises into the ground.
And it seemed, as the guitar peripheral business was hitting saturation point, the last thing retailers and the public were asking for was a £100 plastic DJ set.
“I remember standing in front of my whole team and saying, ‘look, don’t be too pissed off. Let’s just make this game. Let everyone play it’,” says Jackson.
“And then, our review scores were, like, nines. Nine-point-fives. Eights.
“Everyone else’s opinion on the game had just turned during the release. When the review scores came in that just changed the mood of the studio dramatically.
Jackson’s message to those who reviewed DJ Hero is “genuinely, thank you for giving it a chance.”
By the end of FreeStyleGAmes’ rollercoaster journey – of negative press, tight deadlines and weak pre-order levels – all that was left were the review scores, and for Jackson nothing else mattered.
”We were so glad that people saw that DJ Hero is a really genuinely good game, and not bandwagon-chasing,” he said.
“We could have sold one copy, no-one would have given a shit.”
After a stuttering start, DJ Hero dramatically picked up sales and went on to become the number one new intellectual property by revenue in the US and Europe during 2009.
A sequel is set for release in October.
“I’m actually not really thinking about how well DJ Hero 2 will sell,” says Jackson.
“I’m just focused on making the game better the first DJ Hero. We don’t do this just to fulfil a corporate aspiration – we want to make credible music games.”